My schedule this week seems to be one unending parade of meetings, which is not my idea of happiness. Moreover, what time isn’t spent in meetings is spent in preparing for the Needham Winter Arts Festival this Saturday, so here’s something cool just to tide you over until I have more time for blogging.
The cave is full of carbon dioxide from nearby hot springs, and the archaeological site includes the remains of a temple, steps on which pilgrims could sit to watch the spectacle, inscriptions to Pluto, and dead birds - not ancient birds, but modern, forward-thinking birds of today who are attracted by the warmth of the cave and suffocate in the poisonous atmosphere. As for the oracles, they were presumably hallucinating in not-quite-deadly fumes, and we don’t know for sure how the priests managed to enter the cave and miraculously survive. I think they must have figured out that the poisonous gas is heavier than air, so they could have used pockets of oxygen to get a safe breath inside.
Anyway, my point here mostly is just that this is cool. But also the reminder that much fantasy is rooted in real phenomena. It isn’t just a way to explain the physical mysteries of the world, but a way to use the physical mysteries to think about the intangible mysteries. I may not believe in an actual theological hell that can be entered from a ruined temple in Turkey, but I do believe that this whole story tells us some thought-provoking things about how humans encounter the concept of death, how they treat animals, how they use (and take advantage of?) each others’ wonder, how they experiment with (and abuse?) their own minds, and more.
Here’s a somewhat longer article.
[Picture: Digital reconstruction of the Ploutonium, from Francesco D’Andria (Image from Seeker).]