Archaeologists discover the Gate to Hell

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Bad horror movies have taught us a lot over the years: If you hear a strange noise in the woods, don’t go investigating on your own, especially if you’re a hot girl in your underwear; don’t have sex if you’re a teenager, it’s a surefire way to get yourself whacked; don’t go digging around ancient Indian burial grounds and try not to be a black man—you’ll be among the first to go.

A man screams as the Gate to the Underworld opens.
A man screams as the Gate to the Underworld opens.
Snapshot from the 1987 movie, "The Gate" 
Also, if you find a gate to hell, don’t open it.

That last one shouldn’t really need repeating, but apparently it does. News last week from the Italian newswire Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) revealed that Italian archaeologists working in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, in modern-day Turkey, discovered the city’s ancient “Gate to the Underworld.” Cue up the Lovecraftian horror fantasies, and…. go.

The gateway, known to Greco-Roman antiquity as “Pluto’s Gate” or a "Plutonion," was “a well-known place of pilgrimage,” ANSA reports, appearing in the writings of Cicero and the Greek geographer Strabus, both of whom reported having visited it.

Thanks to such historical records, archaeologists have long known that this particular hell gate existed somewhere amid the ancient ruins at Hierapolis, but had been unable to find its exact location since they began excavating there in 1957. The Plutonion is really a natural phenomenon, an opening in the earth’s crust, like a cave, from which foul and poisonous gasses escaped—also known as “mephitic” gasses (named for the ancient Samnite goddess, Mephitis; common skunks are called Mephitis mephitis).


The Ruins at Hierapolis
The Ruins at Hierapolis/Images from Radomił Binek, via Wikimedia Commons


Such noxious portals are found around the globe. Undoubtedly the coolest, a modern day hell gate in Turkmenistan has been burning for over 40 years (the geologists who accidentally created it decided to light it on fire to protect locals from the gases, and it’s been burning ever since).

Finding the Plutonion in Turkey required a lot of detective work. Per ANSA:

[Archaeologist Francesco] D'Andria told ANSAmed that he had found it by studying the vast literature from the period and reconstructing the route of a thermal spring to a cave, ascertaining that in that area bird corpses were collected. According to the tales of the travelers in those times, bulls were sacrificed to Pluto before pilgrimages into the Plutonium. The animals were led by priests to the entrance to a cave from which fetid fumes arose, suffocating them to death.

Here’s hoping D’Andria has invested in a good crucifix since last week’s discovery.--By Austin Considine, Motherboard





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