Ron Wyatt died, surrounded by family and friends in a Memphis hospital, on 4 August 1999. Two days later, after a funeral service in which his family and colleagues remembered his life and work, Ron was laid to rest at Polk Memorial Gardens outside Columbia, Tennessee. Ron Wyatt may have gone, but he has left behind a legacy made up of some astounding archæological claims and often furious controversy as to their validity.
Ron was brought up as a Seventh Day Adventist and, even though he later cut his ties with the Adventists, he continued to believe throughout his life that the Bible is factually correct. He was determined to prove this, despite the well-known biblical vagueness regarding dates and locations.
For centuries, scholars have grappled with this problem; few have ever agreed on anything. The central difficulty is that the Old Testament’s origins lie in an oral tradition; to compound that problem, many places in the Holy Land share the same name, similar topography, and a similarly tortuous history. For example, Jericho’s famous walls were breached not just once but at least 17 times. Furthermore, the Egyptians who dominated the region for over 1,000 years habitually appropriated statues and paintings, and over-inscribed them with hieroglyphs. This became such a routine matter with Rameses II that he was nicknamed ‘The Chiseller’. The end result is that no-one can be certain about events, dates or locations.
No-one, that is, except Ron who, ignoring convention, always searched for the exact spot the Bible had specified, and invariably found his target. Had he discovered just one site, it would have been a remarkable achievement; but Ron claimed to have found over a dozen. To the annoyance of ‘The Establishment’, he wasn’t afraid to publicise his findings or the methods used to locate them. He also usually managed to produce artifacts and snippets of historical material that seemed to lend his claims some legitimacy. Possessing a dogged belief that he was right, and backed by support from Christian organisations, Ron became the most prominent and prolific amateur archæologist of the late 20th century.
Ron said it wasn’t luck, or even judgement, that lay behind his successes – he was being ‘guided’. Thus, red tape melted away, visas were granted, funds became available when work was in danger of having to stop, and authorities of every religious persuasion broke their own rules to accommodate him. There was also direct divine intervention, including the deaths of enemies, angelic visitations, localised earthquakes – even governments falling. Ron pointed out that this was, of course, none of his doing and he was merely the tool of a greater authority.
Relying on this barely credible mix of intuition and good fortune, he wandered round Asia Minor and the Middle East, oblivious to wars, borders, and disease. He was attacked, arrested, kidnapped and deported but, in a career that spanned 22 years and over 100 trips, he providentially survived everything that was thrown at him. Ron claimed to have discovered virtually every site of importance to Christians, the most significant being a dual find of the site of the crucifixion and the Ark of the Covenant.
If Ron was correct, his work will profoundly affect every religion in the world. But two years after his death arguments still rage. While there is not enough space here to examine all Ron’s claims in detail, or the many criticisms that have been levelled at them, we can look at some of his most spectacular ‘successes’ and the unorthodox but unwavering beliefs that led to them. These still-controversial finds provide an insight into the man and his methods.
Noah’s Ark, as it happens, was the spur for Ron’s archæological career. In 1960, at the age of 27, Ron read an article in Life magazine that was to set him on his unusual course. In 1959, a Turkish military plane had photographed an object some 12–14 miles (19-23km) south of Mount Ararat, which – viewed through a stereoscope – resembled a boat. Ron was fascinated, and over the next 15 years found his imagination returning over and over again to the story. He built a model (to biblical specifications), floated it in a stream, and observed its behaviour. The results, albeit crude, convinced him that this was without question Noah’s Ark. It became an obsession, and eventually led him to Turkey, where he visited Ararat numerous times. The story of his trips to Turkey and the parts played by various vested interests makes gripping reading (see FT44:14-15). In what would become a familiar pattern, Ron believed everyone was misinterpreting the evidence. He suggested that the Ark had been damaged (a portion had broken away and fallen some distance from the main structure) after an eruption sent it cascading down the mountainside. Fortuitously, lava had encased and preserved the ship, but the decks were separated, and scientists hadn’t paid attention to this. The segments could be interpreted a number of ways. But together, they made a double-decked ship with a length of around 515 feet (160m), the proportions dictated to Noah by God. Had Ron stopped there, all would have been well. But Ron couldn’t resist taking his ideas even further.
Marking out the remains of Noah's Ark.
He surprised everyone (especially the farmers who’d carved them) by stating that certain boundary markers were actually anchor stones from the Ark. With no evidence to support the claim, he then insisted that Noah had established a farm to breed the animals he’d saved. While outlining this farm, he discovered “Noah’s family burial ground”. What’s more, he claimed he’d found, from radar readings, chambers inside the ship used for penning animals. He found samples of ‘fossilised wood’, and insisted that he’d found fossilised iron embedded in the ship’s side. Truth was, his metal detector was responding to magnetite, which occurs all over the region. It now appears that the boat-shaped depression may be simply a chance geological formation. To Ron’s chagrin, members of his team later stated that there was nothing at Ararat that can’t be explained naturally.
Ron’s odd statements and unconventional behaviour came close to getting him deported, even killed, at times; and although he was guest of honour when the Turks dedicated the site as ‘Noah’s Ark National Park’ in 1987, his presence was seen by some as a serious nuisance. The region is now under military control and verification of Ron’s claims will have to wait.
Another of Ron’s projects was to find the facts behind the Jewish Exodus. He wanted to try and map the route taken by the Israelites when fleeing Egypt. According to the Bible, they had made good progress from Egypt to the Red Sea, but had then became nomads, wandering for 40 years in search of the Promised Land. Several times they went backwards, or took unwarranted detours. This is clearly spelt out in the Bible, and reasons are also given for these deviations. Military objectives account for some detours, and various natural pitfalls had to be avoided; but the biblical reason is more complex. Because they had ignored the Lord’s decrees, the Israelites were punished by being denied a direct approach to their Promised Land. No-one knows how many people took flight, or why the Egyptians allowed it to happen. Even the date is vague, though many believe it occurred around 1500 BC, perhaps as a consequence of the volcanic explosion at Thera, which caused a huge ash cloud and tidal waves. The ensuing chaos could have given the Israelites a chance to slip away. Historians are divided over this, but whatever twists the route took, one thing is certain: the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, so this is where Ron concentrated his efforts. Within days of beginning his investigations, he had formed his conclusions.
Ron discovered a broad ridge through the sea where the water is relatively shallow. With the waters parted, two and a half million Israelites plus their flocks could cross in an orderly manner. The ridge terminates at the gulf of Aqaba, where there is a beach large enough to hold the Israelites. That’s all there was to it. Easy when you’ve done your research, said Ron. The ridge is many yards underwater and, quoting the relevant passages, Ron explained how God parted the waters long enough for the Israelites to cross, while the pursuing Egyptians were drowned. Chariot remains found at the bottom of the sea were proof of this. Once more, Ron had married biblical fact with topographical sleuthing.
Ron’s Red Sea findings came with substantiating information, which seemingly supported his claims. For example, the chariot remains were consistent with Egyptian design of the 18th Dynasty. Near-fossilised bones, spearheads, and jars confirmed this. At each end of the path Ron discovered a column with Hebrew text telling the tale of the Flight. He claimed that King Solomon had erected these, some 400 years after the event took place. They were set in concrete, near their original positions, although the one on the Saudi side has since been removed because of its political connotations. Why hadn’t any of this been found before? Because everyone was looking in the wrong place. Had scientists taken the Bible literally, they too would have found these remains. In one stroke Ron had solved the puzzle, found the route, and put the story in its chronological context.
Yet, while some argue that the Exodus occurred during the reign of Rameses, nothing corroborates this in Egyptian accounts. Contradictions abound, and many researchers believe that the flight took place later, possibly during the reign of she-pharaoh Hatshepsut, or after the reign of the ‘heretic’ Akhenaten, when Egypt was in some turmoil. No-one knows precisely who was involved in the Exodus; it was likely a mixture of peoples enslaved by the Egyptians, who contemptuously referred to them as ‘Asiatics’. Even the numbers are confusing. The commonly quoted figure of 2.5 million refugees seems unviable – Egypt’s whole population at the time was less than this. The Israelites’ escape route is also subject to conjecture: Ancient Egyptian topography was significantly different from that of today, and it’s probable that they marched through the ‘Reed Sea’ a marshy extension of the Red Sea. Ron’s chariot wheels could provide some answers, but they have never seen the light of day. Furthermore, divers state that without specialised equipment, it would be impossible to find anything at the bottom of the Red Sea or survive the depths Ron said he’d dived to.
Ron breezily dismissed all negative comment as the work of the devil, but the Red Sea discovery is a typical Wyatt adventure. He invariably managed to ensure that things fitted tidily with Biblical accounts, to the extent that one wonders whether this evidence was fabricated; or was the self-delusion of someone who badly wanted things to neatly slot together and fit his own religious convictions. His style contrasts with that of professionals like Kathleen Keynon, who spent six years carefully excavating Jericho but still couldn’t accurately pinpoint when it was attacked by Joshua. Ron’s evidence is usually anecdotal – in places painfully threadbare – and this leaves him open to ridicule.
Cynics find ammunition in the naïve way Ron’s reports are written up. Their somewhat self-righteous tone loses some gloss from misspellings, vaguely relevant biblical quotes, whimsical interpretations of scientific facts, and muzzy photos of various digs. The implication is that naïvety is synonymous with honesty. Ron’s video evidence collapses under scrutiny, and not all believers go along with what has been called ‘The Great Christian Scam’. Seventh Day Adventists, for instance, have been among Ron’s harshest and loudest critics, while scientists who are Christians remain aghast at Ron’s cavalier interpretations. Ron was sometimes his own worst enemy, issuing bizarre statements on his lecture tours which were guaranteed to give ammunition to his critics. For one demanding to be taken seriously, Ron had a perverse way of going about it.
Not content with having found the site of the Red Sea crossing, Ron also went looking for Mount Sinai.The Bible tells us that at Mount Sinai the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel. Talking virtually face-to-face with Moses, God explained that the Israelites were the chosen race, and thus had to adopt a specific code of conduct. This was (literally) written in stone as the Ten Commandments. It was a pivotal point in Israelite history and a keystone of the Christian faith; but no-one had accurately located where this took place. Inevitably, there were several contending sites.
For Ron it was laughably easy. Everyone was concentrating on the wrong place; the correct Mount Sinai was in Saudi Arabia. His first attempt to get there, without a visa, resulted in a 78-day spell in a Saudi prison; but this wouldn’t deter him for long. Accordingly, he was soon back and, this time, climbed the mountain. He found that its top had been turned to obsidian by immense heat, in the same manner that granite rock can melt and turn to glass. The whole range had suffered similar treatment. Was this evidence that God Himself had hovered over the mountain, just as the Bible describes? Ron didn’t hesitate…
But Ron needed more evidence, and the logical step was to find the route Moses had taken, looking for signs of ancient activity. The results, predictably, were remarkable: Descending from Mount Sinai, Moses found factions worshipping a golden calf, symbol of the Philistine god, Baal. 1 Moses doubtless knew that the Exodus included Baal worshippers, but was enraged nonetheless. He broke the tablets the Lord had written on, then prayed for guidance. God instructed him to grind the calf into dust, then mix this into the Israelites’drinking water. Ron also discovered a piece of millstone in the area in front of the mountain. This, he believed, could have been used to grind manna as the Biblical account describes. Neatly rounding off the story, Ron found a cleft rock nearby showing marks which appeared to have been made by water – the same rock that Moses had struck with his staff, as instructed by God, to provide fresh water for the wanderers under his care.
Nearer the mountain, Ron said he’d found rows of columns and other indications which convinced him this was where the Israelites had made camp. More significantly, he also found (but failed to recover or photograph) an altar embedded with flecks of gold – certain proof, he said, that Moses had used it to grind the blasphemous golden calf to dust…
Scientists affirmed that the heat required to create the obsidian phenomenon was probably reflected from a source some 50 feet (15m) up. Ron was delighted. He felt this confirmed the Biblical statement that God had ‘hovered over the mountain’. Why had it never been discovered? No idea, said Ron; scientists had got it wrong, and the Bible was correct in even the tiniest details.
Had Ron stopped at the story of the crossing, many might have been convinced; but the discovery of other artifacts is too much to accept without question. There was scant evidence to support his claims, and the manner in which he interpreted clues is open to question. Using flimsy indications, Ron habitually built them up into major finds. While others reserved judgement, Ron decided that these finds were left by the Israelites 3,000 years earlier. Herein lies the miracle he argued: only God could ensure that these things remained preserved, ready to be revealed when the time was ripe.
Probably the most grandiose and spectacular of all Ron’s claims was that he had discovered both the site of Christ’s crucifixion and the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant – and that they were one and the same! It had always been one of his ambitions to find the location of the Ark of the Covenant, but there seemed little chance of identifying the Crucifixion site, as its exact position had been long forgotten. There were three contending sites, the most likely being an area partly excavated by General Gordon during his year in Palestine studying Biblical antiquities. Divine inspiration told Ron that the true location was not exactly where Gordon had thought, but nearby; whilst tunnelling underground in his search for the Ark, he came upon it almost immediately and, without attracting attention it seems, excavated it. He made copious notes on the site and provided information that would lend his findings some authority. He said that the inscription ‘INRI’ was not affixed to the cross, as Christian images generally depict, but was in fact on three large signs (one in each of the three l anguages of Jerusalem) which could be seen from a considerable distance. Given that the Romans crucified people both to punish and to instruct this makes sense, and was well known to students of antiquity. There were several shallow niches present, which Ron said were for ‘posters’ of this nature, plus smaller ones to accommodate the ever-present imperial eagle.
The Romans used such sites often, and when crosses were taken down, the socket holes were plugged with a wooden bung. Ron said he’d found such plugs, plus a massive circular stone and a groove in which it could be rolled. This, he believed, was the stone used to seal Christ’s tomb. It had probably been brought there when Christians acquired the site, and a church was built on the spot. Having formed his conclusions, he took photographs, covered in the excavation and landscaped it into a small garden, apparently at the request of the authorities.
One has to ask why Ron chose to obliterate something so fundamentally important to all Christians, and a find that was the painstaking result of years of his own work. The answer is, apparently, an agreement that he’d made with the Israeli Department of Antiquities that no evidence relating to the Ark should be made public. Yet there is no record of Ron even having permission to dig; besides, archæologists working in Israel need at least a degree in order to obtain a permit. Ron had no such qualification.
Ron’s covering-up of the excavation means that no-one can now verify (or refute) his claims. Furthermore, what should be a site of reverence and devotion has – for the short term at least – been once again lost. This immediately casts doubts on the discovery; but according to Ron, the site was of far greater importance than anyone could imagine.
Soon after discovering the Crucifixion site, and again through divine agency, Ron found anunderground cavern with a sealed chamber containing… the Ark of the Covenant. In an extraordinary coincidence the Ark lay directly beneath the crucifixion site, and this was to have astounding repercussions.
Jerusalem is probably the most tunnelled city on earth, and it is feasible that Ron found a cavern such as he described. According to him, the Ark was stored together with a seven-branched lamp, a Jewish priestly vestment, the Table of Shrewbread, the Temple furnishings, and a huge sword, which Ron surmised was Goliath’s. Atop the Ark was the Mercy Seat, a throne of solid gold where God Himself sat enveloped in clouds when conversing with Moses. Tradition has it that the Jews hid these items in 621BC as the Babylonians were about to breach the city’s defences and they have never been seen since.
Surveying the chamber, Ron spotted a fissure in the ceiling, and it struck him that this would emerge at the Crucifixion site. The Bible states that when Christ died, the ground was split. Was this the same fissure? Ron felt it was, but first he had to explore the contents of the chamber. It was cramped and had an oppressive atmosphere. This, coupled with his pneumonia, caused Ron to fall unconscious for an indeterminate time. Nevertheless, he managed to get a look at the contents of the Ark and examine the tablets of stone on which God had written the Ten Commandments. According to Ron, God’s writing looked like that of a finger writing in soft butter. Ron realised there were four figures present in the chamber and understood they were Angels, Guardians of the Ark. One of them explained to him that they had been with the Ark since Moses had placed the tablets within it and that the Ark had a role in the fate of mankind, at a time when all would seem lost and “people would receive the mark of the beast.”
Yet the Ark has a deadly reputation. While it’s an artifact of tremendous religious importance, touching it is meant to be lethal, as has been shown time and again. After a battle, 50,000 Philistine soldiers rashly pitched camp with the Ark gaping open: all died in their sleep. Their King promptly had it sealed, and sent back to the Israelites. A bearer of the Ark tripped and touched it, and was instantly killed. Two of Moses’s retinue peeped inside and were struck dead. Moses had them buried in the desert, well away from the camp. Some have argued that this indicates the Ark is radioactive or contains some poisonous compound. Luckily, Ron was immune to anything of this sort, and poked around it with impunity. Pressed on this point, he claimed that two of the angels had lifted the Mercy Seat and opened the lid, encouraging him to peer inside and touch the tablets of stone.
Political niceties meant that the cavern’s location needed to be kept secret, while Ron’s assistants were so frightened by what they had witnessed that they didn’t require swearing to silence. He subsequently photographed the Ark through a colonoscope, but the film was spoiled; Ron’s Polaroid also failed.
But Ron hadn’t yet played his ace. What follows strains credulity and for some verges on blasphemy. Ron forced a tape through the fissure in the cavern and, as anticipated, it emerged at the Crucifixion site. He noted that the fissure was stained with what looked like blackened blood, and that the same substance was also present on the Mercy Seat.
Ron decided that this was the Blood of Christ, miraculously preserved. He scraped some into a vessel, and took it for analysis. Rehydrating the sample showed that the blood had female chromosomes only, and thus came from one who had no ‘earthly’ father. This claim is repeated by Ron’s widow, Mary Nell Wyatt; but Richard Rives, custodian of Ron’s archives, doesn’t go as far, stating that the blood simply has an unusual Somatid structure. 2
While irregular chromosome patterns are not unusual, there has been no other known instance of this type of blood occurring, though in theory a male can survive happily with ‘female only’ chromosomes. In 1998, New Scientist briefly mentioned a case where a boy’s blood showed only one type. However, the test results on the blood found by Ron have never been released, and researchers can find no trace of them or the laboratory that performed the analysis. Ron would never tell anyone where the analysis was performed, other than that it was in Israel. Until the results are made public, doubts will always be cast on Ron’s claims.
There are several other Arks with legitimate claims to being ‘original’. One at Axxum, Ethiopia, has been venerated for centuries. Housed in a special chapel, it is cared for by a priest whose life is devoted to maintaining the chapel and its grounds. But he has never touched the Ark, because to do so is to court death.
Ron did not believe that there was an Ark in Ethiopia, saying that if one “ever turned up” it would be nothing more than a copy, perhaps made by a renegade son of King Solomon. The Bible, said Ron, effectively provides a blueprint, allowing anyone to make their own Ark. He added that if the Axxum Ark were the real thing, the Israeli Authorities would stop at nothing to obtain it. Despite rumours, nothing of this nature has taken place. For Ron, this was proof that his was the one and only true Ark. 3Ron’s desire to prove the Bible literally correct was the driving force that dominated his life. Starting in 1977, he made over 100 trips to the Middle East; usually at his own expense, but later with support and funding from a variety of people, including ‘High Flight’ Col James Irwin’s organisation. Irwin, one of the Apollo 15 astronauts, was particularly interested in Noah’s Ark, but backtracked when no tangible evidence emerged. Cynics say that Ron latched onto Irwin for his contacts and for the prestige of being close to a man who had made history. Perhaps, but what really arouses suspicion is the persistent pattern behind Ron’s discoveries.
Each time, with minor variations it was roughly the same. Given changes of name, land ownership, plus changes due to earthquakes and landslides, scientists invariably looked in the wrong places. Using the Bible for reference, Ron would identify the correct location and organise a dig, whereupon a cache of artifacts would appear, verifying his find. Ron’s unscientific approach annoys and frustrates the scientists, while those Christians who take the Bible literally are in turn dismayed at the scientists’ refusal to accept anything outside of their frame of reference.
Yet if Ron was a fraud, he was at least a consistent one. On his deathbed he was interviewed by national newspapers and private individuals, and refused to recant a word. He insisted that the revelation of the Ark of the Covenant wasn’t far away, and this would give non-believers the opportunity to make their peace with God. For a committed Christian, distorting such matters is by definition a dangerous ploy, a mortal sin that contravenes the Commandments. In the Old Testament, many characters were killed for accidentally transgressing laws they weren’t even aware of; in this context, ‘inventing’ things is foolhardy at the very least and, whatever the motive, wouldn’t be forgiven by a vengeful God. For one on his deathbed, with the afterlife looming, it would be a terrible mistake to make.
Yet, in the end does any of this really matter? Christians believe that allowing for translation and personal interpretation, all the things described in the Bible occurred more or less as described, and though it’s reassuring to have it, they don’t particularly need solid evidence to back things up. For most, the word of God alone is enough.