Mountaineers Discover Ancient Relics in Melting Alps Glaciers

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In the Swiss Alps, melting glaciers are disclosing remnants of past civilizations as hikers and mountaineers unearth an array of ancient human artifacts, ranging from Iron Age tools to Roman era items. These findings are giving historians new insights into ancient economies but also posing puzzles due to the isolated nature of their discoveries.

The vanishing glaciers, exacerbated by rising global temperatures, are not only exposing objects like statues, coins, and weapons but also, at times, the materials carrying old viruses, including the feared Black Plague. Researchers must handle these items with care to avoid potential infections.

Romain Andenmatten and other glacial archaeologists find themselves racing against time. Organic items such as wood, once protected by ice, rapidly deteriorate upon exposure. Techniques like placing items in oxygen-free chambers are used to combat fungal growth and decay.

The melting glaciers also reveal broader historical interactions, such as those between Romans and the Celts, and offer snapshots of individuals like a well-equipped merchant from the 17th century, who seems to have succumbed to the harsh Alpine elements.

As part of their work, the researchers in the town of Sion, where the Valais History Museum is pioneering the field of glacial archaeology, have urged hikers to use an app called IceWatcher. This tool aids in reporting new discoveries, some of which might require police intervention, such as recent human remains or old munitions, while others enrich the museum’s growing collection of artifacts. This system of ‘citizen science’ has already proven fruitful, demonstrating the power of community involvement in archaeological research.


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