The remains of Noah's Ark have been found 12,000ft up a Turkish mountain, it was claimed today.
A group of Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers say carbon testing on remains found on Mount Ararat show they are 4,800 years old, around the time when the ark was said to be afloat.
But the group left themselves open to a critical backlash after they failed to reveal the location of their find or produce photographs of the exterior of the site.
The search for the physical remains of Noah's Ark has held a fascination for Christians, Jews and Muslims for hundreds of years. But despite various
claims no scientific evidence has ever been found.
The team of 15 made the announcement of their find yesterday. They brought back from the site wooden remains and strands of rope which they believe was used for keeping animals.
Yeung Wing-cheung, a documentary filmmaker and member of the team from Hong Kong-based Noah's Ark Ministries International, said: 'It's not 100 per cent that it is Noah's Ark but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it.'
He said the structure had several compartments, some with wooden beams, which were believed to house animals. However early indications are it was a kind of cypress wood whereas the Bible says it was made of gopher wood.
Members of the Chinese team appeared with Turkish officials at a joint press conference on the evangelicals website where the potential importance of the discovery was hailed.
However Nicholas Purcell, a lecturer in Ancient History at Oxford University, was dismissive of the claims adding that 'these kinds of stories come along pretty regularly'.
'The usual nonsense,' he told MailOnline.
'If floodwaters covered Eurasia 12,000ft deep in 2,800 BC, how did the complex societies of Egypt and Mesopotamia, already many centuries old, keep right on regardless? And dating Noah's Flood to 2,800 BC is arbitrary anyway...'
Over the years there have been numerous hoaxes over the search for the ark. In 1993, George Jammal claimed in a programme shown by CBS that he had 'sacred wood' from the ark.
It was later revealed that he was an actor and that the wood was in fact taken from Californian railroad tracks which had been baked in an oven with various sauces.
The group has refused to say exactly where the discovery was made as they are waiting for the Turkish government to designate the area an archaeological site.
The team, the first of its kind endorsed by the Turkish government, is a joint effort between Hong Kong-based Media Evangelism, Noah's Ark Ministry International and the Turkish government, says the South China Morning Post.
Dr Ahmet Ozbek, geologist at Kahramanmaras Sutcu Iman University in Turkey, told the paper the low temperature and environmental condition of glacier deposits and volcanic material helped preservation at the site.
The group of evangelical archaeologists ruled out an established human settlement on the grounds that one had never been found above 3,500m in the vicinity.
But four years ago and following a decade of research, U.S. national security analyst Porcher Taylor claimed a satellite image revealed a baffling 'anomaly' on the mountain's north-west corner that he believed to be the remains of the Ark.
Local Turkish officials will ask the central government in Ankara to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status so the site can be protected and pave the way for a major archaeological dig.
The Noah's Ark Ministries International was formed in 2003 in Hong Kong by a group of evangelical Christians. In that year they made their first expedition to the Mount Ararat to find the ark. Subsequent visits to the area have been carried out in 2004 and 2007.
The biblical story says God decided to flood the earth after seeing how corrupt it had become.
After the flood waters receded, the Bible says, the ark came to rest on a mountain.
Many believe that Mount Ararat is where the ark and her inhabitants came aground.