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'Door to Afterlife' Found in Egypt One of Many Worldwide

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Carl Franzen Contributor

<> (March 29) -- Forget Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." Today, archaeologists in Egypt proudly announced their discovery of a 3,500-year-old "Door to the Afterlife."

Standing nearly 6 feet tall, the false door is made up of a solid slab of reddish granite intricately engraved with numerous hieroglyphics and carved to create the illusion of a series of concentric door frames stretching off into an infinite horizon.
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Supreme Council of Antiquities / AP
The Egyptian antiquities authority announced Monday that this nearly 3,500-year-old door to the afterlife has been unearthed.

Fox News noted that such doorways are "found in nearly all ancient Egyptian tombs" and were installed "to take the spirits of the dead to and from the afterworld."

Meanwhile, The Associated Press observed another related purpose: "False doors were placed in the west walls of tombs and faced offering tables where food and drink were left for the spirit of the deceased."

According to the BBC, the ancient Egyptian vision of the afterlife "was thought of as a bigger and better version of the earthly Egypt -- and in it [the deceased] were to live close to their family and friends."

The new door was curiously found inside a Roman-style building in the Egyptian city of Luxor. Egypt was annexed by the Roman Empire in 30 B.C. after forces led by the man who would become Caesar Augustus defeated the armies of his rivals, lovers Mark Antony and Cleopatra, who subsequently committed suicide. Rome controlled Egypt for the next 700 years.

But archaeologists actually traced the latest door back to a much older, distant tomb constructed for a man called User, chief minister of Queen Hatshepsut, who was herself one of ancient Egypt's few female rulers and its longest reigning, from 1479 to 1457 B.C.

The Independent reported that the inscriptions on the doorway reveal that User held the positions of the queen's vizier, prince and mayor of the city of Luxor. The newspaper also said archaeologists discovered a chapel dedicated to User, suggesting his "importance during Pharaoh Hashepsut's reign, as well as to the importance of the post of vizier in ancient Egypt."

Of course, User's doorway is hardly the first discovery of its kind around the world: Various cultures throughout history have conceived of their own distinct ways to physically access the world or worlds beyond the grave. Here are three examples:

Portal to Maya Underworld -- Yucatan, Mexico

In 2008, National Geographic reported on the discovery of an underground "labyrinth" near Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Made up of 14 caverns, the temple complex included pyramids, sculptures and other artifacts created by the ancient Maya civilization, not to mention human remains. The Mayans believed the souls of the deceased had to travel below the earth and bypass several enemies in order to reach the underworld.

"Caves are natural portals to other realms, which could have inspired the Mayan myth. They are related to darkness, to fright and to monsters," the lead archaeologist told National Geographic.

As such, some of the cenotes, or sinkholes, were found to contain the bones of Mayans who may have even been sacrificed to perpetuate the cosmic order.

However, disagreement remains on whether or not the caverns inspired Mayan myth or whether Mayan myth inspired the construction of the cavernous temple complex. Either way, the oldest artifacts found dated the cave back at least 1,900 years.

Seahenge Burial Site -- Norfolk, England

Many people are familiar with Stonehenge, the collection of ancient, 25- to 50-ton stones arranged in a circle in the English countryside. But less well known is its equally mysterious aquatic counterpart, Seahenge, discovered in 1998 off the coast of Norfolk, England.

This site -- made up of some 55 timber posts wedged in the seabed, encircling an upside-down oak tree stump -- was spotted after winter storms blew away sand that had covered it for centuries, the BBC reported.

Archaeologists dated the circle to 2000 B.C., during the Bronze Age, when the so-called "Beaker people" began migrating to the English isles from mainland Europe, bringing with them distinctive pottery, religion and burial traditions.

Yet burial circles existed in England for some time before the Beakers arrived, so it is difficult for archaeologists to say precisely who created Seahenge and when. What is more assured is that Seahenge was used as the final resting place for human remains, which were left out on the oak stump in the center to be consumed by the elements, in the thought that dissolution in the open air would liberate the spirit.

The fact that the stump was inverted held enormous religious significance for the culture of the time. As one leading archeologist, Francis Pryor, told the BBC shortly after the site's discovery:
The inverted oak is a very complex statement. It is the world turned upside down, just as death is an inversion of life. From a ritual point of view it symbolizes taking objects out of this world and placing them in the next. We're not absolutely sure what these people thought that next world was, but we think they envisaged a parallel world inhabited by their ancestors
Controversy swirled around Seahenge beginning almost immediately after it was found: As archaeologists moved quickly to excavate and preserve the site, some locals and neo-Druids protested the disturbance of their ancestors' sacred space and demanded it be left alone. The timbers have since been treated and are to be reinstalled in a new site nearby this year.

Forest Park Cemetery, 'Gateway to Hell' -- Brunswick, N.Y.

While portals to the afterlife are often located in exotic, hard-to-reach places, occasionally they can be found much closer to home. That's not always a good thing.

Take Forest Park Cemetery in Brunswick, N.Y. Also known as Pinewood Cemetery, it was constructed in 1897 as a "garden of remembrance" -- notable for its ornate statues and having the first above-ground tomb in the U.S.

According to Metroland writer Ann Morrow, the cemetery was actually supposed to be even more extensive, but financial problems plagued nearly all those who attempted to invest it in it.

By the 1930s it was in such disrepair that two statues of angels had been creepily vandalized. As Morrow wrote: "The story goes that the first angel was beheaded by a crazed visitor who was convinced that she was watching his every move, and that the vandalism of the second angel was meant to outdo the depravity of the first."

She also recalled increasing reports of paranormal events: "A headless angel that bled at the neck ... a large, dark apparition hanging about the tomb and leaping away with superhuman agility at the approach of the living. A child's screams were heard in broad daylight."

Word of the phenomenon was so widespread that Forest Park was crowned the "No. 3 Scariest Place in America," according an article in a 1970s issue of Life magazine.

The combination of these events have led some to believe that Forest Park Cemetery is, in fact, a "gateway to hell," one of seven said to be located around the globe.

But Morrow also spoke with a Brunswick historian who debunked many of the myths. Take the bleeding angels -- that's just the result of a local moss that turns red in the humidity, apparently.

Still, to this day, rumors of Forest Park's supernaturally sinister nature abound on the Internet.





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