Assyriologist Irving Finkel is peering at a tablet inscribed with an ancient and mysterious script. He is one of the few people on the planet who can read this text, but even for him it is difficult and laborious work. Even so, he is astonished by what he’s seeing; this may be the answer to a mystery that has exercised scholars for centuries.

The writing on the tablet is in a format known as cuneiform. Thousands of years ago, a scribe stamped a message onto clay that later hardened. And the story that the man wrote on this small slab is one that goes back to the dawn of civilization: the tale of the great flood and the boat built to escape it.

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