3,700 Year Old Babylonian Tablet With The Instruction How to Build Coracle

In the 1940s, Leonard Simmons brought home a clay tablet carved with a mysterious script from the Middle East. Some experts told him it was just bazaar junk, but decades later, his son, Douglas, had it examined at the British Museum by Irving Finkel, one of relatively few people able to read cuneiform, the wedge-shaped writing of ancient Mesopotamia. He identified the piece as a genuine 3,700-year-old Babylonian tablet, which he saw gave precise instructions on how to build an apparent ark. The tablet records a Mesopotamian god's instructions for building a giant round vessel known as a coracle — as well as the key instruction that animals should enter 'two by two.' With 3,600 square metres in dimension or two-thirds the size of a soccer field in area, made of rope, reinforced with wooden ribs and coated in bitumen.

Finkel said that on paper (or stone) the boat-building orders appear sound, but he doesn't yet know whether it would have floated.
Irving Finkel with 3,700-year-old Babylonian tablet

The tablet version of the ark story is far older than the biblical accounts, and Finkel reckons that the writers of the Bible drew on ancient stories encountered by Hebrew scholars during the Babylonian exile. In fact, there are other ancient Middle Eastern tablets telling of a mighty flood (perhaps a dim folk memory of a great natural catastrophe) and an ark, but this tablet is special because of its detailed descriptions. Nevertheless, Finkel is sure that the coracle ark was never built, arguing that the tablet is the product of a storyteller adding convincing details for an audience knowledgeable about coracle building.

The tablet is on display in the British Museum, and Finkel has written a new book, "The Ark Before Noah".

Fortean Times magazine Vol. 312 March 2014

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