William Taylor: Melting Mongolian ice reveals fragile clues about how past people lived

In the world’s high mountain regions, life needs ice. From the Rockies to the Himalayas, glaciers and other accumulations of snow and ice persist throughout the year. Often found on shaded slopes protected from the sun, these ice patches transform barren peaks into biological hot spots. As an archaeologist, I value these snow and ice patches for the rare peek they can provide back in time through the fog of alpine prehistory.

When people lose objects in the ice, ice patches act as natural deep-freezers. For thousands of years, they can store snapshots of the culture, daily life, technology and behavior of the people who created these artifacts. Frozen heritage is melting from mountain ice in every hemisphere

As it does so, small groups of archaeologists are scrambling to cobble together the funding and staffing needed to identify, recover and study these objects before they are gone. Alongside a group of scholars from the University of Colorado, the National Museum of Mongolia and partners from around the world, I’m working to identify, analyze and preserve ancient materials emerging from the ice in the grassy steppes of Mongolia, where such discoveries have a tremendous impact on how scientists understand the past…


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