Monday, August 25, 2008

Retreating Glaciers Reveal Neolithic Artifacts

As a warmer climate continues to melt glaciers in the Alps, archaeologists are unearthing an unexpected number of Neolithic artifacts indicating the high mountains were far more populated than earlier believed.

The array of artifacts date to a period when Europe’s climate was much warmer, prompting people to live high in the Alps. A subsequent cooling period drove them to lower altitudes and created the massive glaciers that now are retreating as we enter another warmer period.

Of course the well-preserved body of Oetzi the Ice Man – who lived around 3300 BC and died of an arrow wound – was discovered in 1991 on an ice-covered slope at 9,800 feet, but he was believed to have been on some sort of high-mountain trek when he perished.

Then in the summer of 2003, a Swiss couple hiking on the Schnidejoch glacier found a piece of wood at about 9,000 feet. They turned it over to archaeologists who carbon-dated it to about 3000 BC and identified it as a piece of an ancient birch-bark arrow quiver.

The discovery, however, was kept secret until a team of archaeologists could explore the site, where they found much more. “We now have the complete bow equipment, quiver and arrows,” reported Albert Hafner, chief archaeologist with the canton of Berne. “And we have, surprisingly, a lot of organic material like leather, parts of shoes and a trouser leg, that we wouldn’t normally find.”

A piece of a wooden bowl also recovered dates even earlier, to about 4500 BC. Other finds include a Bronze Age pin, Roman coins, a fibula and items from the Middle Ages.

And it’s not just Europe where the retreating ice is unveiling ancient artifacts. Researchers in the Canadian Yukon recently found evidence of Neolithic farming and domesticated animals at high altitudes. Again, the date of the artifacts corresponds with calculations climatologists have made about Earth’s warmer period.

(Photo at top shows the retreating Schnidejoch glacier, middle is a team of archaeologists on the glacier, at bottom a piece of leather preserved in ice on the glacier.) 

Click here for the complete BBC News article.

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