Movile Cave: 5.5-million-year-old sealed world that was discovered under Romania

by Michael d’Estries

Back in 1986, during surveys for the location of a power plant near the Black Sea in Romania, construction workers digging more than 60 feet underground broke into a bizarre, previously untouched ecosystem.

Called the Movile Cave, this subterranean wonder has been sealed for an estimated 5.5 million years. The air is warm and deadly, with noxious gases and little oxygen, the tunnels narrow, the pure and utter darkness the stuff of nightmares. But what has shocked the few scientists who’ve entered this underground Middle Earth of Horrors is that the place is absolutely teeming with life.

More specifically, creepy-crawly life.

Water scorpions, worms, spiders, predatory leeches and previously unknown microbes are just a few of the creatures in Movile. In fact, of the 48 species that have been identified, a remarkable 33 are new to science.

“All the creatures we saw are completely white,” Microbiologist Rich Boden, one of only 30 people to have entered Movile, said in an interview. “None of them has any pigmentation in their body as there is no sunlight — you can see right through them.”

Most of the species also have no eyes, evolution having done away with that sense long ago in favor of longer antennae and arms.

“I thought it was odd that the spiders still spin webs down there because there are no flies, but then you see there are these little insects called spring-tails, which bounce into the air and are caught by the webs,” added Boden. “It really is the stuff of science-fiction.”

Because no organic matter from the surface makes its way into Movile, scientists were at first puzzled as to how an entire world could possibly flourish under such harsh conditions. The answer lies in vast “mats” on the surface of the cave’s waters and walls. These mats contain millions upon millions of tiny bacteria called autotrophs. Instead of photosynthesis, these autotrophs use a process called chemosynthesis, which obtains chemical energy from the oxidation of sulfur compounds and ammonia in the cave waters, explains the Murrell Lab, part of the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. The resulting milky film of microorganisms serves as the foundation for the rest Movile’s ecosystem.

“It’s very likely that the bacteria have been there a lot longer than 5 million years, but that the insects became trapped there around that time,” microbiologist J. Colin Murrell of University of East Anglia told the BBC. “They could have simply fallen in and become trapped when the limestone cast dropped, sealing the cave until it was discovered again in 1986.”

Movile’s unique conditions for life are so alien that the Romanian press quoted one scientist as saying that “if a nuclear war swept out life on Earth, that ecosystem would be a survivor.”

Archaeologists Believe They Found Dracula’s Dungeon in Turkey


The dungeon believed to have held Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for the blood-thirsty character, was recently discovered in Turkey

Archeologists in Turkey have reportedly discovered the dungeon where the real-life basis for Count Dracula was held.

The cell where history’s Dracula, the Romanian prince Vlad III (nicknamed Vlad the Impaler for his gruesome tendency to impale his foes), was recently discovered during a restoration project, the Turkey-based Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Restoration works in the Tokat Castle have discovered a secret tunnel leading to the Pervane Bath and a military shelter. Two dungeons have also been discovered in the castle, where Wallachian Prince Vlad III the Impaler, who was also known as Dracula, is said to have been held captive in the early 15th century.

The ongoing restoration works, which have continued for 10 weeks, have also restored and reinforced its bastions, which were used as defense in the Seljuk and Ottoman era.

“We try to shed light on history with the structure layers we unearth,” said archaeologist İbrahim Çetin, who works on the excavations. He said that the team has found food cubes and an open terrace, as well as the military shelter and dungeons that were “built like a prison.”

Çetin noted the presence of many tunnels surrounding the site. “The castle is completely surrounded by secret tunnels. It is very mysterious,” he said.

Çetin said that Dracula had been kept captive in one of these uncovered dungeons. “It is hard to estimate in which room Dracula was kept, but he was around here,” he said.

The Turkish archaeologist did not elaborate. Vlad III lived between 1431 and 1476. Most historians say he was kept in captivity in Romania. The exact length of his period of captivity is open to debate, though indications are that it was from 1462 to 1474.

Skeletons in Romania uncovered holding hands


While excavating the courtyard of a former Dominican monastery in experts discovered skeletons of a couple buried together holding hands. The bodies were discovered in the former cemetery of the monastery and it is believed the double grave dated back to the Middle Ages.

Adrian Rusu, from the Cluj-Napoca Institute of Archaeology and History of Art, said: “It is a mystery – and rare for such burials at that time. We can see that the man had suffered a severe injury that left him with a broken hip from which he probably died. Because of the fact that the young woman obviously died at the same time and was presumably healthy we are speculating that she possibly died of a broken heart at the loss of her partner.”

It is believed the bodies were buried somewhere between 1450-155. The remains of a child were also found in the grave but archaeologists believe that may not have been linked to the pair.

Mr Rusu added: “Suicide is unlikely as it is regarded as a sin and it’s unlikely she would have been buried in such a holy place if that was the case. They were obviously buried together as a tribute to the love they had for each other.”

Modern day witchcraft in Romania


Potions, spells and broomsticks: Witchcraft is often seen in Hollywood films and Halloween parties – and not usually as a form of alternative health care.

Yet in Romania, belief in magic is not regarded as hocus pocus. Many choose to entrust their problems to the supernatural rather that bear the stigma of seeking a psychologist.

Two years ago, Romanian photojournalist Mugur Varzariu set out to capture all facets of today’s Romania, from its active witch culture to the ugly Roma ethnic conflict. Raising awareness through the cross hairs of his camera, he has dedicated himself to projecting a country that transcends its Transylvanian image, and to documenting the different challenges of the Roma.

Call it fate that at a festival in Costesti, Varzariu’s camera lens was drawn to a vibrantly dressed woman – a witch of Roma origin, with a personality and energy to match her colorful attire. A prominent sorceress, Bratara not only performs rituals; she’s also a Roma rights activist.

Witches, or vrajitoares as they are called in their native tongue, are commonly of Roma heritage. Roma, or Gypsies, are a marginalized ethnicity in Romania seen by many as the cause of the country’s problems. Vexed also by witches, many government officials view them as frauds and an embarrassment to the nation.

“I wanted to tell a different story,” Varzariu said. “People in Romania say ‘we hate the Roma’ or ‘we hate the witches and want this practice to be put to an end.’ So I wanted to present the injustice but also to show the good things about the Roma.”

And with that, he set out to do a story on witchcraft. But in the end, he discovered her story, which was more complex and intricate than magic.

With an open mind, Varzariu stood at the entrance of her Bucharest home, he said, recalling the first time she opened the door through to “the universe of magic.”

Bratara allowed Varzariu to capture the mystique of her practices over the course of four months. From hex spells for enemies, to blending tonics that heal ailments, Varzariu explained, she has gained widespread influence.

At first he thought he would only witness sorcery, but she exposed more than just her magic. He saw her community’s pulse – everything from birthdays to exhumations to weddings and wakes – that seemed to transcend the physical plane.

“She is magic. She’s a soul of a large, large family,” he said.

Many people come to Bratara seeking help with everyday problems. A heartbroken girl wishing her ex-boyfriend would take her back received a chant and a stake-pierced-onion, symbolic of love hitting the heart, almost as if mimicking the action of Cupid’s arrow.

“Regardless if it’s true or not, she’s there for them day and night, and I don’t really see any harm in that,” Varzariu said. Especially in a culture where he says people are still afraid to see a shrink because “people will label them as crazy.”

Her activism has landed her a friend in one of the biggest Roma mafiosi in Bucharest. The mafia member accepted Varzariu into his home with a camera only because of her, he says. Despite their sensitive conversation regarding the Roma Justice Court, Bratara’s trust in him allowed for the documentation to take place.

In addition to catering to the needs of her community at the Roma at large, she still manages to make time, and scarves, for her family, such as garments for her nephew’s wedding.

Varzariu set out to do a story on witchcraft, he says, but at the end “it’s her – she is the story.”

“In a way, we live in a matriarchal society. You can sense it in the way women perform today,” he said. “I’m telling you, she would be the leading woman in any society. She’s amazing.”

– Michelle Cohan, CNN

Witch reveals heart of Roma