Melting Alpine Glaciers Unveil Ancient Treasures

Written by Kathrine Frich

Jul.10 - 2024 6:02 PM CET

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
Visitors to the Swiss Alps are inadvertently becoming part of fascinating archaeological discoveries.

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Visitors to the Swiss Alps are inadvertently becoming part of fascinating archaeological discoveries as warming temperatures lead to unprecedented glacier melt.

Record Levels

Reports from Science Alert highlight how receding glaciers are revealing ancient artifacts, offering invaluable insights into civilizations that traversed Alpine passes and opening new avenues in archaeology.

Recent years have seen record levels of glacier retreat in Switzerland due to warmer temperatures, as reported by the Swiss Academy of Sciences. Between 2022 and 2023 alone, the country's glaciers lost 10% of their total volume.

This rapid melting has exposed numerous unique artifacts, such as a wooden figurine dating back to the 1st or 2nd century BCE. For nearly two decades, the sculpture adorned the living room wall of an alpinist before being recognized as a significant artifact and placed in a museum.

New Challenges

The emerging field of glacial archaeology presents challenges unlike traditional archaeological sites. Artefacts found on glaciers lack the usual contextual clues of settlements or ancient pathways. Each discovery, like mysterious wooden stakes attributed to Roman times, requires meticulous radiocarbon dating and interpretation.

To meet the challenges posed by rapidly melting glaciers, archaeologists have launched the IceWatcher app. This tool guides users on how to handle discoveries responsibly and facilitates notifying appropriate authorities about finds. Users can upload photos of artifacts for classification and contribute to preserving historical evidence.

IceWatcher has already alerted researchers to approximately 30 discoveries in the Alps since its inception.