Science makes itself available in ways we can’t imagine. Many scientific discoveries have been made by somebody stumbling over something. High mountain areas have secrets we may never understand because of the elevation. The Alps revealed a little history recently to Italian skier Hermann Oberlechner. Oberlechner discovered a chamois that died 400 years ago. What other finds are still hiding?
The Alpine graveyard
The goat-antelope had leathery skin and no hair. As soon as Oberlechner found it, he took a picture and sent it to the park rangers. Excavation plans were immediately started.
“Only half of the animal’s body was exposed from the snow,” Oberlechner noted, “The skin looked like leather, completely hairless; I had never seen anything like it. I immediately took a photo and sent it to the park ranger, together we then notified the Department of Cultural Heritage.”
The Alps mummify
The famous Alps Iceman “Otzi” was a 5,300 year old mummy found in 1991 by hikers. Scientists are excited. How can this new mummy help us better preserve DNA for the next time human remains are found?
Albert Zink is the director of the Institute for Mummy Studies at Eurac Research in Italy. Our goal is to use scientific data to develop a globally valid conservation protocol for ice mummies,” he said, “This is the first time an animal mummy has been used in this way.”
We’ll watch the Alps for more
The goat was at 10,500 feet. To move the animal the Eurac researchers contacted the Alpine Army Corps, people who are familiar with the Alps. Eurac iceman conservationist Marco Samadelli engineered and constructed a special container that was brought in by helicopter. It was then taken to Eurac’s lab in Bolzano, Italy where it’s stored below freezing, 23 degres.
As long as these Alps ice mummies are entombed, their DNA stays intact. It’s when they’re exposed to the atmosphere that decay starts. Time is of the essence when there’s a find.
“With repeated in-depth analysis, we will verify what alterations the DNA undergoes when external conditions change,” Samadelli explained.