Friday 7 February 2014

High mountain archaeology: Frozen Stories

In the last years we (Arc-Team) had to deal with an increasing number of missions or emergency interventions in high mountain environment, so that our team started to specialized in this new branch of archeology. 
High mountain archeology is strictly connected with climate changes for mainly two reasons: 

1) the actual global warming implicates the retreat of glaciers and the subsequent discovery of artifacts and ecofacts, which have been preserved by the ice until now

2) artifacts and ecofatcs released by the glacier melting phenomenon are a fundamental source of informations regarding climate change itself (epsecially from the point of view of paleoclimatology)

The emergency interventions are caused by the preservation problems connected with the organic material of many archaeological finds, which, once freed from ice, begin to deteriorate very quickly. Moreover many areas of discovery are threatened by landslides of the rocks, which in few days cover the new empty space let by the glacier retreat.
The main problems of an high mountain archaeological mission regard logistic difficulties. As an example, the video below shows the landing during the intervention we did to recover some ecofacts in the Oetztal (AT) in 2012.


In this particular mission we had to deal with the limited internal space of the helicopter, which threatened to affect the number of "airborne archaeologists" and the amount of different equipment, necessary for the field-work. In fact, for this project (a fast one-day operation), we planned a strategy based on the redundancy of the instruments (in a similar way to an underwater archeology mission), so that it would have been possible to change methodology in case of unforeseen problems. More specifically or first plan was to georeference all the archaeological finds documentations, based on different techniques (2D photomosaic, 3D SfM models, etc...), using our RTK GPS, while the B-plan was simply to set up a local coordinate system with our total station. Following the first axiom of Murphy's laws (Anything that can go wrong — will go wrong), we could not use directly the GPS, because the area of archaeological interest was completely shielded by mountains and the satellite signal, as well as the radio signal from the base station to the rover, was accessible only on the top of the surrounding picks. To avoid this problem we climbed on one of these picks and placed two fixed points with the rover on the ridge which was closets to the area of interest (without any optical occlusion). In this way, at a later time, we could use the total station to document the archaeological evidences, georeferencing the directly on the UTM system.

Alessandro Bezzi placing a fixpoint with the GPS rover

After this mission, we learned to not underestimate logistic problems in high mountain archaeological project and to study alternative solutions for emergency cases (mainly based on equipment redundancy). 

This long premise is intended to be an introduction to the main topic of this post: the exhibition "FROZEN STORIES - Discoveries in the Alpine glaciers", which will take place in the city of Bolzano/Bozen/Bulsan, hosted in the  South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (where is preserved the mummy of Similaun, Oetzy) form 22 /02/2014 till 22/02/2015. 

The poster of the exhibition

If you plan to pay a visit to the exhibition, among other (more) interesting things, you could see some of our high mountain archaeological expeditions :)

The Arc-Team contribution to the exhibition is mainly based on the Langrub Joch project, in which I did not participate directly, but that was lead by +Alessandro Bezzi, +Rupert Gietl and +Giuseppe Naponiello, under the scientific direction of Dr. Subert Steiner of the Archaeological Office of the Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano / Autonome Provinz Suedtirol. Maybe one of my colleagues will write a post about this project in the feature.

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