And it’s in New Jersey! (Audio link.)
Nah, just kidding.
The Plutonium was believed to be the portal to the underworld in the ancient world, and it was known for its lethal properties, provided courtesy of carbon dioxide. It was long believed to be at the Phrygian city of Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale). Strabo wrote of it: “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… I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”
The site has finally been located by a team led by Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, who announced his discovery of the tomb of St. Philip in 2011.
“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.