Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Gate to Hell" Guardian Statues Found

Guardians of the "Gate to Hell" Found: Archaeologists digging in Turkey have found the guardians of the "Gate to Hell" -- two unique marble statues which once warned of a deadly cave in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, near Pamukkale.
Known as Pluto's Gate -- Ploutonion in Greek, Plutonium in Latin -- the cave was celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition. It was discovered in March by a team led by Francesco D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento.
"The statues represent two mythological creatures," D'Andria told Discovery News. "One depicts a snake, a clear symbol of the underworld, the other shows Kerberos, or Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of hell in the Greek mythology."
The sculptures were found as archaeologists further excavated the area where in March they unearthed the remains of the Plutonium, which included an inscription dedicated to the deities of the underworld -- Pluto and Kore.
The dig revealed the source of the thermal springs, which produce the famous white travertine terraces.
"Pamukkale's springs originate right from this cave," D'Andria said.

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Believed to have healing properties, the hot springs made the Roman city of Hierapolis -- now a World Heritage Site -- a popular destination for pilgrimages.
Both marble statues emerged from the thermal water, leaving little doubt that the site was indeed Pluto's Gate. The cave was described in historic sources as filled with lethal mephitic vapors.
"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," the Greek geographer Strabo (64-63 B.C. to about 24 A.D.) wrote about the site.
"I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell," he added.

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"They were instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes," D'Andria said.
Strabo's account was confirmed during the excavation, as D'Andria and colleagues found several dead birds and insects near the opening.
In the previous excavation, the archaeologists also found the remains of a temple, a pool and a series of steps placed above the cave -- all matching the descriptions of the site in ancient sources.
The site represented an important destination for pilgrims. People watched the sacred rites from steps above the cave opening, while priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto. The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sea Monster 'Kraken' Real?

Kraken Sea Monster : A recent fossil find is renewing interest in the search for the ancient giant cephalopod known as the kraken.
The idea of a kraken was originally proposed a couple of years ago at the meeting of the Geological Society of America by Mount Holyoke College palaeontologist Mark McMenamin.
Now he has returned to the annual meeting with what he believes is more evidence of the kraken, including what could be the tip of its tooth-like beak, another example of a potential kraken murder case, and the earliest-known fossil of a scavenger crustacean that is today among those found devouring whale carcasses in the ocean depths.
The initial evidence for the kraken was very indirect.
In 2011, McMenamin found signs that the remains of 14-metre ichthyosaurs at Nevada's Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park were arranged in patterns that resembled the work of a modern-day octopus - which are known to fiddle and arrange bones as well as attack and kill sharks.
He also asserted then, as now, that the Nevada rocks in which the ichthyosaurs were found are incorrectly interpreted as being made from shallow ocean sediments, when they are actually from much much deeper.
The kraken hypothesis was not warmly embraced by his colleagues, and McMenamin was going to let the matter drop until he came across an old issue of a journal in which there were photos of a museum display of the ichthyosaurs skeletons that had been removed from the park.
"It was laid out exactly as found in the field and there were rib cage constrictions," says McMenamin. "It was very strange. I'd never seen anything like it before. It looked like something had pulled bones out of place and placed them to one side."
So McMenamin returned earlier this year to Nevada with students in search of additional evidence. What they found was a small rock that they later realised might be part of a giant cephalopod beak - a kraken's maw.
"It's the densest thing on the body of a cephalopod," says McMenamin. And so it's the most likely thing to be preserved in the fossil record. "We obtained a beak of a giant Humboldt squid and compared. That actually worked pretty well. We have direct comparison to modern Humboldt squid. They had very similar fractures and converging straia (lines)."

Doubts linger

These are just more pieces in the kraken case, which is a tough one, as there are other explanations for the evidence.
"The problem with the kraken argument is it does not take into account all the other ways those vertebrae could have been re-arranged," says Spencer Lucas, palaeontologist and curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
"For example, the body of the ichthyosaur had to decompose and collapse, and scavenging by various animals could have taken place. These processes could have rearranged vertebrae."
Several experts in the area were also asked to comment, but said they preferred not to. Still even Lucas isn't ruling a kraken out.
"I suppose the kraken argument is a possibility, but one of many, and a highly unusual one. What we need here is a more rigorous analysis that excludes the many alternatives to the kraken idea."
On the other hand, there is that scavenger fossil - what's called an amphipod - that was found by one of McMenamin's students. He's giving a second presentation about that find at the same meeting, arguing that it's the earliest known and a supergiant version of today's small crustaceans.
That's a much easier case to make, and important to palaeontologists, if not as racy as a kraken.
"The amphipod is an important addition to our knowledge of a group with a limited fossil record," says Lucas.