Omani Cavers Brave Descent into Yemen’s Famous “Well of Hell”
Popularly known as the Well of Hell, the Well of Barhout is a 98-foot (30-meter) wide and 367-foot (112-meter) deep sinkhole located in Yemen’s Al-Mahara province in the east of the country. The sinkhole has spawned many scary local myths and superstitions, but a team of 10 intrepid Omani cavers, from the Omani Caves Exploration Team (OCET), recently went right to bottom of the sinkhole and are believed to be the first people to have made the full descent.
AccuWeather reports that Mohammed al-Kindi, a member of the team who is a geology professor at the German University of Technology in Oman, told the French news agency AFP that the cavers had been driven by a keen desire to explore the sinkhole. “We felt that this is something that will reveal a new wonder and part of Yemeni history,” he added, as per a report in Live Science.
The entrance to the Well of Hell sinkhole in Yemen, where Omani cavers descended to the bottom for the first time ever. (Omani Caves Exploration Team)
The Well of Hell: Looking for Spirit and Myth Evidence
Locals have believed for centuries that the Well of Hell is a prison for an evil spirit that has an unbearable odor coming from its entrails. The fear of the spirit residing in the well is so great that Yemeni locals are scared to even venture close to the well’s entrance lest the spirit suck them in. Not only is the well suspected to be home to a fiendish being, it is also thought to house evil jinn spirits and the gateway to hell is supposed to lie at its bottom!
Incidentally, jinn are shape-shifting spirits of Arabic myth, made up of fire and air, that are believed to have inspired the tale of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Another local belief, says Live Science, is that the hole is a super-volcano capable of wreaking havoc on the earth.
Yemen's Well of Barhout, a 367-foot (112-metre) deep sinkhole in the desert which locals call the 'Well of Hell', had been largely unexplored until a team of Omani cavers reached the bottom last week.
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The highly-experienced Omani cave exploration team, which used a pulley system for eight of its members to reach the bottom while two stayed at the top, found no trace of supernatural beings or a gateway to hell. However, there were many wondrous natural phenomena to photograph and experience during the six hours they spent at the bottom of the Well of Hell.
So, if it isn’t a prison for evil spirits, what exactly is the Well of Barhout? In fact, it’s a fairly typical sinkhole. Philip van Beynen, a sinkhole expert at the University of South Florida, told the journal that there are different types of sinkholes, of which the most common are collapse and subsidence sinkholes.
Both are formed in regions that have a carbonate bedrock like limestone or dolomite soluble in water, leading to caves, springs, and sinkholes.
The Well of Barhout is thought to be at least a million years old, but it is hard to tell when exactly the sinkhole was formed. “Unless it occurs when people live at the site and record the event, then it's almost impossible,” van Beynen said.
Looking up from the bottom of the Well of Hell in Yemen. (Omani Caves Exploration Team)
Instead of Spirits The Team Found Cave Pearls and Snakes
Although the Omani cavers team didn’t find any spirits, they did come across something equally frightening, an abundance of snakes! However, as the Irish Sun reports, al-Kindi remarked that “there were snakes, but they won't bother you unless you bother them. “There were frogs and beetles as well. There were also the remains of dead animals, mostly birds, which probably accounts for the bad odor from the pit. Although al-Kindi said they didn’t notice a particularly foul smell.
Green cave pearls littered the floor of the Well of Hell. (Omani Caves Exploration Team)
“Cave pearls are concentric calcium carbonate deposits that form around nuclei under falling water. These rings are smoothed by the movement of water falling for thousands of years until they form beautiful pearl shapes.”
Cave pearls are uncommon and only form on a cave floor that is flat. Leslie Melim, a geologist at Western Illinois University who specializes in cave pearls, told Live Science. “Practically, anything can act as a nucleus, whatever is present in the cave or mine. Since the nucleus is loose, minerals can grow entirely around the grain, which starts a pearl forming.”
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Where the cave floor was jagged and uneven, the OCET also found stalagmites growing out of it, some as high as 30 feet (9 meters). Stalagmites are formed from a build-up of minerals such as calcium carbonate in constantly dripping water.
Another wondrous sight that met the explorers’ eyes was small underground waterfalls. These are created by water emerging from small holes in the sinkhole’s walls at around 213 feet (65 meters) below the surface.
The team took samples that may provide further insights on the sinkhole and how it formed. According to Live Science, al-Kindi stated, “We collected samples of water, rocks, soil and some dead animals but have yet to have them analyzed.”
Top Image: An Omani Caves Exploration Team member about to descend to the bottom of Yemen’s legendary Well of Hell. Source: Screenshot / OCET Oman
By Sahir Pandey
Baker, H. 2021. Cavers discover snakes and waterfalls inside Yemen's infamous 'Well of Hell' in world-first descent. Live Science. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/well-of-hell-sinkhole-yemen-descent.
Danielle, M. 2021. Explorers become 1st ever to reach bottom of mysterious 'Well of Hell'. AccuWeather. Available at: https://www.accuweather.com/en/travel/explorers-become-first-to-reach-bottom-of-mysterious-well-of-hell/1021902.
Davis, K. 2021. Slippery Secret: Team exploring 400ft pit dubbed ‘well of hell’ make horrifying discovery after spotting labyrinth of snakes. The Irish Sun. Available at: https://www.thesun.ie/news/7665406/400ft-pit-horrifying-discovery-snakes/amp/.
Santora, S. 2021. First Known Full Descent into Sinkhole Called 'Well of Hell' Leads to Strange Discoveries. Newsweek. Available at: https://www.newsweek.com/first-known-full-descent-sinkhole-called-well-hell-leads-strange-discoveries-1632549.