Global warming revealing long-hidden artifacts from last century and ancient past
In high-latitude and high-elevation localities across the world, glacial ice is shrinking, melting, retreating. As this occurs, objects formerly trapped in the ice are deposited on the suddenly-exposed ground surface.
This also happened at the end of the Pleistocene, when the continental glaciers retreated, and it’s how our modern landscape ended up with things like glacial till and moraines. Of course, the global climate is warming now, too, and the environment is changing in diverse ways, sometimes at unprecedented rates. Some of the changes, like sea-level rise, are pretty familiar. And some are unexpected, even leading to new discoveries. One can hardly be happy about the circumstances under which these sites became available for study, but nonetheless workers are taking advantage of these newly-revealed sites.
I’m not going to cheer.
But recent archaeological and historical discoveries in both Europe and North America have resulted from melting and retreating glacial ice. In the wake of global warming, a new subfield of archaeology is emerging, known as glacial archaeology. Discoveries have ranged from prehistoric North American artifacts in Yukon Territory, to artifacts from medieval Scandinavia, to “Otzi the Iceman,” who despite being dead for several millenia was all over the news a few years ago.
Archaeologists have scattered to these locations to recover these remnants of our past as they’re released from the retreating ice, and they’re returning from the field with new data and discoveries. The third conference on glacial archaeology was held in Canada in 2012. This new field even has its own brand-new journal. Keep an eye on this emerging and fascinating field – again, it’s not a good sign that the glaciers are melting, but I have a feeling we will be learning a great deal about these long-hidden locales in coming years.