A melted glacier in Italy has revealed a treasure trove of artefacts from the First World War, hidden away in a cave shelter.
The shelter has been known to researchers for many years, but it was blocked by the surrounding glacier. However, since it started melting in 2017, experts have been able to slowly work their way in.
It’s located just shy of Mount Scorluzzo’s peak in the north of the country, sitting at around 3,094 metres high. Over the course of nearly four years, an estimated 60 cubic metres of ice has been removed from the cave in annual excavations, with researchers now able to report the incredible items they found inside.
White War Museum
Stefano Morosini, a historian and scientific coordinator of the heritage project at Stelvio National Park, told CNN the artefacts illustrate the ‘very poor daily life’ of soldiers, whether it’s the food, dishes or jackets made from animal skins, among other items.
Conditions on the mountain were treacherous, with temperatures dropping to as low as -40C. These ‘extreme environmental conditions’ were only some of the hardships the troops had to face.
In order to protect themselves against Italian soldiers, the Austrians worked hard to make sure the shelter was invisible from the ground and air, as per the White War Museum, which also assisted with the excavations.
Morosini said, ‘Soldiers had to fight against the extreme environment, fight against the snow or the avalanches, but also fight against the enemy.’
He added, ‘The artefacts are a representation, like a time machine, of… the extreme conditions of life during the First World War.’
Since 2017, researchers have been uncovering more and more items as ice continues to melt – including the bodies of two soldiers, with documents that allowed them to be identified and sent back to their families – hence its status as a ‘treasure trove’ of history. Morosini described it as a ‘sort of open air museum’.
White War Museum
He also told The Guardian, ‘The barracks is a time capsule of the White War that helps us to understand the extreme, starving conditions that the soldiers experienced. The knowledge we’re able to gather today from the relics is a positive consequence of the negative fact of climate change.’
So far, 300 different objects have been recovered from the shelter, including the likes of straw mattresses, coins, helmets, ammunition and newspapers, in addition to clothes and other military kit. All of the artefacts are set to be preserved and stored in a First World War museum in the northern Italian town of Bormio, due to open in 2022.
A press release read, ‘The findings in the cave on Mount Scorluzzo give us, after over a hundred years, a slice of life at over 3,000 metres above sea level, where the time stopped on November 3, 1918 when the last Austrian soldier closed the door and rushed downhill.’