They were written on a tablet, which dates to around 1,700BC and was found in the Middle East during the 1940s by Leonard Simmons, who subsequently passed it on to his son Douglas.
Douglas took it to Irving Finkel, an expert at the British Museum, who "took one look at it an nearly fell off his chair". He then translated the 60 lines of script, and believes it is one of the first tablets to describe the shape of the famous ark.
Babylon at the British Museum - review
Review: Ararat by Frank Westerman"In all the images ever made people assumed the ark was, in effect, an ocean-going boat, with a pointed stem and stern for riding the waves – so that is how they portrayed it," Mr Finkel, Assistant Keeper Ancient Mesopotamian script, said. "But the ark didn't have to go anywhere, it just had to float, and the instructions are for a type of craft which they knew very well. It's still sometimes used in Iran and Iraq today, a type of round coracle which they would have known exactly how to use to transport animals across a river or floods."
The tablet describes the Mesopotamian story, which became the account in the Old Testament of Noah's Ark in the Book of Genesis.
In Mr Finkel's translation, the god speaks to Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who is the Noah figure in early versions of the ark story.
The tablet's translation says: "Wall, wall! Reed wall, reed wall! Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice, that you may live forever! Destroy your house, build a boat; despise possessions And save life! Draw out the boat that you will built with a circular design; Let its length and breadth be the same."
Mr Finkel, the curator of the recent British exhibition on ancient Babylon, believes it was during the Babylonian captivity that the exiled Jews learned of the story of Noah and incorporated it into the Old Testament.
"It is the most extraordinary thing," Douglas told The Guardian. "You hold it in your hand, and you instantly get a feeling that you are directly connected to a very ancient past – and it gives you a shiver down your spine."