Less ice and low water levels reveal hidden treasures – at a price


For the world of archeology, climate change is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, melting ice and lower water levels are bringing entire villages and the ruins of civilizations to the surface. On the other hand, climate change is also causing erratic weather cycles, including wetter winters, and out-of-season humidity wreaking havoc on ancient artifacts, causing widespread decay and erosion.

Once an item such as wood, for example, is freed from ice, it may crumble quickly if not stored immediately in a freezer. Nevertheless, as droughts, forest fires and melting glaciers have become the norm, shipwrecks, corpses, ghost towns, bridges, monuments have come to the fore.

Ancient Origins has reported on discoveries related to global warming over the past ten years and here are some climate changes related to archeology.

Some of the ancient artifacts revealed by climate change on the melting Lendbreen ice cap in Norway. (Glacial Archeology Program & J. Wildhagen / Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Lendbreen Ice Melt Climate Change Gifts

In Norway’s Jotunheim Mountains, the Lendbreen Ice Patch was once a vital passage for Viking Age traffic, widely used by Vikings and medieval travelers from as far away as Rome. In 2011, the year of “The Great Melt”, the famous hidden pass came to light and has since provided the most archaeological finds of any ice patch in the world (although a site in the Swiss Alps is also deserving of to be noted). This includes hundreds of prehistoric cairns, a box of beeswax candles, a 1,300 year old ski, an iron horseshoe and an ancient Roman sandal.

“It’s like a time machine… the ice hasn’t been this small for many, many centuries,” said Lars Piloe, the Dane leading a team of “plate archaeologists of snow”, in an interview with The Guardian .

In 2016, ancient reindeer hunting arrowheads were discovered in the southern Jotunheim Range.

Permafrost places like Alaska and Siberia have also yielded these types of finds, including the famous Otzi “the iceman”, found in the Italian Alps.

In February 2022, Antarctica’s sea ice cover dropped to a record low, helping to solve a great maritime mystery. A research vessel from South Africa took the opportunity to explore the Weddell Sea off the Antarctic coast, where they eventually found Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, lost in the ice in 1915.

The sunken village of Baitings and its famous pack horse bridge, pictured below the modern carriage bridge, was exposed to record drought and heat for the first time since the mid-1950s. (YouTube screenshot /velomoho)

The sunken village of Baitings and its famous pack horse bridge, pictured below the modern carriage bridge, was exposed to record drought and heat for the first time since the mid-1950s. (YouTube screenshot / velomoho)

The heat wave in the United Kingdom: secret gardens and a submerged village

As the UK faces its unprecedented heat wave, where temperatures in some places have soared to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), emergency measures are being taken. These include the banning of garden hoses and the rationing of fresh water.

A secret garden in Derbyshire, hidden for 300 years, has been revealed by a heatwave. This 17th century flower landscape is called the Grand Parterre and features an intricate set of flowerbeds and walkways. This is after temperatures in the region crossed 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest on record for more than 100 years.

During the weekend, ancient origins reports the reappearance of a sunken village in Yorkshire. The reason? Water levels in the reservoir had fallen so much that the old village of Baitings, which had been submerged in the 1950s, was suddenly visible again. Along with the village, the famous centuries-old pack-horse bridge was also exposed due to the massive drop in water levels.

Aerial view of excavations revealing the Mitani Empire settlement of Kemune, which was revealed by huge drops in the level of the Tigris River in Iraq.  (© Universities of Friborg and Tübingen, KAO)

Aerial view of excavations revealing the Mitani Empire settlement of Kemune, which was revealed by huge drops in the level of the Tigris River in Iraq. ( © Universities of Friborg and Tübingen, KAO )

Tiger Drought Reveals Imperial City of Mitani

The region of Mesopotamia, where the Neolithic civilization began, has witnessed devastating droughts over the past 20 years. The main Euphrates and Tigris rivers have been dried up by illegal irrigation, dam policies and human overuse.

This year, the same story repeated itself. Extremely dry conditions in Iraq caused water levels on the Tigris to drop rapidly, revealing a 3,400-year-old Mitani Empire settlement.

In 2018-19, a palace in this former urban center emerged from the waters for the same reason: drought. Due to the large amounts of water drawn from the Mosul reservoir during the winter, as well as the persistent drought, this year the entire city of the Kurdistan region was visible and explorable.

A 16th-century church emerges from a Mexican reservoir

A 400-year-old Spanish colonial church, the Temple of Santiago, emerged in 2015 from the depths of the Nezahualcoyotl Reservoir in Chiapas, Mexico. A massive drought that year caused the water level to drop 25 meters, revealing the colonial church that had disappeared under water from the reservoir in 1966. Also known as the Temple of Quechula, it was first built in the mid-1600s by a group of Dominican monks led by Friar Bartolomé de la Casas.

Top image: Dry lake with boat, a scene now more common due to climate change. Source: maxcam /Adobe Stock

By Sahir Pandey

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