Francesco D'Andria / The remains of the site in Pamukkale, Turkey / via Digital SpyAn odd discovery has made headlines around the world. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, a team of archaeologists claim they’ve found a “gate to Hell” in the ruins of Hierapolis in Turkey (WebCite cached article):

Archaeologists say they have pinpointed an ancient — and lethal — cave that was once believed to be the entrance to the underworld.

Working at the World Heritage Site of Hierapolis in southwestern Turkey, Francesco D’Andria of the Italian University of Salento and his team found a cave featuring Ionic semi columns with inscriptions dedicated to Pluto and Kore, the underworld’s deities.

D’Andria and his team also found the remains of a temple, a pool, and multiple steps placed above the cave, which is said to closely fit the ancient writings on the site.…

Writing in the first century BC, the Greek geographer Strabo portrayed the cave as follows: “[T]his space is full of a vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Now to those who approach the handrail anywhere round the enclosure the air is harmless, since the outside is free from that vapour in calm weather, but any animal that passes inside meets instant death. At any rate, bulls that are led into it fall and are dragged out dead; and I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”

Strabo’s deadly “vapour” — actually CO2 gas — remains in the cave, said D’Andria, who presented his findings at a recent conference on Italian archaeology in Istanbul.

It’s not difficult to comprehend why the ancients might have believed this about the toxic cave, and constructed a temple there. This is one of the rare cases in which a religious belief actually had a simple, mundane, and understandable, explanation.

Photo credit: Francesco D’Andria, via Digital Spy.

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