Is this the real Hell Incredible cave which experts believe inspired the Greek legend of Hades
The cave – named Alepotrypa – dates back to the Neolithic Age but laid undiscovered in southern Greece until the 1950sArchaeologists have uncovered tools, pottery, obsidian, silver and copper artifactsFindings suggest cave dwellers might have connected the cave with Hades
22:07 GMT, 29 November 2012
An ancient Greek cave nearly the size of four football pitches and with its own underground lake may be responsible for sparking the age-old myth about the Greek underworld god Hades, archaeologists claim.
The cavern – named Alepotrypa which means 'foxhole' – laid undiscovered for centuries in Diros Bay, Mani, southern Greece, until a man walking his dog found a tiny entrance to the cave in the 1950s.
Experts have spent the last few decades excavating the cave and believe hundreds of people lived inside Alepotrypa, making it one the oldest prehistoric villages in Europe, before the cave entrance collapsed burying everyone alive 5,000 years ago.
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To the depths of hell: It has been suggested that this cave called Alepotrypa might have helped serve as the inspiration for the mythic ancient Greek underworld god Hades
Behind the legend: Greek archaeologist and director of the Diros Project, Giorgos Papathanassopoulos, believes that people used to make pilgrimages to the cave because it was seen as the entrance to Hades' underworld
LEGEND OF HATES
In Greek legend, Hades was the King of the Underworld, a hidden kingdom of the dead.
He is a greedy god who is greatly concerned with increasing his subjects. He also presided over funeral rites and defended the right of the dead to due burial.
As soon as he was born, Hades was devoured by Kronos, the Titan god of time and the ages, along with four of his siblings. Zeus later caused the Titan to disgorge them, and together they drove the Titan gods from heaven and locked them away in the pit of Tartaros.
When the victorious brothers then drew lots for the division of the cosmos, Hades received the third portion, the dark dismal realm of the underworld, as his domain.
Geographically, the underworld is surrounded by a series of rivers: The Acheron (river of woe), The Cocytus (river of lamentation), The Phlegethon (river of fire), The Styx (river of unbreakable oath by which the gods swear), and The Lethe (river of forgetfulness). Once across the rivers an adamantine gate, guarded by Cerberus, forms the entrance to the kingdom.
Archaeologists have now uncovered tools, pottery, obsidian, silver and copper artifacts that date back to the Neolithic Age, which began in Greece began around 9,000 years ago, soon before the Stone Age.
But the most important find – that the cave was used as a cemetery and for burial rituals – has led researchers to believe it could have inspired the legend of Hades' underworld.
The first archaeologist to ever dig inside Alepotrypa, Giorgos Papathanassopoulos, suggests that the Neolithic residents believed the cave was Hades.
Researcher Michael Galaty, an archaeologist at Millsaps College in Jackson, Missorri, told LiveScience: 'You can easily see why Giorgos would make that hypothesis. The cave really does recall the underworld, Hades and the River Styx.
'Alepotrypa existed right before the
Bronze Age in Mycenaean Greece, so we're kind of seeing the beginnings
of things that produced the age of heroes in Greece.
'You have to imagine the place torchlit, filled with people lighting bonfires and burying the dead.
burial sites and rituals that took place really do give the cave an
underworld feel. It's like Hades, complete with its own River Styx.
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Hidden treasures: The cave in southern Greece remained hidden for centuries until it was discovered by a dog walker in the 1950s
Mass graves: People apparently performed burials and spiritual rituals in the cave
Historical importance: Experts believe the cave society dates back to the Neolithic Age – making it one of the oldest prehistoric villages in Europe
'Giorgos Papathanassopoulos has always argued…that the cave was a kind of pilgrimage site where important people were buried, leading to the fanciful idea that this was the original entrance to Hades, that it was the source of the Greek fascination with the underworld.'
The cave is more than 1,000 metres long with a huge central chamber but the archaeologists still have a long way to go before they have explored the entire ruin.
Mr Galaty added: 'We don't know how much deeper deposits go. For all we know, we might have Neanderthals down there. We just haven't dug deep enough to know.'
On site: Diros Project co-directors Michael Galaty and William Parkinson, of The Field Museum, overlooking Diros Bay where the cave is based in western Mani
A lot to learn: Researcher Takis Karkanas analyzing deposits in the 1,000 metre long Alepotrypa Cave
Clues: Thousands of Neolithic pottery shards, which came from a variety of places, were excavated from Alepotrypa Cave