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Thursday, March 15, 2018

The enigma of the Roman 'Gate to Hell' is exposed

Por Jade

The term underworld often refers to the places where the souls of the dead end up in most cultures. For example, the Romans had a "Gate to Hell" where animals died as soon as they entered. Now, a group of researchers has solved the mystery. That door is a cave in Turkey that dates back 2,200 years ago rediscovered by archaeologists from the University of Salento seven years ago. Gate to Hell was located in the ancient city of Hierapolis, now Turkey, formerly part of the Roman Empire. It was known for her 'magical' ability to kill healthy animals that approached.

The Roman historian Pliny the Elder described it as the 'sewer of Charon', the legendary ferryman of Hades, charged with guiding the wandering shadows of the deceased from one side of the Acheron river to the other, from which they proceed to the underworld. It is a stone door that leads to a small grotto in the shape of a cave. It forms part of a wall around an outdoor rectangular arena crowned by a temple and surrounded by stone seats for visitors. The cave was known as Plutonium, in honor of Pluto, god of the underworld.

The Romans organized elaborate sacrifices here because they believed that it was one of the entrances to the world of the dead presumably scattered throughout the Mediterranean region. They sacrificed healthy bulls that fell dead without human intervention as soon as they reached the mysterious construction, but the castrated priests who accompanied them returned unscathed. While the priests carried the bulls to the arena, the public could sit on high seats and watch the vapors emanating from the door lead them to death. This phenomenon alerted the archeology team about the location of the cave. The birds that fly too close to the entrance suffocated and fell dead, which shows that, thousands of years later, it is still as deadly as ever.

Now, a new study of the old place suggests that these 'miracles' may have a geological explanation. The research published by the journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences shows that a crack in the surface of the earth at the door location emits carbon dioxide at concentrations so high that they can be deadly. By using a portable gas analyzer, Hardy Pfanz and his team of volcanologists found CO2 at levels ranging from 4% to 53% at the mouth of the cave and up to 91% in the interior, more than enough to kill organisms alive. Problems for mammals, including humans, start way below 5% CO2. A longer stay at 7% and more leads to sweating, dizziness, tachycardia, etc. A further increase would lead to asphyxiation due to the lack of oxygen and due to acidification of the blood and the body or brain cells. So it's no wonder the animals that entered the cave came to a swift end. During the research period alone, Pfanz says they found several dead birds, mice and more than 70 dead beetles.

The Greek geographer Strabo, who lived between 64 B.C. and the 21 A.D., already recognized that this reaction was related to the emission of some gas: "The space is full of a mist so foggy and dense that you can barely see the ground." However, Strabo was disconcerted by the fact that it affected the animals but not the priests. The geographer wondered if this was due to divine providence or simply had to do with humans avoiding inhaling the air. Pfanz's research adds another possibility: the fact that animals and priests have different heights. CO2 is heavier than oxygen, so it is deposited closer to the ground, forming a lake of toxic gas. Thus, the noses of the animals were directly in the gas lake, while the priests were taller and did not touch the lake.

Pfanz believes the priests were aware of the gas and knew that its concentration fluctuated depending on the time of day. Recent research, which took measurements over a period of time, found that the CO2 level was particularly high at dawn and dusk, as sunlight disperses the gas. However, the truth is that during the day there is still some carbon dioxide that extends around 5 centimeters, an evidence to find dead beetles on the floor of the sand. Inside the cave, they estimated that CO2 levels ranged between 86% and 91% at all times, since neither the Sun nor the wind can enter.