LYNCHBURG, Va. – It's one of the most familiar Bible stories.
Saddened by the wickedness of man, God directs the righteous Noah to build an ark for his family and two of each species of animal.
Together, they ride the ark through 40 days and 40 nights of torrential rains that God unleashes upon the Earth. And when the waters subside, Noah and the animals return to land.
"That seems almost like a fairy story," said archaeologist Randall Price, who is director of Liberty University's new Center for Judaic Studies. "But we believe it was an actual event."
This summer Price, 57, plans to continue on a journey to prove just that as he joins an expedition to Mount Ararat. His team believes that it is there, in Eastern Turkey, where Noah's Ark remains preserved underneath layers of rubble and ice.
"There's a whole trail of history pointing to it [Mt. Ararat]," Price said in a recent interview. "But in our age, people tend to think it is more of a story like Jack and the Bean Stalk.' Our aim is to show that the Bible is good history."
He pointed to Genesis 8:4, which states, "and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat," in The New International Version of the Bible.
For centuries, expeditions have set out to find Noah's Ark but have been unable to find any concrete evidence, beyond that of an unwavering faith, to support its existence.
Retired Continental Airlines Pilot Richard Bright, 64, has visited Turkey more than 30 times over the past 25 years in search of the vessel.
"We've received many leads over the years, dating back into antiquity," he said. "We've had so many reports over the years, and they talk about the same mountain."
Last fall, a new tip peaked both his and Price's interest.
A Kurdish shepherd told them that he had seen the ark, and even climbed on top of it, when he was a boy.
The team hypothesizes that the ark is preserved in several pieces beneath a glacier on the mountain, and every so often the glacier recedes, exposing part of the vessel.
"That's when he saw it as a boy," Price said, adding that they had interviewed the shepherd and could find no reason to distrust him.
The shepherd asked for nothing in return, and agreed to lead Bright to the site where he said he had seen the ark.
Bright first climbed to the site in September. Then a team including Price, the shepherd, a mountaineer and several others made a follow-up ascent to 15,000 feet later the same month.
They found the spot, Price said, but it now is covered by an estimated 60-foot-deep pile of boulders. Price believes the landslide may have resulted from attacks against Kurdish rebels on the mountain, or perhaps from explosives that were set off to cover up the ark.
"It's a very delicate and almost clandestine environment," he said of the area, which is near the Turkish border to Iran and Armenia. "The danger level is high."
But his team has negotiated with government and military authorities and gained access to work at the site starting this spring, Price said.
That's when the team of archaeologists, geologists, explorers and other volunteers plan to start removing boulders.
By summertime, they hope to reach the glacier and use ice-melting equipment to access what they believe is preserved beneath. If a structure is found, they plan to take samples to have analyzed and dated.
But that may not be proof enough for some. Bright said people would have to make up their own minds.
"We intend to, God willing, find enough of it to at least show that we have an ancient structure," he said. "If we find a great big structure up there that fits the dimensions, and if there are compartments in there, and it's ancient What else could it be, way up there, thousands of feet in the air?"
Work also must be done leading up to the expedition.
Price estimated that the team needs to raise about $60,000 to pay for permission to use the site, to buy the necessary machinery and to fund about two months of work on location.
Bright said a discovery would "mean so much to so many, many people worldwide."
"Keep your ear to the road, so to speak, this summer," he said. "Because there will be discovery. The only thing that's holding us back is to finance the machinery that we need."