Artifacts Exposed as Ice Fields Retreat
In the past century, the glaciers and ice fields of the European Alps have lost half their volume to global warming, and their continued retreat, like that of glaciers everywhere in the world, is accelerating. By 2100, many scientists predict, they will have all but disappeared. The meltdown has already disrupted the region’s sensitive mountain ecosystems and tourist resorts—some local communities have taken to laying protective white blankets over the snow and ice—but it has also opened up new avenues of scientific inquiry. As the glaciers recede, they are releasing some of the human artifacts that they have absorbed through the ages, including humans themselves. Ötzi, the five-thousand-year-old mummified mountaineer discovered in 1991, remains the most astonishing find. But hundreds of other archeological objects, preserved in remarkable delicacy, have also turned up—medieval crossbow bolts, coins of Roman vintage, a pair of twenty-six-hundred-year-old socks. In July, an employee of a Swiss ski company came across the mummified remains of a couple who had gone missing in 1942; they were found fully dressed, with their wartime identity cards, backpacks, an empty bottle, a pocket watch, and a book.