Despite the fact that the discovery sounds like an excellent beginning for a new Indiana Jones Movie—We love Indy—researchers say they have found what they are calling “The Gates of Hell.”
Obviously not in a literal way, this mythical portal to the underworld was mentioned by ancient Greeks and Romans alike.
“This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell,” wrote Greek historian Strabo (64 BCE – 24 CE).
The site discovered by experts is located in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, now Pamukkale in southwestern Turkey
The great majority of ancient legends refer to the different ways of reaching the underworld, going through different stages that increase the suffering of the soul that leaves the body.
For many Romans, this process began in “the gateway to the underworld” and scientists have recently revealed that the site still exists.
The place is actually a cave that has been rediscovered by researchers from the University of Salento (Italy). The place belonged to ancient Phrygia and was used to perform animal sacrifices by priests.
However, what the ancients considered a reality as a portal to the underworld is something entirely different, and we can thank science.
After finding the location of the ancient ‘portal to the underworld’ scientists have found out why animals that approached the site died nearly instantly.
The cause is an underground seismic activity, through which a large amount of volcanic carbon dioxide is expelled to the surface that killed the animals, but not to the priests performing the sacrifice.
The ancient priests must have surely thought they were favored by their gods, while in fact, it was just science, all along.
Specialists from the University of Duisburg-Essen, in Germany, took samples of the levels of carbon dioxide in the area surrounding the cave and found that the gas forms a kind of “lake” that rises 40 centimeters above the ground.
One of the most surprising facts is that this area continues to be as deadly as it was back in the days of the Ancient Romans and Greeks.
The gas is dissipated by the sun during the day but is more deadly at dawn. The concentration reaches above 50 percent at the very bottom of the lake, rising to around 35 percent at 10 centimeters, which could even kill a human – but, above 40 centimeters, the concentration drops rapidly, reports Science Alert.
However, above 40 centimeters, the concentration decreases rapidly.
“While the bull was standing within the gas lake with its mouth and nostrils at a height between 60 and 90 cm, the large grown priests (galli) always stood upright within the lake caring that their nose and mouth were way above the toxic level of the Hadean breath of death,” the team wrote in their paper.
“It is reported that they sometimes used stones to be larger.”
Archaeological evidence suggests that the site was fully functional until the 4th century AD, but remained a place of sporadic visitation by visitors for the next two centuries. The temple was destroyed in the 6th century AD by Christians, while later earthquakes may have further damaged the site
The research has been published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.
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Featured image credit: Illustration of the arena, with noxious fumes emanating from the gate. Image Credit: Francesco D’Andria/University of Salento