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Geologists Say Greece’s ‘Lost City’ Is Actually a Natural Formation

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The waters off the coast of Greece are an archaeologist’s dream—a wreck here, an amphora there. So when a diver in the Ionian Sea said he’d found the remains of a lost city, there wasn’t much reason to doubt him. Yet a new study concludes that the sunken city’s tidy columns, platforms, and paving stone-like slabs are all products of a natural phenomenon. The report was published in the journal Marine and Petroleum Geology.

Shortly after the site’s discovery in 2013, Greek officials sent divers down to check it out. They reported that the city had a visible courtyard attached to what may have been a large public building, which indicated a wealthy community. Yet aside from the city itself, these theoretical rich people had left no trace that they ever existed.

The symmetrical stone circles, columns, and slabs drew the attention of geologists, who suspected the city might not have been a city at all. They took another look at the site, collected samples from the stones, and brought them back to the lab for analysis. Through a combination of high-powered microscopes and molecular analysis, the researchers learned that the city’s columns and paving stones were, in fact, the products of a weird geological phenomenon.

Lead author Julian Andrews is an environmental scientist at the UK’s University of East Anglia. He and his co-authors believe the formations were caused by interactions between minerals, gases, and microbes on the sea floor.

“We found that the linear distribution of these doughnut-shaped concretions is likely the result of a sub-surface fault which has not fully ruptured the surface of the sea bed,” he said in a press statement. “The fault allowed gases, particularly methane, to escape from depth.”

That escaping methane was used as fuel by microbes living in the sea bed. The activity of the microbes then changed the chemical content of the surrounding sediment, churning it into a kind of natural stone cement.

“These features are proof of natural methane seeping out of rock from hydrocarbon reservoirs,” said Andrews. “The same thing happens in the North Sea, and it is also similar to the effects of fracking, when humans essentially speed up or enhance the phenomena.”

Pleased with their work, Andrews and his colleagues summarized their findings with a rhyme: “’columns and pavements in the sea, not always antiquities will be’.”

But not everyone is so pleased. Diver Pavlos Voutos, who discovered the site, insisted in a 2013 editorial that the city was, in fact, a city, and that any claims to the contrary were a government conspiracy.

In an email to mental_floss, Andrews said his team's research spoke for itself: "All the data we collected are consistent with a geological origin as outlined in our work."

All images from J.E. Andrews et al. 2016

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Discover Ancient Sunken City in the Mediterranean
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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

Early on July 21, 365 CE, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean, triggering a powerful tsunami. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was damaged, towns crumbled on the island of Crete, and the Roman port city of Neapolis, located on the coast of North Africa, was largely swallowed by the wave, according to historical records. Now, after being hidden under water for more than 16 centuries, the remains of Neapolis have been discovered by archaeologists off the coast of northeast Tunisia. This, according to the AFP, confirms accounts that the city was a casualty of the ancient natural disaster.

Following several years of exploration, researchers from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari in Italy have discovered nearly 50 acres of watery ruins near the modern-day city of Nabeul. They include streets, monuments, homes, mosaics, and around 100 tanks used to make garum, a fish-based sauce that was so popular in ancient Rome and Greece that it's been likened to ketchup. 

These containers suggest that Neapolis was likely a major producer of garum, making the salty condiment an integral part of the city's economy. "Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum," expedition head Mounir Fantar told the AFP.

Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) was originally founded in the 5th century BCE. While it was an important Mediterranean hub, its name doesn't appear too often in ancient writings. According to The Independent, it may because the city sided with the ancient city-state of Carthage—founded in the 9th century BCE by a seafaring people known as the Phoenicians—in the last of a series of three wars, called the Punic Wars, against Rome.

The Third Punic War stretched from 149 to 146 BCE, and led to the burning of Carthage. (It was later rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar.) Neapolis may have been punished for its wayward allegiance, which may explain why it's rarely mentioned in historical accounts.

You can view a video of the city's ruins below.

[h/t AFP]

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