A New Zealander's quest to find Noah's Ark has suffered a blow - two samples he gathered in Turkey are rock, not petrified timber.
Ross Patterson delivered the samples last week to Geological and Nuclear Sciences crown research institute in Wellington.
Senior geologist Hamish Campbell, who examined the samples, said yesterday they were not wood or fossil material, as Mr Patterson had hoped, but volcanic rock.
"I'm the geologist at Te Papa, and I get to see a vast amount of curious rocks that people bring in - meteorites, things that are fished out of the ocean," Dr Campbell said.
"But this is the first time I have been presented with rocks considered to be of some religious and/or archeological significance."
One of the samples had "a lovely platey fabric" and Dr Campbell said he could see why Mr Patterson thought they might be fossil wood.
"I'm all for somebody chasing something like this - it makes life interesting. GNS offers a service and we are very happy to sample rock in this way."
The Bible tells how Noah was commanded by God to build the Ark and herd a male and female of every species on earth into it before a great flood which lasted 40 days and 40 nights.
Mt Ararat, in eastern Turkey, is considered by many Christians to be the Ark's resting place.
Mr Patterson, 40, a freelance computer programmer from Whangarei, took his samples from a ridge 19km from Mt Ararat, believed to be an alternative landing site.
A Christian with a Seventh Day Adventist background, he believes remnants of Noah's floating zoo lie beneath the ridge 2000m above sea level in a national park.
With his brother, Keith Patterson, retired Whangarei pilot Geoff McCall, and three American and Swedish friends, Mr Patterson took his samples from the surface of the site, as the group did not have a permit to dig.
"The site has not been excavated because every winter it gets covered in snow, so if anything was exposed it would deteriorate.
"The Turkish Government has stipulated that for a full excavation to go ahead it would need to be housed, and that would be very expensive."
Mr Patterson said that despite his sample results, he would not give up and had "only scratched the surface".
Research by controversial American author Ron Wyatt and others claimed petrified timber and iron rivets existed under the ridge.
A radar scan in the late 1980s had shown large structures and Wyatt said he had found exotic animal hairs at the site.
Mr Patterson hoped to return next year, when an American university would carry out another scan, and use it as a basis to apply for permits to excavate.
He believed the Biblical ark, said to be three storeys high and 160m long, could have carried juvenile species of animals that had evolved over 4000 or 5000 years into today's many species.
Mr Patterson and his brother have film of their trip, which includes interviews with Turkish elders and a Scotsman who has climbed Mt Ararat seven times in search of the Ark.