A team of evangelical Christian researchers say they've discovered Noah's ark near the peak of Mount Ararat in Turkey.

The group, from Noah's Ark Ministries International in Hong Kong, says its members "successfully excavated and ventured inside a large wooden structure" 4,000 metres above sea level.

Samples of wood taken from the structure were carbon dated to 4,800 years old, NAMI's website says, and Turkish government officials plan to apply for UNESCO World Heritage site designation.

"The structure is partitioned into different spaces," said one of the researchers, Man-fai Yuen. "We believe that the wooden structure we entered is the same structure recorded in historical accounts and the same ancient boat indicated by the locals."

According to many Christians, Noah's ark came to rest somewhere in Turkey. In the Bible, the ark protected Noah, his family, and a pair of each species of animal on the planet during a cataclysmic flood.

The researchers filmed one journey into the purported ship. A short video clip posted on their website shows several people wearing head lamps, descending into a deep crack in a glacier.

One member of the expedition takes a sample from what looks like a curved, wooden wall. Floorboards are dimly visible in another shot.

The team says they found the structure in 2007 and 2008, and returned with a film crew in October 2009.

"I saw a structure built with plank-like timber," said Panda Lee, a member of the group, speaking about an October 2008 expedition to the site. "Each plank was about eight inches wide. I could see tenons, proof of ancient construction predating the use of metal nails."

"I could see broken wood fragments embedded in a glacier, and some 20 metres long. I surveyed the landscape and found that the wooden structure was permanently covered by ice and volcanic rocks."

Doubt cast on 'discovery'

A report in the Christian Science Monitor has raised doubts about the finding however.

Dr. Randall Price, an evangelical Christian who was the archeologist for the Chinese-led team in 2008 when it made the alleged discovery, told the publication he has "difficulties with a number of issues" related to the announcement.

"If the world wants to think this is a wonderful discovery, that's fine. My problem is that, in the end, proper analysis may show this to be a hoax and negatively reflect how gullible Christians can be," he told the Christian Science Monitor.

In a leaked email from Price, he says he believes a group of Kurdish men may have hauled wood up the mountain and staged the scene for the team.

Price confirmed he wrote the email but wouldn't go into further details with the publication.

Secret location

NAMI has not disclosed the site's location, saying only that it's embedded in ice near the mountain's peak.

Some experts are skeptical about the finding. If the ark was deposited in Turkey, moving ice likely would have swept it away ages ago. Also, there is no evidence of a catastrophic flood in Turkey around the time that the Ark would have taken to the high seas.

The Hong Kong group follows in the footsteps of other explorers who claimed they had found the biblical craft.

In 2006, a team of Christian archaeologists said they had located a piece of rock in the mountains of Iran, which they thought was a piece of the ark.

In 2004, an American businessman and Christian activist claimed he had located the ark below the ice on Mount Ararat, using satellite imagery. However, the Turkish government refused to grant him a permit to launch an excavation.