By Aram Collier  

The Nature Of Things: Secrets From The Ice tells the story of how, over the last 20 years, Canada and other Arctic countries have become the frontier of a new science related to climate change. Ice patches are melting faster than ever and are revealing ancient human artifacts, wildlife and human remains, telling us more than we’ve ever known about human history in the sub-Arctic and at altitude in the mountains. 

Ozti, The Iceman Who Started It All

Otzi

“Ötzi” (Photo credit: Reuters)

In 1991, the body of a man was found melting out of the ice. Scientists were shocked when carbon dating revealed that he was over 3,300 years-old. Affectionately named “Ötzi” for being found in the Ötzal region between Italy and Austria, he intrigued scientists with the possibility that new knowledge about human diet, clothing and tools that could be hidden under the ice.

Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi: Long Ago Person Found

A huge moment for Canadian archaeology and First Nations history came in 1999 when the remains of a man were found by hunters on an ice patch in the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park along the Yukon and British Columbia border. Members of First Nations communities, the government and the RCMP came together to examine the site. The discovery of his body represented the oldest well-preserved human remains to melt out of the ice in North America. Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi was found with an array of tools and clothing that told us about the life he lived. Even more DNA testing revealed that he had 17 relatives that are alive today.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Scientists trace his living ancestors.
Plane Lost In Glacier

plane recovered from glacier

U.S. military plane is recovered decades later. (Photo credit: Reuters)

In 1952, a United States military plane destined for Anchorage, Alaska went down near Mount Gannett killing the 41 passengers and 11 crew on board. The downed plane was originally located on the Colony Glacier shortly after the crash but the rescue had to be abandoned because the glacier was unsafe. It would take over 60 years before the ice would melt enough so the debris could be accessed again and the remains of those aboard could be recovered and identified.

WWI Soldiers Found Frozen In Alps

trenches during WWI

Austro-Hungarian trench in 1917 (Photo credit: Public domain)

Often referred to as “The White War”; a World War I battlefront was waged in the Alps between Italy and then Austria-Hungary. Fought at high altitudes in icy trenches and in extremely cold temperatures, the front was pure misery.  Most soldiers died, not from fighting, but from exposure to the extreme elements. Frozen remains of soldiers have already been found and archeologists expect many more to emerge from the ice in the coming years.

Missing Couple Found in the Alpine Ice

Marceline and Francine Dumoulin

Marceline and Francine Dumoulin (Photo credit: Public domain)

Marceline and Francine Dumoulin, a shoemaker and schoolteacher, and parents of seven, went missing in 1942. Their remains were finally found in the Swiss Alps in 2016. Since 1925, 280 people have been listed as missing in the Alps or surrounding regions. Scientists observe that glaciers in the Swiss Alps are melting at a rate of up to a meter a year, and some project they will be completely gone by 2050, meaning more lost hikers like the Dumoulin’s will be found.

Climbing Legend’s Body found in Himalayas

Over 16 years after superstar mountain climber Alex Lowe and his companion David Bridges were buried and pronounced dead in an avalanche, their bodies were found on the Shishapangma mountain, the 14th highest peak in the world. Lowe was regarded as his generation’s best mountain climber and in 1999 he and his team were planning to climb up the Tibetan mountain and ski down it. 

Ice Patch finds confirm First Nations oral histories.

animals droppings on ice

Animal dropping blacken the ice Credit: 90th Parallel Films

Beneath the melting ice patches are tonnes of caribou dung amassed over thousands of years. When first observed it was bizarre because caribou do not currently live in southern Yukon. When the dung was dated by scientists carbon testing showed that it ranged from hundreds to thousands of years old. These findings confirmed the oral history of the First Nations people of the area, whose stories told about massive herds of caribou that at one time covered the mountainsides.

Ancient Hunting in the Norwegian Ice Patch

In Norway, melting ice gave clues about how our ancestors hunted thousands of years ago. On the Juvfonne ice sheet, scientists found countless “scare sticks”, one-metre long sticks with wool strings and flags affixed to them that would flutter to gently guide the reindeer closer to stone blinds where hunters would be waiting to make a kill.

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Melting ice is helping the Sami, indigenous people of Scandinavia, reclaim parts of their culture.
10,000-year-old Dart Found Near Yellowstone Park.

Atlatl

Modern day Atlatl compeition Credit: 90th Parallel Films

At first glance, it looked like a broken tree branch in the shape of a question mark. But to the trained eye of Dr. Craig Lee from the University of Colorado at Boulder it was an atlatl dart. Its shape was odd because it had been crushed by ice and trampled by a large animal. This dart was later found to be one of the oldest organic artifacts found in North America.

Climate Change Beneath The Ground

permafrost in Alaska

Permafrost in Alaska (Photo credit: Kevin Schaefer/National Snow and Ice Data Centre)

Yupik artifacts in Alaska aren’t being revealed by melting ice patches but from quickly thawing permafrost underneath the ground. As the ground melts to shallower depths, artifacts are being found that help tell the history of the people living there. However, melting permafrost causes the ground to sink which exacerbates the sea level rise in coastal areas, threatening many Yupik communities.

MORE:
Secrets from the Ice
Canada’s Northern Ice Patches Yield Clues About How First Nations Ancestors Hunted To Survive

A challenge for archaeologists is the thaw which is happening so quickly that artifacts emerge faster than they can be collected. And the longer artifacts are exposed the less can be learned from them. Climate change provides an opportunity for important new finds to archeologists and historians but threatens the culture of the Yupik land who are quickly becoming the first climate change refugees.

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