Throughout history, ice has been mankind’s greatest ally. It has helped and continues to help preserve food, cool drinks and reduce inflammation following injury, and even prevents them. It also enables us to enjoy winter sports and has a myriad of other uses. However the usefulness of ice for humanity does not stop there.
As a consequence of global warming over recent years, the planet’s ice caps are gradually disappearing. This has revealed a multitude of secrets that history has safeguarded for us which, were it not for the preserving effect of the ice, would never have been seen. Although, unfortunately, the disappearance of the glaciers and ice caps is detrimental to the Earth, the more the ice retreats the more secrets and mysteries come to light. We summarise the 5 most interesting prehistoric secrets preserved under the ice:
1 – Iron Age Clothing
Due to the effects of the ice, nowadays we know how our Iron Age ancestors dressed and the clothing they wore. However, finding clothing from the first millennium BC is very unusual. Discoveries can be counted on the fingers of one hand. One of the latest was in 2011 when investigators discovered a handmade woollen tunic, dating from between 230 and 390 AD, following the retreat of the Lendbreen glacier in Norway.
2 – Ötzi The Mummy
Not only prehistoric clothing but also, almost intact, human bodies have been found. For example, the mummy, Ötzi, found in September 1991 by two German tourists who were walking in the Italian Alps. Initially they thought it was the body of a present-day mountaineer but after notifying medical services and further study, carbon dating of the remains revealed that the ice had preserved this mummified man for over 5300 years. This is one of the most important discoveries in history.
Next to the Bronze Age body were several items of his belongings: flint, a bearskin hat and an axe with a copper blade. Following various tests, it is thought that Ötzi died suddenly, since his stomach contained the undigested remains of his last meal. Subsequent X-ray tests revealed an arrow tip lodged in his shoulder and two broken ribs. It is therefore surmised that he died in battle and remained preserved and protected from predators due to the ice.
3 – Mammoths
In addition to human remains, the retreating ice has uncovered the existence of other species which are extinct today. If it were not for the cold preserving these, they would never have been seen by mankind. The most significant are Mammoths. Although depicted in cave paintings, it was not until 1977 that a baby mammoth was discovered. Unfortunately the body was badly preserved and little remained.
However in 2010, following a sharp thaw in certain areas of Siberia, Russia, a superb baby woolly mammoth was discovered which weighed almost one tonne. Even after 39,000 years under the ice, the body was perfectly preserved with fur and muscle tissue still intact. As a result, blood samples could be taken from a prehistoric animal and the possibility of cloning an extinct species in the future was discussed.
4 – Prehistoric Forest
As well as clothing, human and animal remains, traces of their habitat have also been found. For example, the 2,000 year old forest found in Alaska, discovered under the Mendenhall glacier, one of 38 glaciers in the Juneau Icefield. Since 1970 a massive thaw has steadily exposed the forest, uncovering branches, roots and tree trunks. Unfortunately, more and more of the hidden forest is being exposed, since the glacier is retreating at an average of 50 metres per year.
5 – Alarm over Global Warming
In the summer of 2013, a scientific expedition found a bottle containing a note which Paul Walker, a geologist, had buried under a pile of rocks on Ward Hunt Island, Canada in 1959. The simple instructions contained in the note asked the person who found it to measure the distance from that spot to the edge of the glacier and send the answer to a postal address. The experiment aimed to measure the possible impact of recent global warming on the glaciers. Regrettably, just a few weeks later Walker passed away. Nevertheless, scientists decided to carry out the geologist’s last wishes and, after measuring the distance, the difference was startling. It is thanks to this that the whole world was made aware of the appalling consequences of global warming.