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New Device Allows Scientist to Uncover Holocaust Tunnel Without Disturbing Historical Sites

Jul 04, 2016 02:57 AM EDT
Paneriai Pit
A new archaeological technology uncovers a holocaust tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners to escape their deadly fate – and doing so without disturbing the site.
(Photo : Juliux / Wikimedia Commons)

A new device has helped archaeologists uncover a secret holocaust tunnel without digging on the site.

A team of archaeologists, geophysicists and historians from U.S., Canada, Lithuania and Israel discovered the tunnel using a scanning technology called electrical resistivity tomography, which is the same device used in mineral and oil exploration.

The device allowed the researchers to pinpoint the tunnel's location without digging.

The legendary tunnel, known as Paneriai, is located in the Ponar forest in Lithuania, outside the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jewish prisoners secretly dug out the 112-feet long tunnel using spoons to escape the Nazis during World War II.

About 100,000 people, including 70,000 Jews, were killed and thrown into the pit during the Nazi regime. In April 1944, some 80 members of the "Burning Brigade," a group tasked to burn the bodies to cover up the crime, fled the massacre site using this tunnel. 

"To find a little glimmer of hope within the dark hole of Ponar is very important as humans," Jon Seligman, an archeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who participated in the expedition, told Independent.

One of the challenges of archaeologists is to keep excavations from threatening the preservation of a historical site. According to the research team, the task of locating the tunnel in Ponar is particularly challenging, as the site is known as ground zero for the Holocaust.

But through the new ground scanning technology, the researchers were able to map the path of the tunnel without disturbing the site.

From being referred to as "destructive science" in the past, archaeology will soon be revolutionized with the help of these devices. In an article published by in 2013, archaeologist Sarah Parcak had remarked that "this is the most exciting time in history to be an archaeologist."

In 2015, the same research team used ground-penetrating radar to discover parts of the old Great Synagogue of Vilna demolished by Soviet authorities after the war, Independent reports.

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