Lake Natron, a body of water in northern Tanzania can be deadly due to its high salt content and proximity to an active volcano, known among the Maasai people as the 'Mountain of God.' Local legend has it that when the volcano erupts, god is walking the earth. The volcano's proximity to the dead lake fits, since volcanoes are mythically considered doorways to the Underworld or hell. Indeed, Lake Natron looks like a toxic pool out of a fairy tale, the dead marsh a hero would cross before he might enter a dark kingdom. At its deepest point, the lake is just under ten feet deep, and is surrounded by the calcified bodies of creatures unfortunate enough to get trapped there. The process which preserves them resembles that of ancient Egyptian mummification (Images Sources: HuffPo, Viral Maze, Nick Brandt).
A calm eruption from the great volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai or 'Mountain of God' near Lake Natron. Image Source: Geological Sciences.
The photos here of frozen bodies went viral on the Internet, supposedly depicting a lake of death which instantly turns to stone all creatures that touch it. The peculiar ecosystem actually favours flamingos. Photographer Nick Brandt placed dead creatures around the lake's shoreline in 'living' poses; his photos are artfully faked poses of corpses. The Mary Sue:
No one is disputing that Natron is a dangerous place for most species, of course. As the New Scientist says, the lake can reach temperatures up to 60 °C and has an alkalinity between pH 9 and pH 10.5 ... [and] can ... burn the skin and eyes of animals who aren’t adapted to it. It also does preserve many of these animals’ bodies, specifically due to the combination of chemicals that are deposited into the water via runoff from a nearby Great Rift Valley volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai.
Unfortunately, the nuances of this lake’s ecosystem seem to escape many a casual observer, and what people appear to be taking away from most coverage is this: that there’s a lake in Africa that kills literally every creature that comes near it (which is false), and that it’s capable of killing those creatures instantly by turning them to actual stone (which is also false).
... [T]he preservation process is not something that happens instantaneously — it happens over a much longer period of time. Though the photos taken by Nick Brandt depict the petrified birds on perches and in naturalistic poses as if they were just petrified, they are all entirely staged. Brandt said as much in an e-mail to NBC news: “I unexpectedly found the creatures — all manner of birds and bats — washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania[... .] I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life.’”
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