Noah's Ark in Its Many Forms: Photos

Box-like, round and oval are among the various shapes Noah's Ark has been depicted through history.

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Animals are shown running into Noah's Ark, as depicted by Paramount Pictures "Noah." Despite the depiction of the ark as a rectangular structure in the film, research has suggested the ark could have been round in structure.

This 3,700-year-old clay tablet, consisting of 60 lines in cuneiform, has been dubbed a prototype of Noah's ark described in the Bible. The tablet contains a detailed construction manual for building an ark with palm-fiber ropes, wooden ribs and coated in hot bitumen to make it waterproof. It also contains the first description of the ark's shape -- surprisingly, it's a massive round vessel.

About two-thirds the size of a soccer field, the ark was "a giant version of the type of coracle that they actually used on the rivers," Irving Finkel, curator of the British Museum's 130,000 Mesopotamian clay tablet collection who translated the cuneiform script, told Discovery News.

The concept of a round ark emerges from this late 14th-century illustration. But according to Finkel, the picture is not significant. "The roundness of the ark had faded from memory before the Bible was written," he said.

Over the centuries, the ark has been depicted in many ways. Biblical creationists imagined Noah's ark like a large, box-like vessel, similar to the version shown in Aronofksy's $130 million epic. Other designs added a sloping roof.

In many cases the shape matched the ships of the days. Designs ranged from square-rigged caravels to long vessels with pointy bows.

This reconstructed medieval mural of the Noah's Ark from Saint Teilo church in Wales represents the idea of the ark in popular imagination and children's story books. There, the ark is often depicted as a large house on a boat, with animals sticking out.