Take one look at the Well of Barhout, a natural sink hole in Yemen, and you can understand why this cavernous formation has inspired so many local legends about ancient curses and evil spirits. It’s a hole in the desert; an alien-looking, circular black pit shooting down into the landscape.
Despite these ominous tales, a team of eight cavers descended 112 meters (367 feet) to the bottom of the pit on September 15, marking the first recorded expedition to the floor of this so-called “Well of Hell.”
Newly released footage from the trip revealed colorful patterns and cave pearls, which are spherical calcium deposits, that have been shaped across millennia by water dripping into the hole. The spelunkers spent several hours in the pit and observed a thriving population of snakes, along with the remains of birds and other animals that were apparently not as well equipped to survive in the hole.
"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 who was among the cavers, told the AFP. "We collected samples of water, rocks, soil and some dead animals but have yet to have them analyzed."
Very little is known about the formation and geological history of the Well of Barhout, but it is estimated to be millions of years old, according to Yemeni officials. Kindi and his colleagues plan to publish a report on their findings, which might shed more light on its formation and unique ecosystem.
The spelunkers are part of the Oman Cave Exploration Team, a group that has spent years exploring dozens of caves in Oman. The team cooperated with the Yemen Geological Survey and Mineral Resources Board in their expedition into the Well of Barhout, which sits close to the border of Yemen and Oman.
Sitting in the middle of the desert, this deep and enigmatic hole looks like a real-life Sarlacc Pit. Local superstitions have speculated that the well can suck nearby objects into it, and it has also been rumored to be a prison for genies.
“Some say it is where apostates and non-believers are tortured after death," Kindi told the Emirati-based newspaper The National. "Others believe that their heads would be severed once they’re down there.”
He hoped the expedition would allay some of these fears, including that the water in the pit is evil.
“All we saw was pure freshwater down there,” Kindi said. “We even drank an entire bottle and nothing happened to us!"