Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Ice Pack" archaeologists race to preserve artifacts revealed by global warming

 Dr. Patrick Hunt of Stanford University, who is attempting to find Hannibal's route over the Alps, encountered not even snow flurries this season when his team began their work.  Dr. Hunt has directed Stanford’s Alpine Archaeology Project since 1994, conducting high altitude research in the Great St. Bernard pass between Switzerland and Italy. In 1996 he found the 9000 ft. high quarry for the Temple of Jupiter in the Fenetre de Ferret pass adjacent to the Great St. Bernard Pass and directed a team that found a Roman silver coin hoard in the Swiss Alps in 2003.

[Photo: Dr. Patrick Hunt examines a stone that may have been traversed by Hannibal's army accompanied by elephants in 218 BCE in the Great St. Bernard Pass between Switzerland and Italy.  Image courtesy of the Alpine Archaeology Project]

"This is the first summer since 1994 when we began our field excavations above 8,000 ft that we have not been inundated by even one day of rain, sleet and snow flurries," Hunt observed.

Dr. Hunt invited me to accompany him and his team into the Alps a couple of years ago, but I had to decline because of health concerns.  I certainly never imagined that global warming, as catastrophic as it is for the planet as a whole, would offer such an unprecedented opportunity to archaeologists seeking artifacts preserved at the higher elevations.

A team led by Norwegian archaeologists Trond Vihovde and Elling Utvik Wammer have discovered hundreds of items produced by pre-Viking cultures in the wake of a melting Juvfonna ice sheet in Norway.

Bows and arrows, specialised hunting sticks – used to drive reindeer towards archers – and even a 3,400-year-old leather shoe have been found at the site in the Jotunheimen mountains, home of the "ice giants" of Norse mythology. These finds have been logged with a GPS satellite marker before being taken for examination. From these measurements, archaeologists reckon people using hunting sticks – each about a metre long with a flapping piece of wood attached by connecting thread – were set up about two metres apart. They then drove reindeer toward hunters who needed to get within 60ft of an animal to have a chance of hitting one with an iron-tipped arrow.

Such a hunt would require 15 to 20 people, Piloe adds, indicating that Norway had an organised society around the start of the dark ages, 1,500 years ago. - The Guardian
The biggest problem now is that fragile artifacts, if not recovered and properly conserved, quickly deteriorate and even disintegrate.  We may not have enough "ice pack" archaeologists to reclaim these artifacts before they are gone forever.  

I fervently hope Dr. Hunt is successful in his search for evidence of Hannibal's crossing.  Perhaps he will at least find remains of some of the elephants since most died crossing the mountains.  I found the following video about Hannibal's war elephants produced by the BBC on YouTube.  I was surprised to learn in this video that the Carthaginians used to feed their elephants wine just before a battle to make them easier to enrage.  I'm not too sure that was necessarily a good thing since war elephants were so unpredictable.

Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History   Alpine Archaeology   Hannibal, Carthage, and the Punic Wars   The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic 

1 comment:

Eric said...

Do you know of any ancient sources on how war elephants were trained?
The only thing I've ever read about them was the Polybius (or was it Livy) account of how Scipio frightened war elephants back through the Carthagenian lines.