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Archaeologists discover hidden slave tunnel beneath Hadrian’s Villa

Archaeologists discover hidden slave tunnel beneath Hadrian’s Villa

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A team of archaeologists have found a very large hidden tunnel beneath Hadrian’s Villa near Rome, which would have been used by slaves to ferry food, fire wood and other goods from one part of the sprawling imperial palace to another without being seen by the emperor or his imperial dignitaries.

Hadrian’s Villa is a vast country estate on 250 acres in Tivoli, Italy, which consisted of more than 30 major buildings including palaces, libraries, heated baths, theatres, courtyards and landscaped gardens. It was built in the 2nd century AD by Hadrian, Roman Emperor from 117 to 138, and was the largest ever constructed in the Roman period.

Beneath the complex, archaeologists have already found more than two miles of tunnels and passageways, but the latest discovery is far larger than the rest and at 10 feet wide was big enough to have taken carts and wagons. It has been dubbed by archaeologists the Great Underground Road — in Italian the Strada Carrabile.

“All the majesty of the villa is reflected underground,” Vittoria Fresi, the archaeologist leading the research project said. “The underground network helps us to understand the structures that are above ground.”

In contrast to the palace, which fell into disrepair after the fall of the Roman Empire, the underground network remains “almost intact”.

Heritage officials are now planning to open up the underground network of passageways to the public, revealing for the first time an intriguing subterranean world which lay buried for nearly two millennia.

    Amateur archaeologists discover subterranean slave world under Roman emperor's villa

    Underbellies have charisma. The recent discovery, beneath the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, of a subterranean jigsaw of tunnels and roads, has scholars and tweeters alike aflutter. Some describe this as no less than a chthonic city others have suggested the network could stretch as far as the Eternal City itself, just over 18 miles to the west.

    The presence of paved, underground streets wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic of ox-drawn carts and passages so slim that only the merest slip of a slave girl might squeeze through posits the possibility of a pallid community of slaves in this sun-drenched region of Latium. Subhumans condemned to a troglodyte existence, shifting supplies so their wine-swilling masters above could be served, invisibly.

    Amateur archaeologists discover subterranean slave world under Roman emperor's villa Back to video

    Another compelling narrative is the fact that this “discovery” — reported last week — was made by amateurs, Italian caving enthusiasts who (one imagines) abandon wives, girlfriends and lovers after office hours to crawl through the earth in search of the past.


    The Pecile, a large artificial terrace with a rectangular pool surrounded by a garden and colonnaded porticoes. It was intended to represent the Stoa Poikile in Athens. Its purpose was to provide an all-weather space for the ambulatio, or daily walk. The monumental quadriporticus surrounding the Pecile, a wall standing 9 metres tall with a monumental entrance at the centre corresponding to the road that came from the north. Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Pecile and the Hundred Chambers. The so-called Hundred Chambers created a massive system of substructures for the Pecile which rose 15 m above the surface on its western side. The Hundred Chambers building was a series of rooms probably used for storing supplies and for housing the servants of the villa. Located along the western side of the Pecile terrace, it consisted of four stories of rooms (between 125 and 200) accessible by means of a system of external walkways made of wood and concrete stairs. The so-called Three Exedras building was a magnificent structure that probably served as a cenatio, or dining hall, with three semi-circular exedrae open on three sides and internal colonnades. View of one of the three gardens of the Three Exedras building. The entrance of the Three Exedras building was dominated by a large, rectangular fountain around which were found twelve statue bases. The Building with a Fish Pond, a large complex on three levels with a pool surrounded by a colonnade composed of forty fluted white marble columns in the composite order. The Building with a Fish Pond. The structure dates to Phase II (125-133 AD). The Nymphaeum-Stadium was a large garden with fountains and two pavilions separated by a central plaza. The Nymphaeum-Stadium and its long rectangular pool. The Heliocaminus Baths was an elegant bathing complex with opus sectile decorating both floors and walls. It was the oldest bath complex of the villa, constructed on a portion of the site of the former Republican villa. The circular hot room of the bath complex was heated by sunbeams (heliocaminus). The room was roofed by a coffered dome with a central oculus and was furnished with large windows. One of the most striking and best preserved parts of the Villa consists of a pool named Canopus and the so-called Serapeum, a monumental summer cenatio with a nymphaeum set at the southern end of the Canopus. The Canopus consisted of a terraced valley (ca. 160 m) with a canal (119 x 18 m) along its main axis. Around the canal ran a colonnade, which was curved on the northern side, single on the western side, and double on the eastern side. The Canopus was an open-air museum consisting of Roman copies of Classical Greek original statues, larger than life-size. These lavish statues provided a feast for the eyes of banqueters dining in the Serapaeum. The Canopus dates to Phase II (125-133 AD). The rounded north end of the Canopus. The middle of the western side of the Canopus where four Caryatids and two Sileni stood in place of columns. These allude to Athens: the Caryatids to the Erechtheion on the Acropolis the Sileni to the Hadrianic silenoi decorating the stage of the Theater of Dionysus. The rounded north end of the Canopus. Statues of Ares and an Amazon (Mattei type) in the Antiquarium of the Canopus. The Amazons are copies of statues in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Statues of an Amazon (Sciarra type) and Hermes in the Antiquarium of the Canopus. The Antiquarium of the Canopus. Statues of a crocodile and personifications of the Nile and Tiber have also been found near the Canopus. The so-called Serapeum was dominated by a half-dome under which was constructed a semi-circular stibadium (13) on which banqueters reclined in the open air. The Piazza d’Oro (Golden Hall) is located in the northern edge of the villa. It was a vast building with a quadriporticus garden and water basins. Side view of the main entrance of the Piazza comprised of a vaulted vestibule and related rooms. The quadriporticus garden of Piazza d’Oro, a rectangular open court filled with flower-beds and water basins. The southern side of Piazza d’Oro had a cenatio and perhaps also a library, suited for a cultured emperor such as Hadrian. The Maritime Theatre was a complex with 35-room separated by a marble-lined canal from a circular colonnaded enclosure paved in white mosaic. The colonnaded porch of the Maritime Theatre. The “island” rooms, paved in opus sectile, were accessible at entrances by means of two retractable wooden bridges. The design was inspired by the Roman house with an atrium in the middle centered on a basin comparable to an impluvium The complex, which is generally thought to have been dedicated to Hadrian’s personal use, dates to Phase I (118-125 AD). Hadrian’s Villa. The large semi-circular nymphaeum located on the southern side of Piazza d’Oro where water flowed from seven niches. A basin collected the water at the foot of the niches which then flowed into the long central basin and the fountains of the garden. Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Piazza d’Oro (Golden Hall) and the Gladiator’s Arena. The plan of Piazza d’Oro is very similar to that of Hadrian’s Stoa in Athens which was a library built by Hadrian during the same period (123-125 AD). The Triclinium (probably a summer cenatio) located on the eastern side of the Piazza d’Oro with a vaulted ceiling and niches on the rear wall from which water flowed into an ellipsoid basin. The Building with Doric Pillars was located between the Imperial Palace and the Guard Barracks. It was a rectangular space with a portico delimited by pillars connected by an architrave of the Doric order (hence the name of the structure). View of the south-east corner of the Doric portico. The hall may well have been used for imperial meetings and audiences. The structure dates to Phase I (118-125 AD). The Large Baths. The structure dates to Phase I (118-125 AD). One of the frigidaria inside the Large Baths. Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Small Baths (left) and the Large Baths (right). Ceiling inside the Large Baths decorated with stucco with geometric motifs and figured medallions. View of the remains of the Antinoeion, a sacred precinct devoted to Antinous with two temples. The structure dates to ca. 134 AD. The double paved way leading to the Grande Vestibolo next to the Antinoeion. Hadrian’s Villa. The Imperial Triclinium (dining room) of the Terrace Temple. The Imperial Triclinium (dining room) of the Terrace Temple. The Imperial Palace with a series of rooms disposed along the sides of one of the five peristyles of the complex. The exedra of the Nymphaeum located south of the peristyle in the Imperial Palace. Opus sectile pavement in the Imperial Palace. Model of Hadrian’s Villa showing the Imperial Palace. The Hospitalia was a two-story building with 10 guest rooms on the first floor off a long and wide central hallway, at the southern end of which was a hall. The structure dates to the first phase (118-125 AD). The surviving rooms have three alcoves for three beds the floors are paved in black and white mosaic with geometric and floral designs. The rooms had frescoes with mythological scenes Black and white mosaic in one of the rooms of the Hospitalia with geometric and floral motifs. Black and white mosaic in one of the rooms of the Hospitalia with geometric and floral motifs. The circular Temple of Venus built in the Doric order. In the middle of the cella was found a statue of Venus of the Cnidian type. The round Temple of Venus.

    8 Priceless Roman-Era Artifacts

    When Ran Feinstein and Ofer Raanan investigated a shipwreck off the coast of Israel, they found a sculpture on the seabed. They initially didn&rsquot think much of it and continued to explore the vessel which had sunk near the ancient port of Caesarea. While they continued to find more sculptures, the pair didn&rsquot yet know it but they had come across a slice of submerged Roman history. The biggest haul in thirty years included lamps and jars, bronze statues, animal effigies and anchors. Coins numbering in their thousands revealed the printed faces of Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius. The priceless items date back to different eras some belong to the fourth century AD and others were forged in the first and second centuries. Experts believe that a storm had threatened the ship 1,700 years ago and sunk it despite her crew&rsquos best effort to anchor the vessel.

    Aztec breakthrough: Archaeologists discover shock tunnel world hidden beneath Mexico City

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    Aztec house with wall of SKULLS explored by researchers

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    The ancient water tunnel is thought to have been built by Emperor Montezuma I in the 15th century. Inscriptions, carvings and paintings inside, as well as the tunnel itself, are thought to be linked to the Empire&rsquos god of water and fertility, Tlaloc.

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    Announcing the discovery, the Mexican Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) revealed they had found the densely decorated tunnel in the city of Ecatepec de Morelos within the central state of Mexico.

    Several carvings out of rock were found inside, as well as chunks of statue thought to have unbounded archaeological value.

    According to local media, researchers found 11 carved images on the wall of the tunnel, which measured 27.5ft long, as well as the remains of a wooden gate.

    The images inside the tunnel have been linked to Tlaloc, one of several gods the polytheistic Aztecs worshipped.

    The tunnel was found underneath Mexico City (Image: GETTY)

    The tunnel is the latest find in a series of excavations since 2004 (Image: CEN/INAH)

    Tlaloc was associated as a beneficent giver of life and sustenance.

    Despite this benevolent aspect, Aztecs learned to fear Tlaloc as it became apparent that the deity could send hail, thunder and lightening, and for its ability to manipulate water.

    Raul Garcia Chavez, project coordinator of the excavation, told local media that his team had been working on the site for more than 10 years - since 2004.

    It was then that they launched a conservation project around la Calzada de San Cristobal, the site where infrastructure was built in he 17th century by indigenous peoples, as reported by the monk of the time, Juan de Torquemada.

    The tunnel was decorated in carvings related to the deity Tlaloc (Image: CEN/INAH/Edith Camacho)

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    The water tunnel is the latest find of the project, with previous findings having preceded the current tunnel with different passages - including an area that was once the prospective site for a new bus route.

    Ancient archaeological finds keep popping up over the globe, with finds in Egypt usually covered more than anywhere else.

    Researchers were recently baffled on finding a coffin among an enormous burial site which was inscribed with &ldquononsense hieroglyphics&rdquo.

    The find, just south of Cairo, proved something of an enigma for Dr Kamil Kuraszkiewicz, a top European archaeologist, who failed to translate the drawings.

    Ancient rock carvings can be found throughout Mexico a reminder of its tribal past (Image: GETTY)

    Many artefacts are stored in Mexico's national museum (Image: GETTY)

    This led Dr Kuraszkiewicz to conclude that the hieroglyphs were in fact a poor copy, likely done by an illiterate &ldquoscribe&rdquo attempting to lift what they had seen on other coffins.

    Burial sites are usually made up of noblemen and people of whose status was untouchable.

    Thus, inscriptions are more often than not near perfect, with flawless design and patterns, and easily decipherable code.

    Mr Kuraszkiewicz labelled the inscriptions as &ldquoclumsy&rdquo and likely written by an illiterate worker.

    Egypt has a rich pre-history (Image: Express Newspapers)

    In total, 36 mummies were found at Saqqare, Egypt&rsquos famous &ldquocity of the dead&rdquo.

    The giant cemetery is home to thousands of ancient corpses and is the site of the Djoser pyramid.

    At 4,700 years old, the pyramid is regarded as the first pyramid ever built.

    The coffins found in the new site, thought to be between 2,000 and 2,600 years old, were in extremely bad condition.

    The bodies inside were only given a simple wrapping and embalming, suggesting the dead were of working or middle class families, rather than the elite.

    However, this discovery was not entirely in vain, as it for the first time proved people of lower social standing to have mimicked their rich and famous counterparts.

    The hieroglyphs were poor imitations of the real thing (Image: J. DĄBROWSKI / PCMA)


    Mr Kuraszkiewicz told the Polish Press Agency: "Most of the mummies we discovered were very modest.

    &ldquoThey were only subjected to basic embalming treatments, wrapped in bandages and placed directly in pits dug in the sand.

    &ldquoThere are no inscriptions or personal items that would hint at these people&rsquos names or professions," he added.

    "But analysis of skeletal remains indicates that they mostly performed hard labour."

    In a Tunnel Beneath Alaska, Scientists Race to Understand Disappearing Permafrost

    T o enter the Fox permafrost tunnel—one of the only places in the world dedicated to the firsthand scientific study of the mix of dirt and ice that covers much of the planet’s far northern latitudes—you must don a hard-hat then walk into the side of a hill. The hill stands in the rural area of Fox, Alaska, 16 miles north of Fairbanks. The entrance is in a metal wall that’s like a partially dissected Quonset hut, or an enlarged hobbit hole. A tangle of skinny birches and black spruce adorn the top of the hill, and a giant refrigeration unit roars like a jet engine outside the door—to prevent the contents of the tunnel from warping or thawing.

    On a mild, damp day in September, Thomas Douglas, a research chemist, escorts visitors through the tunnel door. Douglas works for a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), which has its fingers in everything from snowmelt modeling and wetlands plant inventories to research on stealth aircraft. But his own work focuses on several aspects of permafrost, and he leads occasional tours here.

    Inside, the permafrost tunnel itself is even stranger than its exterior. A metal boardwalk crosses a floor thick with fine, loose, cocoa-colored dust. Fluorescent lights and electrical wires dangle above us. The walls are embedded with roots suspended in a masonry of ice and silt, with a significant content of old bacteria and never-rotted bits of plant and animal tissue. Because of this, the tunnel smells peculiar and fetid, like a malodorous cheese (think Stilton or Limburger) but with an earthy finish and notes of sweaty socks and horse manure.

    A trim person in a light jacket, Douglas strolls down the boardwalk with an amiable half-grin on his face, narrating the surroundings with the kind of glib enthusiasm of a museum docent or a mountain guide. “This part of the tunnel here is about 18,000 years old. We've had it carbon-14 dated. This is kind of a bone-rich area right here,” he says. He gestures to what look like gopher holes in the silt—the gaps left behind by cores drilled by science teams. The bone of a steppe bison, a large Arctic ungulate that went extinct about 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, rests in the hard peat. A little further along: a mammoth bone. We have stepped both underground and back in time.

    The earthen walls look like they could be soft, like mud, but he raps the end of a long metal flashlight against one of them, and it makes a clinking sound. “You can see this is hard as a rock,” he says.

    Permafrost is one the weirder concoctions of the Earth’s Ice Ages. In the abstract, it sounds like a simple substance—any earth material that stays frozen for two or more years. In reality, it is a shape-shifting material that underlies about 24 percent of land in the Northern Hemisphere—from the Tibetan Plateau to Siberia and parts of Arctic and sub-Arctic North America. Now many such areas are becoming both volatile and fragile. Permafrost can be hard as bedrock, but when it thaws, if it’s rich in ice and silt, it can morph into something like glue or chocolate milk or wet cement. In its frozen state, it can hoard materials for thousands of years without allowing them to decay. It can suspend bacteria in a kind of cryo-sleep—still alive for millennia.

    Research chemist Thomas Douglas stands at the entrance to the Fox tunnel. (Whitney McLaren / Undark)

    Much of the scientific research on permafrost has been done from above or afar, via remote sensing equipment and computer models, or through happenstance in old mining tunnels or places where a river bluff has fallen apart and exposed millennia-old ice. Sometimes it's done via the laborious process of hand-sampling and boring a hole deep into the ground. “Really most of us are studying permafrost from the surface, and we're imagining what it looks like underneath,” says Kimberly Wickland, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who studies carbon emissions from lakes and wetlands. The Fox tunnel is one of only two underground facilities dedicated exclusively to the scientific study of permafrost where a visitor can actually walk around inside the frozen earth. (The other is in Siberia.) When Wickland stepped into the tunnel for the first time in 2001, it was like a revelation she says—the moment she truly grasped what permafrost was.

    Here, people like Wickland collaborate with Douglas, his colleagues, and researchers from all over the world. Collectively, they have studied everything from the utility of ground-penetrating radar in space exploration—the tunnel is thought to be an analog for Mars—to isotopes in steppe bison bones that might suggest something about the migration habits of these creatures before they went extinct. Here you can see the stuff in three dimensions, and easily retrieve 18,000 to 43,000-year-old specimens of it for research. You can reckon with how complex permafrost is, how much of it remains hidden, and how much scientists still need to learn. You can study and decode the vast amounts of information it potentially holds about the Earth’s history, and you can test the ways its disappearance might influence the planet’s future.

    Indeed, permafrost is discussed most often these days in a global context and, increasingly, it is a subject of alarm. In December, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that the world’s permafrost—which used to capture and store carbon—is instead collapsing and setting loose things that it had long ago entombed. Some scientists worry its thaw could liberate microbes wholly foreign to the modern world (a threat whose significance seems even more disturbing in light of the damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic). Meanwhile, the NOAA analysis suggests that the globe’s unraveling permafrost is already releasing as much as 300 to 600 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon into the atmosphere annually, about as much as the myriad industrial and transport activities of France or Canada. The finding is a warning signal—possibly the beginning of a feedback loop in which natural processes in the Arctic may make the impacts of climate change far worse.

    As climate change warms soil temperatures across Alaska, too, the Fox tunnel probably contains some of the most protected and coldest permafrost in the area. How long that will remain true is hard to predict. A visitor to the tunnel can’t help but wonder just how much will ultimately be lost biologically, ecologically, and scientifically—as the planet’s permafrost collapses.

    Early on, permafrost was mostly an engineer’s concern, and it was often a nuisance. Around Fairbanks in the early 20tth century, permafrost was an obstacle lying between prospectors and the gold beneath. So miners would blast through or thaw it with devices called steam points, turning the frozen earth into muck, then haul it out to get to the gold. (The younger, front part of the hill in which the Fox Tunnel now stands was dredged and hauled away by gold miners, which is why the tunnel features mainly ancient permafrost.)

    Elsewhere, permafrost was a construction problem. In 1942, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent more than 10,000 soldiers and civilians to carve the Alaska Highway through eastern Alaska and into Canada, engineers discovered that one could not build directly on top of the stuff without thawing it—a hard lesson that involved broken equipment and trucks stuck in unyielding mud. The construction challenges helped identify “cold regions research requirements” that would later lead to the formation of CRREL, according to a history published by the Corps.

    Only in the Cold War did the frozen ground begin to seem like a possible asset, and a thing worthy of scientific inquiry. The Department of Defense wanted to see whether icy terrain could offer a secure location for military bases and operations. In 1959 and 1960, the U.S. Army built what amounted to a city under the snow in Greenland, called Camp Century, with labs, a dormitory, a gymnasium, a barbershop, and a nuclear reactor to supply heat and power. Here, they studied the properties of snow and drilled to the bottom of the Greenland Ice Sheet for the first time. The camp was also intended to house “Project Iceworm,” which aimed to build thousands of miles of tunnel inside the ice sheet and use them for storing ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. But after a few years, it became clear that Greenland glaciers were too dynamic and unstable to support such a network, and the project was canceled. The camp was abandoned in 1966.

    The Fox permafrost tunnel had a more modest purpose. In 1963, when it was first dug, it was simply designed to test whether frozen ground could be an adequate bunker or smaller-scale military storage facility. Permafrost is naturally shock-absorbent and could theoretically handle shelling and bombing. George Swinzow, a geologist in the Experimental Engineering Division of CRREL, one of the first builders and stewards of the tunnel, had also attempted to create his own synthetic version of permafrost, called “permacrete,” which he used to build columns, bricks, and other underground supports and masonry inside another newly excavated tunnel near Camp Tuto in Greenland. (Swinzow would also later write a tome titled “On Winter Warfare,” about the technical problems of combat in cold places.)

    In 1968 and 1969, the U.S. Bureau of Mines borrowed the tunnel and tested some blasting and drilling techniques in a gently sloping side channel called a winze. At the end, the tunnel looked like a lopsided letter “V.” For the next two decades, the main research carried out here still focused on engineering — permafrost as a physical thing rather than a biological one, a substrate that would affect the construction of buildings and pipelines. The engineers soon discovered that permafrost would warp and bend as it approached about 30 degrees Fahrenheit (or -1 degrees Celsius). So CRREL installed the first refrigeration unit at the entrance and a set of fans to send the cold air back through the earthen passageways. The chiller now keeps the facility at about 25 degrees (or about -4 degrees Celsius).

    After turning down the winze, the boardwalk ends, and Douglas instructs his visitors to “walk daintily,” or to “walk like ninjas.” The ceiling of the tunnel lowers, and he implores them to avoid kicking up the dust, also called loess, a type of delicate dirt carried miles by the wind and collected in this hill. When the tunnel was first dug, the ice held the loess in place. But when exposed to frigid air, ice will convert directly to water vapor, a process called sublimation. When the ice departed, it released the particles of dust onto the floor. Dig through the dust—as Fairbanks paleontologists sometimes do—and you can find ground squirrel bones, millennia-old leaves still tinged with green, ancient seeds and fruits, and beetle carapaces that look like they might have recently died on your windowsill.

    By the early 2000s, the dusty surface of the tunnel also made it seem like a good analog for Mars, which has cold dirt and layers of its own permafrost. Researchers began running prototype rovers through the tunnel and using ground-penetrating radar to find novel ways to look for the water and ice—or even extraterrestrial life—on Mars. Around the same time, NASA became interested in whether ice-dwelling microbes might hold clues about the form and function of life on other planets. In 1999 and 2000, a NASA astrobiologist named Richard Hoover sampled microscopic filaments that he thought might belong to bacteria frozen into a 32,000-year-old section of the permafrost tunnel. In 2005, he announced his findings from those samples—the first species ever discovered to be still alive in ancient ice, an extremophile called Carnobacterium pleistocenium.

    Thomas Douglas points to an image showing the layout of the Fox permafrost tunnel. (Whitney McLaren / Undark)

    The discovery heralded a new understanding of permafrost. It was proof that life could exist in extreme places. But more ominously, it suggested that the thawing happening all over the planet could awaken both ecological processes and long-dormant organisms, and not all of them might be benign.

    Emerging from the winze, the permafrost tunnel opens into a high-ceilinged gallery of water-ice patterns, each one as beautiful as an abstract sculpture. This is the newer part of the tunnel, a section burrowed out between 2011 and 2018. The drilling here exposed these massive cross-sections of ice and earth, called “ice wedges.” Some are as wide as 15 feet across. (Unusually, some of the academic scientists at CRREL dug this part of the tunnel themselves, driving heavy machinery into the earth. Douglas was not involved, but snow researcher Matthew Sturm, who holds a post at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, described driving a skid steer, like a small bulldozer, and a research engineer manned a device called a rotary cutter, attached to an excavator.)

    Ice wedges are giant spears that form when water trickles into cracks in the silty parts of the permafrost. The new ice carves out gaps where water can percolate every summer season, so the wedges gather more ice and expand over time. Here, they spread across the walls in dark, glossy, marbled forms. “Isn't this a wild shape? It reminds me of, like, a Da Vinci sketch,” exclaims Douglas. “Doesn't it look like an eagle, like a man becoming an eagle?” He pauses before a sheet of ice that curiously resembles a figure—a head with pointed ears, arms spread like wings atop a glassy body, and feet shaped like tree roots. The formation is accidental, frozen in place here about 25,000 years ago, but such fantastical shapes abound. A few feet away from the eagle-man is a horizontal ice-tube that looks like a diorama, with grassy bits and roots and air bubbles suspended in it. This plant matter is around the same age but looks like someone picked it yesterday and stuck it inside a glass case.

    The eagle-man and every ice formation in this gallery is a slice of a wedge. By capillary action, water can also collect into lenses and chunks in the soil. Some become enormous some remain microscopic. Most of these bits of ice are about 99 percent frozen water, with little silt mixed in. But salts in the permafrost can lick the edges of the ice and form unfrozen bits. Here, in what are called brine channels, live other microbes. Today, these microbes are an increasingly active areas of study in the tunnel—and in permafrost research elsewhere in the world—for good reason.

    In the popular imagination, microbes in permafrost are like tiny undead monsters—superbugs that awaken and spread pandemics. In 2016, the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia had its first anthrax outbreak in 75 years, likely triggered when a heatwave thawed the region’s permafrost and released anthrax spores from a long-dead reindeer carcass. At least 20 people were infected, and one 12-year-old boy died. Such risks have given scientists enough pause that, in November, an international group in gathered in Hanover, Germany to discuss them.

    And microbes may have an even more disturbing role in shaping the fate of the atmosphere: It is the microbes that will determine how much of the permafrost’s carbon escapes into the air and how much can be stored again in the dirt. In 2013, Wickland and a group of her collaborators came to the tunnel to gather bits of 35,000-year-old permafrost that had been carved out of the walls during the recent excavation. They collected these scrapings in several coolers packed with dry ice then flew with them to their laboratory in Colorado. They suspended the samples in water, then strained them, like tea, and measured how much carbon dioxide leached from the water.

    The thawed, awakened bacteria in the tea began breaking down the organic carbon in the sample in less than a week, about half of it was emitted into the air as carbon dioxide. It was a disturbing finding. Scientists had long debated how quickly or gradually the thawing of permafrost would affect the global climate. But this study suggested the warming of ancient soils could produce a giant burst of emissions into the atmosphere in a short period of time—one more reason to be wary of the stuff.

    But there are other scientists who are trying to find redeeming value in the newly awakened microbial community. Some have continued Hoover’s work, but brought more powerful DNA analysis into the search for live microbes in ice that might yield insights about interplanetary life. Robyn Barbato, a soil microbiologist at the CRREL lab in New Hampshire, also has plans to gather samples from the tunnel for the purpose of bioprospecting. This is the term used to describe the search for microbes that might help with the design of things like super-cold glue, bio-bricks, sustainable road materials, and antifreeze. “I consider the Far North and the Far South to be kind of the new Amazon. There's all this biodiversity,” Barbato says. “We could really encounter interesting and useful processes that we can adapt to make things more sustainable.”

    At least three times in the past 27 years, flooding from a combination of engineering troubles and heavy spring and summer rains has threatened the tunnel. In 1993, the floodwaters collected at the rear of the old tunnel, warped the ceiling, and brought down large chunks of silt. In 2014, water flowed into the tunnel from a nearby hillslope, and frozen puddles collected inside. In 2016, “we nearly lost the tunnel,” recalls Sturm. The rains altered the drainage above, and water infiltrated an ice wedge adjacent to the tunnel. “By the time anything could get done, it had eroded a house-sized piece of ice wedge.” The main pulse of the floodwaters ultimately drained away from the tunnel, but the close call reminded CRREL staff of the potential for catastrophe. Patches of ice from the various floods still linger in the tunnel.

    “To me, that's one of the most salient things we learned from the tunnel,” Sturm says. When permafrost collapses or erodes, the landscape left behind is called thermokarst. The word evokes limestone karst — a type of belowground terrain that is like Swiss cheese, full of caves, rock pools, springs, and streams formed by dissolving and eroding limestone. But thermokarst is far more unstable than limestone karst. Within a few years, a puddle left by permafrost thaw can turn into a lake, then collapse into a ravine. Permafrost won’t decay because of warm temperatures alone. Water will play a destructive role. Fires have also raged in recent years across Alaska and Siberia. Inside the tunnel, near a second entrance, is a thin black band along the wall, a line of charcoal from what was probably a fire. In the Anthropocene climate, if flames laid bare the hillside above the tunnel, heat might radiate into the ice inside and help thaw it.

    Douglas leads the group out this second door and past another loud cooling fan into the damp air and daylight. He walks up the hill onto what is effectively the tunnel’s roof and then into the forest behind it, following an old footpath behind a fence through clusters of dwarf birches, willows, black spruce, and fragrant Labrador tea. It is a picture of collapsing permafrost and another active area of research. CRREL researchers have set up various meters and cameras to track snowfall and melt throughout the forest. His tour crosses several areas of sunken, flooded ground, and then a long gully with spruce trees curved toward it, as if they are bowing. Tea-colored water trickles through the center. This is the top of a collapsed ice wedge.

    “Who knows how far out that ice wedge has melted?” Douglas says. “There is this sense that the underground is not stable.”

    That sense of collapse extends far beyond here. The mean temperature of Fairbanks over the entire 2019 year was 32.6 degrees Fahrenheit, just above freezing, and permafrost cannot survive many more years like it. What lies inside the tunnel seems more and more like a captive, rare animal, an Earth form that might soon be lost. In a time of climate change, the Fox tunnel becomes a project for reckoning, on a grand scale, with that loss and its cascading effects. “Sometimes we’ll kind of joke about, at one point, we’ll have the only permafrost in the Fairbanks area,” Douglas says. This year, he and his colleagues will experiment with other means to extend the tunnel’s longevity, such as using solar panels to power its chillers. They will complete an expansion project begun this winter by the end of 2021, doubling the size of the tunnel. This will allow them to see permafrost from many angles above (with radar) and below (with the human eye) and develop means to scan frozen ground on a large scale.

    At its essence, it’s an effort to study and visualize the remaking of large parts of the Earth.

    In the next 80 years, in just one lifetime, most of Alaska’s near-surface permafrost will fall apart, Douglas explains. “That will fundamentally alter hydrology, vegetation, the snowpack, the timing of spring melt, heat exchange, habitats for animals, and it’ll basically completely change the landscape.” The work ahead at Fox, he adds, is to understand the staggering ramifications of this loss. Alaska and all of the far North, he says, are “just going to be a fundamentally different place.”

    UPDATE: A previous version of the piece incorrectly stated that the planet's permafrost could be releasing as much as 300 to 600 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The amount is 300 to 600 million metric tons. The piece also wrongly stated that Thomas Douglas set up meters and cameras to track snowfall and melt throughout the forest behind the permafrost tunnel. The work was conducted by various CRREL researchers.

    This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

    Crypts, tunnel discovered beneath Knights Templar chapel in Poland

    Last fall, an archaeological investigation revealed tantalizing structures hidden below the 13th-century building

    Around 1119, in the midst of Christian Crusades to wrest the Holy Land from Muslim control, a French knight named Hugues de Payens formed a small military order dedicated to defending pilgrims as they traveled from West to East.

    Known today as the Knights Templar, the group (and various legends surrounding its history) has captured public imagination for centuries. As Patrick Masters, a film studies scholar at the University of Portsmouth, wrote for the Conversation in 2019, 13th-century epics and Dan Brown&rsquos The Da Vinci Code alike link the order to the mythical Holy Grail&mdashalbeit with little supporting evidence.

    Over the years, physical traces of the organization&rsquos existence have yielded insights on its actual role in medieval society. In villages across the West Pomeranian region of Poland, for instance, 13th-century Gothic buildings created by the knights upon their return from the Holy Land testify to the order&rsquos lasting influence.

    Now, reports Małgosia Krakowska for CNN, an ongoing archaeological dig at a Knights Templar chapel in a remote Polish village of about 100 residents is offering up an array of exciting new discoveries.

    Last fall, a research team using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) uncovered a number of crypts, as well as the possible remains of an underground passageway or tunnel, while conducting excavations at the chapel of Saint Stanislaus in Chwarszczany.

    &ldquoAccording to legends and medieval documents, there was a well in the vicinity of the chapel,&rdquo Przemysław Kołosowski, the lead archaeologist working on the site, tells CNN. &ldquoRumor has it that the well served as an entrance to a secret tunnel. This still requires an exhaustive archeological investigation.&rdquo

    As Jakub Pikulik reported for Polish newspaper Gazeta Lubuska last year, renovations and archaeological work at the site have been ongoing since 2004. Kołosowski&rsquos team commenced work in July 2019, scanning the chapel and surrounding fields with the help of a hundred or so volunteers.

    An excavation expected to unearth a medieval fortress yielded no substantial finds from the period. But archaeologists did discover centuries-old cobblestones, the walls of an 18th-century distillery, Bronze Age pottery and iron nails, and a 1757 coin likely left behind by Russian troops stationed nearby during the Seven Years&rsquo War.

    Inside the chapel, archaeologists investigating a small depression beneath the stone floors found seven vaulted crypts. Per a statement from OKM, the German manufacturer of the GPR technology used by the researchers, these underground crypts &ldquocannot be dated back to Templar times.&rdquo Instead, Gazeta Lubuska notes, the crypts were likely constructed later, only to be emptied during renovations in the second half of the 19th century.

    Built on the site of an older Romanesque temple in the second half of the 13th century, the red-brick Chwarszczany chapel was &ldquoboth a place of worship and a defensive fortification,&rdquo according to Sarah Cascone of artnet News.

    At the time, the Knights Templar wielded significant power in western Poland, local historian Marek Karolczak tells CNN.

    &ldquoBack in those days, the appearance of Knights Templar on this soil was a popular trend,&rdquo Karolczak explains. &ldquoThis is the time of Crusades. Local rulers wanted to strengthen their power by inviting military orders to settle on their land and build commanderies.&rdquo

    Because the Knights Templar were protected by the pope, they &ldquoenjoy[ed] papal privileges, tax breaks and lavish donations while also accruing legendary status,&rdquo reports CNN. But the group&rsquos luck changed in the early 14th century, when Philip IV of France ordered members&rsquo arrest, perhaps out of a desire to seize their vast wealth or assert his political dominance over the papacy, writes Mark Cartwright for Ancient History Encyclopedia.

    Those arrested were tortured into giving false confessions of homosexuality and sacrilege, and in 1312, Pope Clement V officially disbanded the religious order.

    Roman aqueduct volunteers tap into history beneath their feet

    ROME — In a verdant valley east of Rome, Fabrizio Baldi admires a forgotten stretch of a two-tier Roman aqueduct, a stunning example of the emperor Hadrian’s 2nd century drive to divert water from rural springs to his ever-thirstier capital.

    But Baldi, 36, is less interested in the graceful arches than in where the aqueduct’s span ends, hidden in a wooded slope across a stream, halfway up the side of the valley. Scrambling through thick brambles, he comes across a large hole in the ground that appears to be the start of a tunnel.

    “Hop in,” he says. “This is where the water poured off the aqueduct and started a 21-mile underground journey to Rome.”

    Baldi is one of about 80 amateur speleologists who spend their weekends crawling down underground channels with laser scanners and GPS in an effort to conclusively map the city’s network of 11 ancient aqueducts for the first time in modern history. In doing so, they have turned up underground stretches that nobody remembered.

    The group, which has been exploring underground Rome since 1996, has completed about 40% of its mission to map the aqueducts.

    “The famous arched, over-ground aqueducts we see today are just the tip of the iceberg 95% of the network ran underground,” says Marco Placidi, head of the speleologists group, which is sharing its results with Italy’s culture ministry.

    Slaking the thirst of the fast-growing imperial capital meant linking it to springs many miles from the city. The ancient Roman engineers were equal to the task, supplying a quantity of water that modern engineers didn’t manage to match until the 1930s.

    Rome’s emperors had the aqueducts built quickly, employing thousands of slave laborers. In the 1st century, Claudius completed his 60-mile effort in two years.

    The structures are unusually solid, with cement and crushed pottery used as building material. One of the aqueducts, the Aqua Virgo, is still in use today, keeping Rome parks and even the Trevi fountain supplied. Others were damaged by invading German tribes in the waning days of the empire.

    The ingenious use of gravity and siphons to accelerate water up slopes has stood the test of time: Aqueducts built in the 20th century to supply Los Angeles with water relied on the same methods.

    “Interest in what the Romans did underground is growing fast,” Placidi says. “Experts now understand they are the best-preserved remains and truly reveal how the Romans made things on the surface work. This is the new frontier of archaeology.”

    Dropping into the hole, Baldi disappears down the Anio Vetus aqueduct, a 3-foot-wide, 5-foot-high tunnel lined with pristine Roman brickwork. As frogs, spiders and grasshoppers scatter, Baldi reaches a maintenance shaft, complete with good-as-new footholds dug into the bricks that lead up to a narrow opening in the woods 10 feet above. Beyond him, the tunnel vanishes into the darkness.

    “Some of this walling is a meter thick and tougher than the rock itself, which is why it has lasted,” he said.

    The tract of the Anio Vetus aqueduct was mapped by British archaeologist Thomas Ashby, whose 1935 book, “The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome,” remains a bible for the cavers.

    “But Ashby just followed the maintenance shafts along the surface and didn’t get down underground, so where there are no shafts, we are finding things he didn’t,” Placidi said.

    That includes an underground stretch, just over half a mile long, of the Anio Vetus dating to the 3rd century BC that fell into disuse when Hadrian spanned the valley with his arched bridge in the 2nd century.

    At nearby Gallicano, the team stumbled on an unknown 300-yard stretch of aqueduct burrowed through a hillside with vertical access shafts ingeniously rising into a second maintenance tunnel above it, large enough for cart traffic.

    “We have found Roman dams we didn’t know about, branch lines taking water to waterfalls built in private villas, and even aqueducts driven underneath” streams, Placidi said. “We are able to get up close and [feel we are] right back at the moment the slaves were digging.”

    The explorers say they have no fear because they proceed carefully and use robots where it’s too dangerous to go themselves. They haven’t encountered any people living underground, but have found foxes, porcupines and snakes.

    They have also found risque graffiti underneath the San Cosimato convent near Rome, where the Claudio and Marcio aqueducts run parallel. The words date to 18th century monks, who were jealously accusing one another of having liaisons with other monks.

    Apart from the aqueducts, the team has been called on to map chambers deep beneath Palatine Hill in Rome and to explore the tunnels under the Baths of Caracalla there and at Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli. Beneath the heart of Rome, Placidi’s volunteers explored the Cloaca Maxima, the massive Roman sewer that still serves the city.

    “It works so well people simply forgot about where exactly it runs,” Placidi said.

    The aqueduct exploration coincides with the gradual crumbling of many of the above-ground arched structures in the countryside around Rome.

    “Roots are the problem, and many structures have trees growing on top of them,” Baldi said, pointing to a large, collapsed section of Hadrian’s handiwork. “That part was still standing when Ashby was here,” he said.

    Today, the valley, where a section of the lane heading to the aqueduct is still paved with Roman basalt, is unsupervised.

    “More people come here to illegally dump rubbish than to see the aqueduct,” Baldi said.

    The cavers, young and old, rarely get paid for their work by the cash-strapped Italian government, even if their results are happily being collated by archaeological authorities. Placidi combines his speleology with work as a webmaster Baldi is an unemployed car parts dealer.

    Placidi predicts that will change. “Now you have amateur cavers becoming experts on archaeology, but in 20 years’ time the archaeologists will be training up as cavers,” he said.

    Mysterious Subterranean Tunnel Discovered Beneath Ancient Temple

    A mysterious tunnel discovered beneath the Temple of the Snake in Mexico has set the archaeological community ablaze with controversy. The tunnel, which some experts are suggesting could be a burial chamber could be -according to researchers- one of the most significant archaeological finds of the century. And yet still others are speculating that the story of this temple goes beyond anything we’ve previously encountered. And of course this discovery comes to us just as 2012 approaches and the Mayan calendar is about to enter its end game.

    As humanity prepares to enter Unity Consciousness with the 9th wave, there is already a great deal of attention being paid to all ancient civilizations. What did they know then that we do not know now? What hidden mysteries remain hidden from the public eye? And why would such an incredible discovery wait until now?

    The tunnels, discovered beneath the Temple of the Snake were not even suspected until a team of scientists looking deep underground with radar found them just this week. It’s interesting to think the tunnels were a mere 15 yards from some heavily traveled footpaths and yet still may contain one of the most interesting secrets of the century. Archaeologists have already declared it potentially one of the greatest discoveries of the century. The temple, located in Teotihuacan, is still being studied for its use and history.

    While some are declaring it the find of the century, others are still a bit more reticent with their projections of what will be found there. The discovery certainly does come at a time when interest in ancient Mesoamerican civilizations is at an all time high, with expectations for it to be exceeded only in 2012 as the date of the Mayan calendar approaches.

    So what could be housed in this ancient chamber? A few strange theories have come up as well. Everything from an ancient saucer craft to the remains of a long lost treasure have been proposed. And there are some who even suggest the temple may be the final resting place of the final missing crystal skull – though others contend this was found in Germany earlier in 2011.

    The discovery is sure to make some headlines in the near future, however. One of the most interesting elements of this story is in the hidden temple being completely sealed. So often when archaeologists discover an ancient room or chamber such as this they are left with only the remains left behind by previous explorers, looters, and even the kingdoms themselves as they rose and fell. The discovery of such an ancient room that was so completely secret suggests that maybe even ancient tomb robbers would not have had the opportunity to breach its walls. And so the tomb may be the most genuine snapshot of this wondrous ancient society to date.

    Historians Uncover Slave Quarters of Sally Hemings at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

    CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Archaeologists have excavated an area of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello mansion that has astounded even the most experienced social scientists: The living quarters of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.

    “This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room,” said Gardiner Hallock, director of restoration for Jefferson’s mountaintop plantation, standing on a red-dirt floor inside a dusty rubble-stone room built in 1809. “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.”

    Hemings’ living quarters was adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom but she remains something of an enigma: there are only four known descriptions of her. Enslaved blacksmith Isaac Granger Jefferson recalled that Hemings was “mighty near white . . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back."

    Her room — 14 feet, 8 inches wide and 13 feet long — went unnoticed for decades. The space was converted into a men’s bathroom in 1941, considered by some as the final insult to Hemings’ legacy.

    “For the first time at Monticello we have a physical space dedicated to Sally Hemings and her life,” Mia Magruder Dammann, a spokeswoman for Monticello, told NBCBLK. “It’s significant because it connects the entire African American arch at Monticello.”

    By the late 1960s, Magruder said, the earlier bathrooms had become too small to accommodate Monticello’s growing number of visitors so local restoration architect Floyd Johnson renovated and enlarged the bathrooms in 1967.

    But recently, historians studied a description provided long ago by a grandson of Jefferson who placed Hemings’ room in the home’s South Wing.

    So archaeologists started digging.

    Fraser Neiman, director of archeology at Monticello, said Hemings’ quarters revealed the original brick hearth and fireplace, the brick structure for a stove and the original floors from the early 1800s.

    “This room is a real connection to the past,” Neiman said. “We are uncovering and discovering and we’re finding many, many artifacts.”

    The Mountaintop Project is a multi-year, $35-million effort to restore Monticello as Jefferson knew it, and to tell the stories of the people — enslaved and free — who lived and worked on the 5,000-acre Virginia plantation.

    In an effort to bring transparency to the grounds' difficult past, there are tours that focus solely on the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored there, as well as a Hemings Family tour.

    Monticello unveiled the restoration of Mulberry Row in 2015, which includes the re-creation of two slave-related buildings, the “storehouse for iron” and the Hemings cabin. In May 2015, more than 100 descendants of enslaved families participated in a tree-planting ceremony to commemorate the new buildings.

    And today, Hemings’ room is being restored for eventual public viewing. Monticello’s curators are working diligently to incorporate Hemings’ life as part of Jefferson’s comprehensive story, which counters old newspaper accounts citing Hemings as Jefferson’s “concubine."

    Gayle Jessup White, Monticello’s Community Engagement Officer, is a descendant of the Hemings and Jefferson families and an integral part of Monticello’s African American legacy: Sally Hemings was White’s great-great-great-great aunt.

    White first learned of her Jefferson family lineage as a young girl and years later, she still ponders the emotional complexities associated with Jefferson, the third president of the United States, the author of the Declaration of Independence — and an unapologetic proprietor who enslaved 600 people.

    “As an African American descendant, I have mixed feelings — Thomas Jefferson was a slave holder,” White said.

    “I am appreciative of the work that my colleagues are doing at Monticello because this is an American story, an important story,” she said. “But for too long our history has been ignored. Some people still don’t want to admit that the Civil War was fought over slavery. We need to face history head-on and face the blemish of slavery and that’s what we’re doing at Monticello.”

    White took the job at Monticello in July, 2016 and says her role is to help build a bridge between Monticello and the local community.

    “We have a great story on the mountaintop, an inclusive story,” White said. “We’re telling a complete story. We’re not just talking about Thomas Jefferson and his family, we’re talking about the enslaved people and their families, too.”

    Last year, Monticello, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Virginia, hosted a public race summit entitled, Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America. It featured leading academics like Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Annette Gordon-Reed, artists like Nikki Giovanni, activists like Bree Newsome, descendants of Monticello’s enslaved families and community members.

    White said the local African American community has not always embraced Monticello because Jefferson was a slave owner.

    “I find that some people are receptive to the message and some are resistant,” White said. “But our message is that we want the underserved communities and communities of color to become partners with us. Anecdotally, we have seen an uptick in African Americans visiting Monticello so I know we’re making progress.”

    On a sunny weekday this spring, Monticello tour guide Tom Nash spoke to a group of white tourists and shared stories about slavery on the sprawling Jefferson plantation.

    “This is a spectacular view from this mountaintop,” Nash said. “But not for the enslaved people who worked these fields. This was a tough job and some of them — even young boys 10 to 16 years old —felt the whip.”

    Questions for Nash from tourists were wide-ranging:

    Why did some slaves want to pass for white when they were freed?

    Why did Jefferson own slaves and write that all men are created equal?

    How many slaves did Jefferson set free?

    “Working in the fields was not a happy time,” Nash said. “There were long days on the plantation. Enslaved people worked from sunup to sundown six days a week. There was no such thing as a good slave owner.”

    Meanwhile, Hallock said the physical evidence shows that Sally Hemings probably lived a higher-level lifestyle than other enslaved people on Jefferson’s plantation. Still, her room had no windows and would have been dark, damp and uncomfortable.

    “I think about the daily life of people in these quarters,” Hallock said. “Even though their lives were beyond their control, they were still a family and they shared this space. They would heat up a late meal and huddle by the fire to keep warm when the day was done.”


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