Wadi Ula, Saudi Arabia



                               A New Theory for Noah’s Ark

                                                                          By George Potter


Journal: 8 May 1995 (Wadi Ula, Saudi Arabia) 

At day’s first light, we broke camp in the al-Shamari mountains in north central Saudi Arabia. The al-Shammaris majestically rise from their desert floor. There was no reason to stay in bed .Even though it was Spring in Arabia and the temperature the day before reached over 100o degrees, high in the mountains that night saw the thermometer fall into the 40s. I had only a light tent and a cotton sheet to shield the cold. Sleep was impossible.

We weren’t warm until we were back in the truck and driving west.  It was still dawn, but it might as well have been night, for the terrain we passed through was one of the most barren landscapes I have witnessed in my world travels. For two hours we drove in the morning without seeing a single tree. Finally, we started our decent down the eastern slope of the wadi (valley) Ula. On the opposite side of the valley we could see the jet black lava mountains that formed its western slopes and ran the entire length of the wadi Ula before continuing north for another hundred miles.

The wadi Ula is reminiscent of the great Canyon Lands of Utah. Compared to the featureless desert we had driven through, the vista of the valley was splendid. We drove beneath towering red sandstone cliffs which had been wind-carved through the ages into pillars, hoodoos and balancing rocks. I knew that the ruins of two ancient cities rested on the valley’s sandy floor. One was the ruins of the town of al-Hijr, later re-named Madain Saleh. The second was the Biblical town of Dedan. To provide water for the two cities, I realized that oases must exist in this remote desert wadi. However, when we finally reached the valley’s floor I was shocked at what I saw: mile after mile of date groves and fertile farms. We drove our 4 by 4 past grape vineyards, groves of pomegranates, figs, oranges, lemons, apricots, peaches, dates, and vegetables and grains growing in groomed fields and among the fruit trees. There could have been no sharper contrast than the one we saw that morning.  After driving through a dreary desert, here was the most beautiful and fertile oasis in Arabia. 

Text Box:  
Farms Wadi Ula
I later learned that the farms of wadi Ula can be seen from space, and with its ample water and fertile volcanic soil, the farms in the valley produce three crops per year. I also discovered that the wadi Ula was a caravan halt on the section of the Frankincense Trail called the Muhajrin – meaning the “fertile parts”. Indeed, wadi Ula was the part of Lehi’s trail they called the “most fertile parts” (1 Nephi 16:14, see Lehi in the Wilderness, Chapter 5, Potter & Wellington).  The discovery of the wadi Ula was a key step in helping me formulate my theory of Lehi’s trail.

However, it wasn’t until 2003 that I discovered another amazing feature of the wadi Ula, a large rock art mural carved in the valley walls near the ruins of Dedan. Ancient rock art can be found throughout Arabia.  However no other site comes close to comparing with the great mural at Dedan.


A typical rock art site in Arabia will have one or two carved figures, while occasionally a few more objects will be depicted. In contrast, the rock art at al-Hijr is impressive by any standard. It constitutes a major effort by ancient artisans. It is a huge mural, and must have taken thousands of hours to carve. Today we would categorize such an effort as a monument. But it was a monument to what event? As I admired the carving, the Biblical story of Noah seem to unfold before my eyes. The ancient mural depicted hundreds of animals of different sizes and different species, i.e. birds, mammals and reptiles. Above the carving of the animals is a rectangular shaped object. The ark had such a shape, being 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide, a factor of 6 X 1.  Whoever made the rectangle in these rocks probably had no measuring stick, and perhaps carved the object from a distant memory or an old oral tradition. The scale of the carved rectangle is approximately 4 X 1. The question begged to be asked, “Did this mural commemorate the landing place of Noah’s Ark?


Previous Theories Of Where the Ark Landed

The Ark was designed to hold Noah’s family and pairs of all the animals that would fill the earth with life once the flood waters receded. It also had to hold all the food necessary to sustain them during their nearly two year voyage aboard the Ark. As well as all the food and fodder they needed from the time they left the Ark until the ground was ready for planting and fodder appeared. Noah’s Ark was a huge vessel, and though its form was boxy, Peter Jansen and M. Vogt proved that it was suitable for shipping heavy cargoes without rolling or pitching in waves. The ark was made of cypress (gofer wood), and had three stories.[1](footnote)

When the flood waters receded, the Ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4). According to the Catholic dictionary, “Tradition is divided as to the exact place where the Ark rested. Josephus (Ant., I, iii, 6), Berosus (Eus., Praep. Ev., IX, ii, P.G., XXI, 697), Onkelos, Pseudo-Jonathan, St. Ephrem, locate it in Kurdistan. Berosus relates that a part of Xisuthrus's ship still remained there, and that pilgrims used to scrape off the bitumen from the wreck and make charms of it against witchcraft. Jewish and Armenian tradition admitted Mount Ararat as the resting place of the Ark. In the first century B.C. the Armenians affirmed that remnants of it could yet be seen. The first Christians Apamea, in Phrygia, erected in this place a convent called the monastery of the Ark, where a feast was yearly celebrated to commemorate Noah's coming out of the Ark after the Flood.”[2]

Presently there are four popular theories of where the Ark came to rest. Let’s consider each of these theories.

Theory one is the ancient land of Urartu. Since Masoretic Hebrew had no vowels, the Genesis text would have read that the Ark rested upon the mountains of “rrt” (Ararat). Assyrian text mentions a northerly subdivision of Armenia near the Araxes river was known as Urartu in antiquity, likewise spelled “rrt” in Hebrew. Urartu is known to have existed from about the late 13th century BC to the 9th century BC as a loose federation of tribes. However, there is no evidence that Urartu existed in the 15th century BC when Moses wrote Genesis. Indeed, no one really knows where Moses was referring to when he wrote that the Ark rested on the mountains of “Ararat”.[3]

Theory two holds that the great mount in eastern Turkey which is located on the borders of Iran, Armenia, and Nachivan is Ararat. It is a volcanic mountain that rises 5,165 meters or 16,945 feet. However, the name Ararat is the bastardized name of Urartu from the Hebrew Torah written by Moses (c. 1450 BC) which only included the consonants "rrt". Besides, the name Ararat for the region didn’t appear until the first and second millennia AD when it appeared in English language Bibles.[4]

Another problem with the Mount Ararat theory is that the steep slopes of the mountain are covered by sharp lava rock making it an unlikely place for Noah’s family and the animals to have descended. Since 1850 Mount Ararat has been the site of most of the alleged eyewitnesses of an ark-like structure. As one observer comments:

Given the extensive research which has taken place on Mount Ararat, it seems fair to say that if Noah's Ark ever survived into modern times and is somewhere on Ararat, there are few places remaining on the mountain to search. There have been many expeditions, accounts, alleged sightings, anomalies, and claims of discovery involving Mount Ararat. What is lacking is any scientific evidence or photo that shows that Noah's Ark exists today. Given all the ground and aerial expeditions (and one with sophisticated mapping capabilities), one should surmise that if the remains of Noah's Ark are indeed on Mount Ararat, they are not in plain view; if the boat is there, it must be buried. There have been 2 attempts that used sub-surface Radar (Ground Penetrating Radar - GPR) technology on Mount Ararat to look under the ice. The 1988 Willis expedition and the 1989 Aaron/Garbe/Corbin expedition used GPR. The 1988 Willis expedition successfully surveyed the eastern summit plateau and the saddle area between the two peaks, concluding there were no Ark remains under the ice.[5]

It should be noted that despite global warming shrinking the mountain’s ice cap, ever increasing interest in searching the mountain for the Ark, and the introduction of precise location instruments such as global positioning systems (which can be used to verify claims), there have been no new eyewitness accounts of an Ark for over a decade[6]!

Theory three is based on a Quranic verse. The relevance of this verse seems questionable, since the Muslim holy book was recorded in the 7th century A.D. (about 3,000 years after the ark landed). The Qur’an states that the Ark came to rest on mount Judi. There are at least five sites that are believed to be mount Judi, yet none of the sites contain physical evidence of the Ark. They include: 1) Cudi Dagi in Southeastern Turkey next to Cizre and Sirnak, 2) Cudi Dagi in South Central Turkey near Abraham's Harran and Sanli Urfa, 3) Al Judi on Mount Ararat. 4) Al Judi in Saudi Arabia and 5) Durupinar[7]. 

Theory four is the Durupinar, a large boat-shaped mound, that was named after the Turkish Captain llhan Durupinar who identified the formation in a Turkish Air Force aerial photo in 1959. It is located at 39° 50 min. N. latitude N. and 43° 45 min. E. longitude, 18 miles south of greater Mount Ararat. William Shea and Clifford Burdick wrote articles on the Durupinar site for the Creation Research Society Quarterly in September 1976, and the site was later popularized by Ron Wyatt and David Fasold who claimed they actually found the remains of the Ark buried in ice.  Followers of Ark research have concluded:

The Learning Channel broadcast a film July 31, 1995, about the work of Wyatt, Fasold, and John Baumgardner Ph.D. However, as evidence against Durupinar has mounted and initially interested people like Arthur Brandenberger Ph.D. of Ohio State University (1959-1960) and Dr. John Baumgardner of Los Alamos National Laboratories (1980s-1990s) pulled back in their support of the formation, the Durupinar supporters seem to have evolved their view. As the current view goes, Durupinar is no longer the actual remains of Noah's Ark where Ron Wyatt stated it contained trainloads of wood inside of the formation, but rather Durupinar is an imprint at the location where Noah's Ark stopped after the 500 foot long boat slid down the hill several thousand feet via a geologic flow which amazingly, did not turn the boat over or destroy its shape whatsoever. The ark later deteriorated or was scavenged and destroyed…. ArcImaging's B.J. Corbin visited the Durupinar site in 1989, 1990, and 1998, and does not believe that it is the remains of Noah's Ark. Corbin viewed similar boat/canoe-shaped formations near Mt. Ararat during helicopter flights, and the formation appears natural and similar to the surroundings and mudflow. ArcImaging's Rex Geissler & Peter Aletter also visited the site in 2000 and were unimpressed by it. The natural qualities of the geologic flow down the length of the hill are obvious.[8]

Paul S. Taylor, editor of the Christian Answers web site, summarizes the evidence supporting the traditional site theories – basically nothing:


Due to a popular Hollywood movie released in theaters in 1976 ("In Search of Noah's Ark"), many people remain under the impression that Noah's Ark has definitely been found. Particularly memorable to many people was a fuzzy telephoto photograph of what some thought might be the Ark. Later expeditions proved that the object was simply a large rock formation.

In the 1980s and 90s, many were misled by network news stories and newspaper articles that claimed the Ark had been found at a completely different location. Reports were of a ship-shaped structure 15 miles from Mt. Ararat. Unfortunately, various exaggerated claims about this site were spread. This location is often referred to as the Durupinar Site. It was internationally promoted by an American nurse anesthetist named Ron Wyatt, known for making inaccurate claims. Geologic surveys, subsurface radar and core-drilling data later confirmed beyond any doubt that this odd formation is not the Ark. It is merely a geologic feature common throughout the Ararat region.[9]


A New Model for Ark’s Landing Site


The English Bible states that the Ark came to rest “upon the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4). Thus, Ararat is not one mountain, but are mountains of Ararat! George and Dana Brown suggest a possible interpretation of Ararat is found in Harrat – the Arabic word meaning lava. The letter H is silent in Arabic and is optional (i.e. Jedda or Jeddah, Aqaba or Aqabah) so Harrat or lave fields can be written harrat or ar-a-rat,[10] or without vowels and the H as “rrt”, it’s form in the Hebrew Torah.


Detailed maps of the Middle East show several giant lava fields running for a 1000 miles from Palestine south through Arabia to the Muslim holy city of Medina. These lava fields form a great ridge of mountains and plateaus that tower above the flat desert to their east. The last volcanic eruption in occurred in 1256 A.D.[11]



Text Box:  
Lava Mountains of Harrat Uwayrid
Most LDS Bible Maps that include Arabia show lava fields of Arabia in purple, including the Harrat Uwayrid next to the town of Dedan. It is the lava mountains we saw that morning in 1995 when our truck descended into wadi Ula. The Uwayrid lava mountains run for over 100 miles long (see dark area in satellite photograph on the right), and borders the entire western side of the wadi Ula (valley shown in blue box). Here are the reasons I believe Harrat Uwayrid could be the place where the Ark landed.


First, the Qur’an states: “And it was said: O earth! Swallow thy water and, O sky! be cleared of clouds! And the water was made to subside. And the commandment was fulfilled. And it (the Ark) came to rest upon (the mount) Al-Judi and it was said: A far removal for wrongdoing folk!” (Qur’an 11:44)


According to the Saudi Altas of Water Resources, the great lava mountain fields in northwest Arabia, including the Harrat Uwayrid, act like giant sponges, actually transferring the surface water through its porous rock to subterranean aquifers[12]. 


Second, knowing the place where Noah’s family started to disburse and repopulate the earth, would provide a good estimation of where the Ark came to rest, and Wadi Ula is possibly that place. Consider the evidence. In this remote valley, surrounded by hundreds of miles of barren desert, descendants of at least two of Noah’s three sons appear to have settled. The name of the town in the northern section of wadi Ula is Al-Hijr, which means “break and then reside”[13]  According to the Saudi Ministry of Education, Al-Hijr was the capital of the land of Thamuds[14]. The tribe’s name came from the name of their grandfather Thamud, whose full name was  Thamud bin Aram bin sa’am bin Noaha[15] (Thamud son of Aram son of Shem son of Noah). Thus, Thamud’s great grandfather was Noah through Shem.


Just 13 miles south of al-Hijr is the town of Dedan, which was the name of Noah’s great great-grandson through Ham. This suggests that the fertile valley of wadi Ula, where early descendents of both Shem and Ham founded cities was the original center-point from where Noah’s sons began to spread out and resettle the world. The key evidence here is that four generations after the flood, we find descendants of Shem and Ham still living within 13 miles of each other in an isolated valley surrounded by hundreds of miles of barren desert. This fact suggests that the wadi Ula, next to the lava fields of Harrat Uwayrid, seems to be a likely epicenter of the repopulation of the earth.  Otherwise it would be extremely odd that a grandson of Shem and a great-grandson of Ham would have wandered away from some other distant landing site of the Ark and found the same small oasis in the mist of a vast Arabian desert. 


Third, Arabian compass coordinates possibly support the idea that the dispersion of Noah’s grandchildren took place from the wadi Ula. Arabs don’t have a north-south or an east-west. Their compass coordinates are based in part by the direction an Arab must go to find Noah’s descendants. In Arabic, west is simply “front”, the direction Arabs face when praying to Mecca. That makes east “back”. The Arabic name for north is “Shem”. The Bible records the settlement of Shem in northern lands of Assyria and Mesopotamia, and the Qur’an indicates that the family settled as far south as al-Hijr in the north end of the wadi Ula. “South” in Arabic is called Yeman, the land in southern Arabia where Ham’s descendants initially settled before colonizing Africa. Using these Arabic coordinates, we see that it would have made perfect sense for a person living in wadi Ula to call north Shem, for the tribe of Thamud at the northern end of the wadi and their Shemite cousins all found further north, and south Yeman (Ham), for starting at Dedan in the south end of the valley, and from there southward were Ham’s posterity.


Text Box:  
Al-Athalip altar
Text Box:  
Al-Athalip at al-Hijr
Fourth, Noah built an altar (Genesis 8:20) and entered a covenant with the Lord that God would not to destroy the earth again by flood – and thus commenced the first rainbows (Genesis 9:9,11,13). Entering the covenant required Noah to build an altar and subsequently make an offering.  Noah’s building of an altar meant that God himself had selected the place and put His name on it (Deut. 12:5, 11-14), which in turn made the landing site a holy shine for all of Noah’s posterity. Another name for the wadi Ula is Aala[16] means “high”, while the name Ula means, exalted[17].  At al-Hijr, the people of Noah’s great grandson, the Thamuds, had a holy site called the Al-Athalip, which according to archaeologists “is full of Nabataean, Thamudic and Lihyanaean inscriptions.[18] The Al-Athalip is a small ravine and within it is found a carved altar in the side of the sandstone cliffs. (see Photograph)  According to Mosaic law, an altar had to be of either raised earth or unhewn stone (Exodus 20:24, 2 Kings 5:17). At first glance the altar at the Al-Athalip does not seem to meet the requirements of a Mosaic altar. The carvings in the cliff behind the altar are of Nabataean origin, and thus are of an idolatrous culture. As for the altar itself, it must be remembered that Noah lived well before Moses and the specification God gave him for an altar. It is possible that the Nabataean decorations of the altar could have been added at a later date when the Nabataens ruled the area. It should also be noted that the cliffs at the al-Athalip are sandstone, and thus are of raised earth. It is also interesting to note that an intricate canal system was constructed in the sandstone cliffs to direct rainwater to a reservoir next to the altar. Those who administer the offerings had to first wash themselves (Exodus 29:4;40:12; Numbers 19:17, Deut. 21:6). Lynn and Hope Hilton pointed out that at Dedan, a short distance south, also had a holy place, the ruins of the Lehyanite Temple (people of Lehi), and that this holy place had Solomonic associations.[19] Needless to say, if there was a House of the Lord in Dedan, it required an altar. (figure below is the font of the Lehyantie Temple at Dedan.

Fifth, Ula would have been a perfect nursery for rebirthing to life on earth. The valley is situated in a high desert, so the climate is mild, and crops can be grown and harvested year round. (Figure: date groves in wadi Ula). The Saudi Department of Antiquities notes: “The area of al-Hira was inhabited since antiquity. Its location, environment, available water and fertile soil were the main reasons of the continued settlement in the area”[20]. Saturated soil would have been a serious problem in just about any other post-diluvia landing site. Thick mud and silt would have covered most of the earth, and would have taken months to have dried enough to plant seeds. In contrast, at al-Hijr, like the Qur’an states, the waters would have been swallowed up. With porous lava fields on one side and sandy soil, the wadi’s fields would have dried quickly. The wadi’s volcanic sands would have provided fertile soil rich in minerals and immediately suitable for planting. Need to grow food and fodder would have been of paramount importance. They had been on the ark for almost 2 years! (Genesis 8:13-17) All the plants on earth would have drowned. There was no grass, no trees, and a boat load of hungry animals. Crops and fodder needed to be raised and raised quickly, and a unique place to do this would have been wadi Ula. The farming conditions were so good in the valley at the time of Prophet Muhammed that the prophet charged the farmers there a special tax because they had the most productive farms in all the area he controlled. He called these farms the Muhajirun, meaning the fertile pieces[21]. Muqaddasi wrote in the year 985 that the dried peaches of Dedan [same valley as al-Hijr] were a renowned specialty of Arabia.[22]. The Bible tells us that on leaving the Ark, Noah became a “husbandman, and he planted a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20). 


The need to grow food and fodder was so important that if the landing site was not the lava mountains above wadi Ula, then it was probably at Medina, the next great oasis to the south of wadi Ula. According to an Arabian tradition, Medina was the first land cultivated by the descendants of Noah, and it was there that the date palm was first planted[23]. Philip Hitti states that a hundred different types of dates were cultivated in and around Medina[24].


Sixth, the garden of Eden was in an eastward land. (Gen. 2:8). Tradition also holds that Eden was due east of Ararat, the mountain on which Noah’s Ark came to rest. So if Eden was in Arabia, then it follows that Noah’s Ark landed in Arabia. The question then is where did the authors of the Bible text believe Eden was located?


It was revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith that the Garden of Eden was located in what is today Missouri, so we can assume Noah’s ark was built somewhere in North America. [25] But after the flood waters receded and the Ark came to rest, Noah probably had no idea where he was on the surface of the earth. Nor would he or his descendants have known where the garden of Eden was located.


With the passage of time, Noah’s descendants located a land that seemed to matched the legendary garden. They believed it was Eden. We can think of this place as New Eden, and would have been a land east of where the Ark landed for more than a thousand years after the flood, Moses write that “the Lord God planted a garden eastward of Eden”.


The leading western archaeologist on Arabian antiquities sites, rewrote the theory book on the Garden of Eden when in September 1983, in the Smithsonian Magazine, Juris Zarin declared that the Garden was probably located in Arabia, not Mesopotamia. Zarin, a professor at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, believes that the location of the Garden of Eden is to be found under the water just off the northeast Arabian coast. Zarin is no amateur; he headed an international team of archaeologists who spent 10 years surveying the antiquities sites in Saudi Arabia for the Kingdom’s Ministry of Education, and later spent another decade studying the antiquities of southern Arabia.  The Harrat Uwayrid and the wadi Ula are found due west of where Zarin concluded was the area where the ancients believed was the garden. All the traditional sites for the landing of the Ark are to the north of Zarin’s candidate for Eden.


We will probably never find Noah’s Ark. Resting atop the wind swept and sun baked lava mountains of Arabia, the Ark would have disintegrated long ago. However the following clues point to wadi Ula and Harrat Uwayrid as the place where Noah’s ark landed: 1) it’s a great range of lava mountains; 2) it lies west of what is probably New Eden; 3) genealogical evidence suggest that the epicenter where Noah’s family started to repopulate the world was wadi Ula, and the Arab compass lends support to this idea 4) the valley was a holy site that contained at least two altars 5) the lava mountains and the sandy valley floor of wadi Ula would have soaked up the flood waters, 6) fertile soil in the wadi Ula made the valley an ideal place where Noah could have immediately planted seeds, and, of course, 7) the amazing art rock mural that depicts a large rectangular object and hundreds of animals.




[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.noahsarksearch.com/urartu.htm

[4] http://www.noahsarksearch.com/ararat.htm

[5] http://www.noahsarksearch.com/ararat.htm.

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.noahsarksearch.com/cudi.htm

[9] http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a001.html


[10] George and Dana Brown, Noah’s Ark Located In Saudi Arabia, http://members.fortunecity.com/brianshouse/briansannex/mountararat, 10/29/2003.

[11] Hitti, 17.

[12] Ministry of Agriculture and Waters, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the cooperation of the Saudi Arabian United States Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation and The US National Graphic Center and the United States Geological Service, Water Atlas of Saudi Arabia (Riyadh: Saudi Publishing, 1984).


[13] Saudi Ministry of Education (1), 24.

[14] Saudi Ministry of Education (1), 24

[15] Saudi Ministry of Education (1), Department of Antiquities & Museums, Antiquities Sites of alUla  and Madain Saleh, (Riyadh: Ministry of Education)36.

[16] H. Moll, map, “Arabia”, 1712, (No. 209), (S.O.A.S. Library).

[17] Munir Ba’albaki, Al-Mawrid, A Modern English-Arabic Dictionary, (Beirut: Dar El-Ilm, 1994).

[18] Saudi Ministry of Education (1), Photograph no. 27.

[19] Swainston, Theron & Lorna, recording & transcribing, Lynn Hilton, narrator, “Tour of Historical Sites in Northwest Saudi Arabia, Lynn M. Hilton, Guide, January 22-24, 1987.

[20] Saudi Ministry of Education (1), 25.

[21] Abdulla al-Wohaibi, The Northern Hijaz, in the Writings of the Arab Geographers 800-1150 (ad), (Beirut: Al-Risalah, 1973),. 204.

[22] al-Wohaibi, 220.

[23] Lunde, p. 2.

[24] Phillip k. Hitti, History of the Arabs (Hampshire & London: MacMillan Education, 1970), 19,20.

[25] LDS Bible Dictionary, Eden.