In Mongolia, artifacts like an arrow, painted red at the tip, that may date back thousands of years to the Bronze Age; a mass animal graveyard containing the remains of dozens of bighorn sheep; and remnants of a beautiful rope braided from horsehair have been discovered out of melting ice patches and glaciers in Mongolia.
Known as Mongolia’s “eternal ice,” these ice patches stay intact even in the summer.
But due to climate change, the are melting at an alarming rate.
And as the snow and ice melt, ancient objects from multiple periods of Mongolian history are surfacing.
But while the ice melt reveals a bit of Mongolia’s past, it also threatens the future of the traditions as well as lifestyles practiced by the people who currently reside there today.
“Folks in essentially every corner of Mongolia that we’ve worked in don’t have the luxury of climate denial, because their day-to-day life is drastically impacted by these changes,” said William Taylor, lead author and archeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Colorado-Boulder, over a phone call.
“People within the last decade have seen a number of important patches that were a big focus of their livelihoods melt completely,” he shared.
Taylor points out that while artifacts are being recovered from some of the ice patches, many more may be destroyed by the melt before people can collect them. For example, even if ice patches that fully melted in one season return in colder weather, the degradation of archeological materials that were preserved inside them could never be reversed.
“The vast majority of the artifacts that we recovered were actually from a patch which was in its absolute dying throes when we visited,” he shared. “So, that’s really sad and it suggests that we probably have already lost a lot of the important clues to this particular part of Mongolia.”