Scientists Discover the Secret to Ancient Roman ‘Gate to Hell’

Two millennia ago, a small Greco-Roman temple in present-day Turkey awed and enthralled its residents. Just beyond its stone gate, in a grotto shrouded in a heavy mist, a strange force worked dark deeds: Bulls ushered inside would lie down and perish; the castrated priests in charge would emerge unscathed.

Was it the bloodthirsty will of Pluto, the god of the underworld? The supernatural power of the priests? New research published on Feb. 12 in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences suggests a far earthlier explanation to the cave’s mystery: noxious carbon dioxide.

Using a portable gas analyzer, volcano biologist Hardy Pfanz led a team of scientists to discover that vapors emitted from the mouth of the cave—belched from a fissure running deep beneath the area—reached levels of 4 percent to 53 percent volcanic carbon dioxide, depending on the distance from the ground. The lower to the cave floor, the higher the amount of suffocating gas, which formed a lethal lake of carbon dioxide. (The noxious gas is heavier than oxygen, so it settles lower, which is one reason CO₂ leaks in your house make basements deadly.) Animals with noses to the ground likely breathed in far more gas than the humans walking upright beside them, which could explain the priests’ miraculous imperviousness.

Although rediscovered only in 2013 near the town of Pamukkale—famous for its surreal, Unesco-designate travertine hot spring terraces—the cave’s existence has been known since antiquity as part of what was then Hierapolis. Known as “Plutonium” after Pluto, it was thought to be a gate to the underworld and a way to convene with the god by offering animal sacrifices. Spectators would watch in disbelief from a nearby arena. A description written by the Greek geographer Strabo, who lived from 63 B.C. to 24 A.D., makes a great deal more sense given what we know today: “This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground … bulls that are led into it fall and are dragged out dead,” he wrote. But although priests entered and left the cave unharmed, Strabo noted that they would “hold their breath as much as they [could]” and displayed “an indication of a kind of suffocating attack.”

Two thousand years later, visitors should still be wary of the gate; during the 2013 excavation, archeologists witnessed several birds drop dead after flying too close.

Granted, merely getting here might prove …read more

Source:: Time – World


Report: Russian approval preceded attack on US troops in Syria

By Ellen Nakashima, Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly | Washington Post

A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had “secured permission” from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative that would take place in early February.

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Prigozhin made front-page headlines last week when he was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of bankrolling and guiding a long-running Russian scheme to conduct “information warfare” during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

He is known to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, forged when he was a restaurateur in St. Petersburg and expanded through what became Prigozhin’s wide-ranging business empire, including extensive contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry.

Among his various enterprises, U.S. intelligence believes that Prigozhin also “almost certainly” controls Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad. The mercenaries, employed by a company called Wagner, comprise ultranationalist Russians and military veterans, some of whom also fought in the Ukraine conflict, according to Russian news reports.

The intelligence reports provide additional information about an incident that remains only murkily described by all concerned, with the Pentagon providing few details and the Russians offering changing accounts.

U.S. intelligence agencies declined to comment on the reports.

What is clear, however, is that the attack marked the biggest direct challenge to the U.S. military presence in eastern Syria since U.S. Special Operations forces began deploying there in 2015 in support of their Syrian allies in the fight against the Islamic State. The episode also raises questions about ongoing U.S. cooperation in Syria with Russia, Assad’s primary backer in a civil war that increasingly has overlapped with the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State.

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive issue, described the episode as “worrisome.” The official added that “it’s striking how the Russians themselves have been quick to distance themselves” from what he described as an operation “under Syrian command and in response …read more

Source:: East Bay – National & World


Farm beloved for goat yoga offers reward over slain animal

WESTBROOK, Maine — A popular Maine farm that invites the public to come cuddle or do yoga with its goats says one of the animals was found shot to death.

Smiling Hill Farm says it has notified police about the death of Ava, a pregnant five-year-old Toggenburg. The farm says the goat was shot in a fenced pen in the early morning of Feb. 18. The farm straddles Westbrook and Scarborough, and Ava was found on the Scarborough side of the property.

The shooting apparently happened during the height of a snowstorm. The farm calls the killing a “brazen abhorrent activity” and is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to apprehension.

Smiling Hill also sells dairy products, operates an ice cream parlor and has ski trails.

…read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News