By Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor | LiveScience.com – Wed, Nov 28, 2012
“A giant cave that might have helped serve as the inspiration for the mythic ancient Greek underworld Hades once housed hundreds of people, potentially making it one of the oldest and most important prehistoric villages in Europe before it collapsed and killed everyone inside, researchers say.
The complex settlement seen in this cave suggests, along with other sites from about the same time, that early prehistoric Europe may have been more complex than previously thought.
The cave, located in southern Greece and discovered in 1958, is called Alepotrypa, which means “foxhole.”
“The legend is that in a village nearby, a guy was hunting for foxes with his dog, and the dog went into the hole and the man went after the dog and discovered the cave,” said researcher Michael Galaty, an archaeologist at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. “The story’s probably apocryphal — depending on who you ask in the village, they all claim it was their grandfather who found the cave.”
“You have to imagine the place torchlit, filled with people lighting bonfires and burying the dead,” Galaty said. “It was quite like a prehistoric cathedral, a pilgrimage site that attracted people from all over the region and perhaps from further afield.”
Settlement at the cave abruptly ended when its entrance collapsed about 5,000 years ago, perhaps due to an earthquake, burying cave dwellers alive.
“It is and was an amazing place, the closest thing we have to a Neolithic Pompeii,” Galaty said, referring to the ancient Roman town of Pompeii, which was buried when Mt. Vesuvius erupted nearly 2,000 years ago. Ash entombed and preserved Pompeii, and excavations there have given archaeologists extraordinarily detailed views of life during that time. In much the same way, the final cave collapse left everything in place in Alepotrypa, with everything inside getting a pearly mineral coating over the years…”