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Did you catch any of the stories about the recent discovery of the ancient "Gate of Hell"? The gate was believed to be the portal to the underworld and was known for its lethal properties. Finally located by a team led by Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, Biblical Archaeology explains:
“We found the Plutonium by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring. Indeed, Pamukkale’ springs, which produce the famous white travertine terraces originate from this cave,” D’Andria told Discovery News.
Featuring a vast array of abandoned broken ruins, possibly the result of earthquakes, the site revealed more ruins once it was excavated. The archaeologists found Ionic semi columns and, on top of them, an inscription with a dedication to the deities of the underworld — Pluto and Kore.
D’Andria 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.
“People could watch the sacred rites from these steps, but they could not get to the area near the opening. Only the priests could stand in front of the portal,” D’Andria said.
According to the archaeologist, there was a sort of touristic organization at the site. Small birds were given to pilgrims to test the deadly effects of the cave, while hallucinated priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto.
The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead.
“We could see the cave’s lethal properties during the excavation. Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening, instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes,” D’Andria said.
OK, that's all background. What I want to talk about is ABC News' coverage of this discovery, embedded at the top of the story. It's totally unserious and, apparently, requires constant mentions of Hollywood to make it through the two-and-a-half-minute segment.
About a minute and a half into the program, we get a reference to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The reporter says something about this being an archaeological find thrilling enough to be an Indiana Jones plot. If only he would have left it there.
Just before the 2-minute mark, the reporter says that they've blocked up the entrance to the Gate of Hell and he says that's good because "we all remember what happened in Raiders of the Lost Ark when they dug up those religious artifacts of the dead. To use a loaded phrase, all hell broke loose."
And the other reporters in the studio boo, to their credit.
But one viewer called me and was outraged. How does one mess up the basic plot line of Raiders of the Lost Ark so badly? To quote from the Wikipedia plot summary (spoilers abound but if you haven't seen this movie from 1981, it's your own fault!):
Indiana and Marion leave Cairo to escort the Ark to England on board a tramp steamer. The next morning, their boat is boarded by Belloq, Dietrich and the Nazis, who once again steal the Ark and kidnap Marion. Indiana stows away on their U-boat and follows them to an isolated island in the Aegean Sea where Belloq plans to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Hitler. Indiana reveals himself and threatens to destroy the Ark with a bazooka, but Belloq calls his bluff, knowing Indy cannot bear to eradicate an important historical artifact.
Indiana surrenders and is tied to a post with Marion as Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark, which appears to contain nothing but sand. Suddenly, spirits resembling Old Testament Seraphim emerge from the Ark. Aware of the supernatural danger of looking at the opened Ark, Indiana warns Marion to close her eyes. The apparitions suddenly morph into "angels of death", and lightning bolts begin flying out of the Ark, gruesomely killing the Nazi soldiers, while Belloq, Dietrich and Toht meet even more gruesome fates. The fires rise into the sky, then fall back down to Earth and the Ark closes with a crack of thunder.
That wasn't "hell" breaking loose and melting the faces of the Nazis, my friends at ABC! That wasn't hell at all! That was power coming from the opposite direction.
I know that we complain about reporters' lack of knowledge about religious basics, but I didn't realize that ignorance extended to Steven Spielberg movies!
And on a more serious note, some of the uses of "myth" in these reports have been inaccurate. But, then again, less so than on most days when myth is confused for "something untrue."