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LONDON (AP) -- It was a vast boat that saved two of each animal and a handful of humans from a catastrophic flood.
But forget all those images of a long vessel with a pointy bow - the original Noah's Ark, new research suggests, was round.
A recently deciphered 4,000-year-old clay tablet from ancient Mesopotamia - modern-day Iraq - reveals striking new details about the roots of the Old Testament tale of Noah. It tells a similar story, complete with detailed instructions for building a giant round vessel known as a coracle - as well as the key instruction that animals should enter "two by two."
Elizabeth Stone, an expert on the antiquities of ancient Mesopotamia at New York's Stony Brook University, said it made sense that ancient Mesopotamians would depict their mythological ark as round.
"People are going to envision the boat however people envision boats where they are," she said. "Coracles are not unusual things to have had in Mesopotamia."
The tablet records a Mesopotamian god's instructions for building a giant vessel - two-thirds the size of a soccer field in area - made of rope, reinforced with wooden ribs and coated in bitumen.
"The idea that floods are caused by sin is happily still alive among us," he added, pointing out a local councilor in England who made headlines recently for saying Britain's recent storms were caused by the legalization of gay marriage.
...the key instruction that animals should enter "two by two."
The ark is a huge circular coracle, 3,600 square metres in dimension or two-thirds the size of a football pitch, made like a giant rope basket strengthened with wooden ribs, and waterproofed with bitumen inside and out. This was a giant version of a craft which the Babylonians knew very well, Finkel pointed out, in daily use up to the late 20th century to transport people and animals across rivers.
Its people-and-animal-carrying abilities will soon be put to the test: the production company Blink is making a Channel 4 documentary based on his research, including building a circular ark.