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Underwater city was built by microbes, not people

Underwater city was built by microbes, not people

When divers off the Greek island of Zakynthos chanced upon an underwater labyrinth of stone several years ago, they encountered eerie scenes reminiscent of cobblestone floors and the bases of Hellenic-like colonnades, conjuring images of a city that had vanished beneath the waves thousands of years in the past. But when Greek authorities took a closer look they found no nearby signs of human life such as pottery shards, coins or tools. And now new research indicates that the structures are not human-made at all, rather they are natural formations sculpted by the breakdown of methane gas within the ocean floor – millions of years before civilization.

underwater ‘lost city’ was actually built by microbes

photo via www.smithsonianmag.com

No human artifacts, such as coins or pottery were found at the site, making it increasingly unlikely that it was humanmade. Researchers analysed the mineral content and texture of the formations in extreme detail, using X-ray, microscopy and stable isotope techniques. “We investigated the site, which is between two and five meters under water, and found that it is actually a natural geologically occurring phenomenon,” Andrews said. Microbes in the sediment used carbon in the methane as fuel. This then led to chemical changes that caused a natural cement to form. “In this case the cement was an unusual mineral called dolomite which rarely forms in seawater, but can be quite common in microbe-rich sediments. These concretions were then exhumed by erosion to be exposed on the seabed today. “This kind of phenomenon is quite rare in shallow waters. Most similar discoveries tend to be many hundreds and often thousands of meters deep underwater. These features are proof of natural methane seeping out of rock from hydrocarbon reservoirs.” he added.

underwater ‘lost city’ was actually built by microbes

photo via www.smithsonianmag.com

As Andrews and his colleagues summarize in their research paper: “All that glistens is not gold or in this case columns and pavements in the sea, not always antiquities will be.”

The process happened some 3 million years ago, and took perhaps hundreds to thousands of years – a blink of an eye geologically, but far longer than the time to build a human city. While not an archaeological treasure trove, the finding could help scientists learn more about the region’s geologic past.

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