Climate change threatens ancient remains

Ancient remains that have been frozen for millennia are at risk from climate change, University research suggests.

Scientists at the University’s Business School found that remains in some of the coldest places on earth are being exposed, as warmer temperatures cause ice and hardened ground to thaw.

Structures at risk include ancient tombs, artefacts and human remains.

Global study

Scientists studied cases of damaged archaeological remains in three locations around the world.

They examined artefacts in permafrost in the Altai Mountains in central Asia, sea ice in Alaska and glaciers in the Rocky Mountains.

Identifying risks

Retreating sea ice caused by coastal erosion was found to be damaging to remains in an Inuit village in Alaska, including a fourth-century coastal cemetery.

Melting glaciers in the Rocky Mountains pose a threat to Native American human remains and artefacts such as hunting tools, weapons and clothing.

Burial mounds in the Altai Mountains of central Asia are at risk.

The site contains the only frozen tombs in the world, and treasures such as gold and ancient carpets.

Conserving artefacts

Scientists are calling for a global organisation to be set up to maintain a record of vulnerable sites.

Such an organisation could also coordinate efforts to conserve items that are at risk, particularly indigenous remains.

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.

Dr Dave ReayDirector, MSc in Carbon Management