Italian Alps show a WWI artifact trove – if researchers hurry

The effects of climate change are often hard to ascertain for the average person and require long-term solutions. But that is not the case among the long-abandoned trenches and sniper locaiongs of the high Alps.

Here, historians and archaeologists must take immediate action to preserve a World War I military bunker thawed out as a consequence of rising temperatures. If they don’t, highly useful evidence could be destroyed from being exposed to air and water.

Why We Wrote This

The decisions that climate change demands answers to usually seem far off. But a melting glacier in the Alps shows that sometimes a quick response is needed to preserve thawing but perishable history.

The bunker, which was found last summer, is located in the great Stelvio National Park, on the slopes of Monte Scorluzzo. It was once on the front line between the Italians and their Austro-Hungarian adversaries. A group of around 15 Austro-Hungarian troops slept on straw-stuffed mattresses in the bunker, ate food from tins, tried desperately to keep warm, and made regular forays to take potshots at the Italian trenches.

“We have an opportunity, but it is an opportunity that must be grasped very quickly,” says Giovanni Cadioli, a researcher at the University of Padua. “The traces must be preserved before the ice melts and it becomes impossible to scientifically analyze all the data that these places gift us.”

Monte Scorluzzo, Italian Alps

The straw is nevertheless soft enough to sleep on. Scraps of newspaper keep legible. Buttons cling to nevertheless-intact uniforms. These items are among a hoard of artifacts recently found in the dark recesses of a World War I military bunker high in the Italian Alps.

The bunker was occupied by Austro-Hungarian soldiers in what was known as La Guerra Bianca or the White War, the highest theater of conflict in the world, where soldiers on opposing sides battled halting cold, avalanches, and without of food as much as each other.

Entombed in ice and snow for more than a century, this bunker and others like it are now coming to light as a consequence of global warming.

Why We Wrote This

The decisions that climate change demands answers to usually seem far off. But a melting glacier in the Alps shows that sometimes a quick response is needed to preserve thawing but perishable history.

The effects of climate change are often hard to ascertain for the average person. It is difficult to know if the storm that sweeps across your hometown is more intense than past ones. What responses can be made are mostly incremental, sweeping, and long term.

But that is not the case among the long-abandoned trenches and sniper locaiongs of the high Alps.

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