Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Ancient treasures threatened by climate change

'The Ice Maiden' which was discovered in the Altai Mountains in Siberia in 1993.
Image caption 'The Ice Maiden' was discovered in the Altai Mountains in Siberia in 1993

Archaeological treasures that have been frozen for millennia are being destroyed because of climate change, according to Edinburgh researchers.

Remains in some of the coldest places on earth are being exposed as warmer temperatures cause ice and hardened ground to thaw.

Edinburgh University experts said the materials at risk included ancient tombs, artefacts and human remains.

They are often culturally significant, especially for indigenous populations.

Scientists at the university's business school studied cases of damaged remains in three locations around the world, at permafrost in the Altai Mountains in central Asia, sea ice in Alaska and glaciers in the Rocky Mountains.

They found coastal erosion caused by retreating sea ice was damaging remains in an Inuit village in Alaska, including a Fourth-Century coastal cemetery.

Their study suggested melting glaciers in the Rocky Mountains posed a threat to Native American human remains and artefacts such as hunting tools, weapons and clothing.

Researchers also discovered that thawing temperatures represented a risk to burial mounds in the Altai Mountains of central Asia.

The site, containing the only frozen tombs in the world, is the resting place of Eurasian nomadic horsemen with links to modern-day Siberian nomads.

The graves contain treasures such as gold and ancient carpets.

In the central Asian Altai Mountains, about 700 tombs have been preserved for 2,500 years by ice lenses or permafrost.

They contain frozen mummies, wood, leather and textiles, which are very rarely preserved and can provide a unique insight into the culture of prehistoric societies in this region.

'The Ice Maiden' was discovered in the Altai Mountains in Siberia in 1993.

As a result of increasing ground and surface temperatures over the past century, these tombs and their deposits are now within only a few degrees of melting.

Scientists have called for a global organisation to be set up to maintain a record of vulnerable sites and co-ordinate efforts to conserve items that are at risk, particularly indigenous remains.

Dr Dave Reay, of Edinburgh University, said: "Warming climates are expected to lead to more melting ice, and we need to take action to safeguard ancient treasures.

"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."

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