Archaeologists Discovered 2,500-Year-Old Ancient Greek Catacombs Using Sub-Atomic Particles

Deep below the bustling city streets of Naples, Italy, researchers used futuristic sounding technology to reveal an ancient Greek tomb that archaeologists for years knew existed but have been unable to access, according to Live Science.

The area currently known as Naples was first called Cumae, the first ancient Greek colony in Italy. Around 650 B.C.E the settlement was renamed Neapolis, or New City, and was of the most important and powerful colonies held by the Greeks, with its own forum, a bevy of temples, and multiple underground catacombs.

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The ancient structures that remain are 33 feet below Naples and, until recently, unreachable to archaeologists interested in Greek life in Italy. With the help of subatomic particles called muons, cosmic rays in the Earth’s atmosphere that can pass through solid matter, and a sensitive type of photosensitive film, and a detection unit that looks like a large flatbed scanner, archaeologists were able identify, without digging, a burial chamber that dates to between the sixth and third centuries B.C.E..

Because cosmic rays come from within the Earth’s atmosphere the researchers had to find a spot below their target area to record how the muons scatter. In this case, Valeri Tioukov, a physicist at Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and author of a study first published by the journal Scientific Reports in April that details the findings, placed the muon detection devices in a 19th-century cellar almost 60-feet underground. The devices recorded what is called the muon flux (the movement of the particles in a specific area over time) for 28 days. 

While 10 million muons were recorded and revealed a 6.5 by 11.5-foot structure, the intricacies of the burial chamber are still mystery. “In this configuration, there is no way to resolve objects of less than 10 cm [4 inches] in size,” Tioukov told Live Science. “So, we can potentially see the approximate shape of the room, but not small details like bones.”

In the past, the process, called muography, has revealed a hidden corridor above the above the ancient entrance to the Pyramid of Giza and search for remnants of fuel in a reactor following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.


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