Climate change is unearthing artifacts from melting glaciers
Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."
Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.
Archeologists have found a wooden ski with leather binding dating back to circa 700. Tunics from the Iron Age have turned up, and they've even spotted an old shoe that's 3,400-years-old. There are Viking swords, pack horse skulls, and the requisite arrowheads surfacing from their frosty tombs. Almost 3,000 archeological artifacts have been found in Oppland. Because they were frozen, the artifacts are well preserved. Organic materials, such as leather and fabric, are still intact.
The one thing glacier archeologists have yet to find is an ice mummy. Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old body, is Europe's oldest known natural mummy. Ötzi the Iceman was discovered in the Alps in 1991, and some scientists believe the find was a result of climate change. Glacier archeologists also had trouble finding the same abundance artifacts from the eleventh century onward. This is partly because the bubonic plague would have prevented our ancestors from traveling through the mountains.
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Glacier archeologists have to work fast. When artifacts are exposed to the sun, they start to deteriorate. Plus, there's the whole matter of the rapid pace which glaciers are disappearing. Much of the mountain ice in the Northern Hemisphere is between 7,000 and 9,000 years old. Norway's ice was at its fullest between 1550 and 1850, also known as the Little Ice Age. It has been slowly (and now quickly) melting since. Currently, we are at the same ice levels we experienced 6,000 years ago. According to Professor Atle Nesje of the University of Bergen, 90% of Norwegian glaciers might melt away by the middle of this century. "There is definite urgency," Vibeke Vandrup Martens, an archaeologist at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, told CNN. "If the archaeologists do nothing, the artifacts and/or sites that belong to the whole community may be lost forever, without any recording they ever existed."
We have a window. If we act fast, we can curb climate change and, in a way, reap its benefits, too.