Cavers Reached the Bottom of Yemen's 'Well of Hell.' Here's What They Found

·3-min read

A team of Omani cavers has made what is believed to be the first descent to the bottom of Yemen’s fabled Well of Barhout — a natural wonder shunned by many locals, who believe it is a prison for genies. The forbidding ‘Well of Hell’, whose dark, round aperture creates a 30-metre (100 foot) wide hole in the desert floor of Yemen’s eastern province of Al-Mahra, plunges approximately 112 metres (367 feet) below the surface and, according to some accounts, gives off strange odours. Inside, the Oman Cave Exploration Team (OCET) found snakes, dead animals and cave pearls — but no signs of the supernatural.

“There were snakes, but they won’t bother you unless you bother them,” Mohammed al-Kindi, a geology professor at the German University of Technology in Oman, told AFP.

Kindi was among eight experienced cavers who rappelled down last week, while two colleagues remained at the surface.

Footage provided to AFP showed cave formations and grey and lime-green cave pearls, formed by dripping water.

“Passion drove us to do this, and we felt that this is something that will reveal a new wonder and part of Yemeni history,” said Kindi, who also owns a mining and petroleum consultancy firm.

“We collected samples of water, rocks, soil and some dead animals but have yet to have them analysed,” he said, adding that a report will soon be made public.

“There were dead birds, which does create some bad odours, but there was no overwhelming bad smell.”

Yemeni officials told AFP in June that they did not know what lay in the depths of the pit, which they estimated to be “millions and millions” of years old, adding that they had never reached the bottom.

Despite the sinkhole’s reputation as a prison for genies, the cavers found no demons, only snakes, dead animals and cave pearls – AFP/File

“We have gone to visit the area and entered the well, reaching more than 50-60 metres down,” Salah Babhair, director general of Mahra’s geological survey and mineral resources authority, said at the time. “We noticed strange things inside. We also smelled something strange… It’s a mysterious situation.”

But what really is the ‘Well’? According to geographical classification, the cave is actually a sinkhole. “There are different types of sinkholes,” Philip van Beynen, a sinkhole expert at the University of South Florida told Live Science. “The most common are collapse and subsidence sinkholes.” Collapse sinkholes form when voids in the bedrock below the surface expand so much that the roof above is no longer supported, and the rock and overlying sediment suddenly collapse into the cave. Subsidence sinkholes occur when surface sediments slowly trickle down into small voids below the ground until a depression or sinkhole forms, van Beynen said.

As the OCET team descended into the sinkhole, they arrived on an uneven and jagged floor covered in stalagmites, some of which reached 30 feet (9 m) tall, reported Omani newspaper Muscat Daily. Some parts of the floor were also covered in cave pearls, which are also a type of speleothems — structures in caves, such as stalagmites and stalactites, that form from the gradual build-up of minerals, such as calcium carbonate, from dripping water.

Over the centuries, stories have circulated of malign figures known as jinns or genies living in the well, which some regard as the gate of hell. Many residents of the area are uneasy about visiting the vast pit or even talking about it, for fear of ill fortune.

Yemenis have had enough bad luck as it is. The country has been embroiled in a devastating civil war since 2014 that has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with two-thirds of its 30-million population dependent on some form of aid.

(With inputs from AFP)

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