The Well of Barhout, better known as the "Well of Hell", is a natural sinkhole in Yemen so notorious that mythical legends were crafted around it. Its strong nickname is due to the belief it is a prison for djinns, the genies found in Middle Eastern folklore. Now, for what is thought to be the first time, humans have explored this well, and while they did not find any genies trapped in there, they did find cave pearls, various dead animals, and (sorry, Dr Jones) snakes.
The feat was carried out by the Oman Cave Exploration Team (OCET), a team of eight expert cavers who descended the 112 meters (367 feet) from the well's opening, which stretches 30 meters (100 feet) across, down to its depths.
Yemeni authorities estimate that the sinkhole formed "millions and millions" of years ago, and before this team, nobody had reached the bottom. Previous explorations have reached down to about half the depth and reported bad smells coming from the bottom (it's unclear whether that was the reason they went no further). The newest exploration didn’t reveal any particular noxious smells, although they did report that the dead birds were pretty smelly.
So, why would anyone want to travel to the depths of something known as the "Well of Hell"?
"Passion drove us to do this, and we felt that this is something that will reveal a new wonder and part of Yemeni history," Mohammed al-Kindi, a geology professor at the German University of Technology in Oman and part of the expedition team, told AFP. "We collected samples of water, rocks, soil, and some dead animals but have yet to have them analyzed."
The team reports that the snakes were not particularly aggressive and they did not appear threatened by the unexpected human visitors. The footage captured doesn’t show any of the slithering critters but it does show some beautiful cave formations. Water dripping to the bottom of a cave can create all sorts of interesting structures including so-called cave pearls.
The cave pearls spotted here were reportedly lime green. Made mainly of calcite, they are concentrations of calcium salts around a nucleus like a grain of sand, similar to how an oyster pearl forms. And just like regular pearls, they are organized in concentric layers. That's because a sphere allows for the greatest amount of deposition for the smallest surface. Their glossiness is due to moving water, keeping them nice and smooth. Once dry, they tend to just degrade.
A full report on the findings from the materials collected from the bottom of the well is expected soon. In the meantime, here's hoping no angry djinns, cross at being woken from their slumber, decide retribution is in order for disturbing their peace.