North and South 120

If the deduction that the Dogleg and Rise were a later addition in Roman times, then North and South 120 would have provided the only way back to daylight. The ordeal of the one-way drop into the River Styx would have been the point of no retrun and the journey had to be made up to The Sanctuary through Persephone’s Back Passage, presumably with whatever activities that took place at The Sanctuary completed. The most logical way to leave the Sanctuary area back to daylight is by South 120. North 120 is more problematic, as it can only be accessed by an awkward side passage. It would seem North 120 is more of an admin tunnel of some kind. It is blocked a short way in at both ends, so we have to wait for further research to better understand its purpose. We start our homeward journey now at the junction of The Rise and South 120.
“Opposite the east ‘door’ there is a shelf running along the south wall of the Rise for about 6 metres (19 ½ feet), when it becomes the entrance to the 120 tunnels.” Doc Paget, In the Footsteps of Orpheus

North and South 120

A few paces into South 120, looking back at the archway with the niche.

The purpose of this picture is to draw attention to the rebate in the right wall. Surely this too was some part of a door frame. It may well be associated with the white lines on the opposite wall, or it may be yet another door feature.

 

Towards
The Traverse

A view showing the continuation of South 120 – the black hole. Before that is the entry to The Traverse, on the left.

There is a massive amount of soil banked up here that makes further progress difficult, but not impossible. In spite of this tunnel being a long long way now from the surface buildings and fresh air, it is still possible to breathe, but the humidity, warmth and fine tufa dust in the air make it less than comfortable.

The gritty dust, which is light and hangs in the air, has killed a number of cameras. This website owes its gratitude to the speleologists who have shared their pictures.

Also great thanks are due to Robert Temple too for allowing use of his pictures.

“We… discovered a traverse on the north side, leading in 2 metres (6 ½ feet) to a parallel tunnel, which however, is at 2 metres (6 ½ feet) higher level. There is also a wedge-shaped chamber and door stops at this point, similar to that at the Dividing of the Ways”

Doc Paget, In the Footsteps of Orpheus

Doc’s statement about the wedge-shaped chamber and door stops is perplexing. Is he referring to the rebate in the wall nearer The Sanctuary or did he see something else? 

In any case several people have looked and found nothing remarkable, other than the tunnels themselves, of course.

 

A closer view of South 120, with the entrance to The Traverse immediately to our left. A lamp niche faces us on the wall space in between.

Turning our heads to our left we get a view of the Traverse. It isn’t long, but it is steep and extremely confined. Coming back out is worse than going in, because you are face down in the dust that way.

Robert Temple emerging from The Traverse
Robert Temple emerging from The Traverse

 

Robert Temple crouches in the extremely cramped space above the soil.

Robert bids Director Alastair Reid farewell before he travels up South 120.

Alastair Reid regrettably died on 17 August 2011. South 120 seems to have a jinx on people. Doc probably never went down here, but Keith Jones certainly did. He is no longer alive to tell the tale and died comfortably of old age, we hope. 

The only other person I knew had been down South 120 was Michael Baigent. Olivia Temple was kindly going to ask Michael some questions for this website about South 120 and then unfortunately Michael died suddenly.

I have since found out that speleologists Graziano Ferrari and Raffaella Lamagna made the journey in about 2012.

A number of speleologists were brave enough to make the trip in 2014.

A Detour into North 120

The passage emerges into North 120 through the mouse hole at bottom left.

What we can see of North 120 is that it is beautifully carved out of the living stone. The dead-end at the far end is puzzling. Was an extension of some kind planned? Directly above the mouse hole of The Traverse, on the roof, are a few axe strokes marring the otherwise-beautiful shape of the roof.

What might we make of that red paint we can see at the top left of the picture? This is the only sign of humanity in the place apart from the lamp niches and the various doorways.

In fact this red daub goes right over a lamp niche – surely it is not of great significance. Yet if it was an official inspection stamp or something, maybe the aesthetic niceties didn’t matter.

Doc Paget imagined that he saw ILLIVS MAR, but his sketch doesn’t seem to fit the reality well.

A Detour into North 120

The passage emerges into North 120 through the mouse hole at bottom left.

What we can see of North 120 is that it is beautifully carved out of the living stone. The dead-end at the far end is puzzling. Was an extension of some kind planned? Directly above the mouse hole of The Traverse, on the roof, are a few axe strokes marring the otherwise-beautiful shape of the roof.

What might we make of that red paint we can see at the top left of the picture? This is the only sign of humanity in the place apart from the lamp niches and the various doorways.

In fact this red daub goes right over a lamp niche – surely it is not of great significance. Yet if it was an official inspection stamp or something, maybe the aesthetic niceties didn’t matter.

Doc Paget imagined that he saw ILLIVS MAR, but his sketch doesn’t seem to fit the reality.

2013_0409TRIPANDORACLE0069-copy2013_0409TRIPANDORACLE0069-copy1

Pull the slider across to see Doc’s idea.

Some years ago Superintendent of Antiquities Paola Miniero sent a picture of the red writing to Professor Giuseppe Camodeca. The Professor studied it and he feels it is possible to read:

IIII KAL
MAR

IIII is a number = 4th quarto in latin.
KAL is kalendas (1st day of every month)
MAR is Martias(month March)

KALendas and MARtias are in accusative case

So there we have it. The daub is probably a date, which equates to our 26th February.

The monogram of MAR does have a number of precedents, as this coin shows. Mouse over it to see the other side of the coin.

Peter Knight's sketch of the traverse between North 120 and South 120
Peter Knight’s sketch of the traverse between North 120 and South 120
A closeup of the paint in North 120
A closeup of the paint in North 120
This oblique view shows how deeply incised the axe cuts are and how the paint has been daubed
The deeply incised axe cuts and the daubed paint
The graffito high on the wall of North 120
The graffito sits high on the wall of North 120
North 120 is blocked with a huge amount of soil
North 120 is blocked with a huge amount of soil

We can investigate North 120 no further – it is completely blocked with soil such that only a tiny space is visible between the soil and the roof. We shall revisit North 120 when we come to take a peek at its opposite end in due course. 

Doc Paget claimed that a light shone through the gap here could be seen from the other end. This experiment has been repeated twice, with far more powerful lamps than were available to Doc. Regrettably this seems to be another fiction, it really is not possible. Doc actually shows a marked kink in both North 120 and South 120. This kink does not exist either.

A survey of tunnel angles supplied by Graziano Ferrari shows a 5.5º difference in angle between either end of North 120. So perhaps a surprise is in store. We assume they are the same tunnel, but is this true? We don’t actually know. The little black arrows on the plan indicate axe cutting directions on the walls.

For now we must be content to continue our journey through South 120.


Return to South 120

South 120 is, from this point on, a crazy roller-coaster ride. The distribution of the soil goes from almost full roof height to bare rock on the floor, back to almost roof height again, back to the ground before the final amount of clearance above the soil becoming almost impassable.

Why is the soil distributed like this? The mix of rubble and fine dust doesn’t suggest natural causes blew it in. There are no holes in the roof where this was poured in either.

Typical junk in South 120
Typical junk in South 120

Soil distribution in the tunnels

Soil distribution is marked in pink
Soil distribution is marked in pink

The Roller Coaster

The soil fill has been introduced and placed in a roller-coaster fashion. No doubt the material has found its ‘angle of repose’ over the centuries – this is the natural sinuous shape it would find through natural settlement and vibration. This is, after all, a highly volcanic region – tremors occur often.

This picture is the foot of a descent down a slope in South 120. The shape and carving of this tunnel is impressive. Lamp niches continue to adorn the walls. Solid rocks litter the floor. The cross section of the tunnel is a comfortable human size.

 

Nearing our destination

Having travelled about 46 metres (150 feet), along South 120, sometimes squeezing through small gaps on hands and toes, sometimes climbing up and down banks of soil and rubble, we arrive at the very worst bit of all and it is a tight squeeze.

What lies beyond here is the subject of the next page and is suddenly revealed in astonishing way.


 

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