Climate change damaging ancient treasures

Climate change is destroying important archaeological remains that have been frozen for thousands of years, a study has shown.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Business School looked at examples of damaged remains frozen in permafrost in the Altai Mountains in central Asia, in sea ice in Alaska and in glaciers in the Rocky Mountains.

They found that all three sites were under threat. Thawing represents a risk to the Altai burial mounds, they say, which contain the only frozen tombs in the world – those of Eurasian nomadic horsemen – and hold treasures such as gold and ancient carpets.

They also discovered that coastal erosion caused by retreating sea ice is damaging remains in an Inuit village in Alaska, including a fourth-century coastal cemetery.

And melting glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are threatening Native American human remains and artefacts such as hunting tools, weapons and clothing.

“Warming climates are expected to lead to more melting ice, and we need to take action to safeguard ancient treasures, says the university’s Dr Dave Reay.

“Long-term efforts are needed to locate archaeological remains that are at risk, and research how best to care for them. We must also consider the political and cultural implications of preserving important relics.”

He is calling for the creation of a global organisation to maintain a record of vulnerable sites and coordinate efforts to conserve items that are at risk, particularly indigenous remains.