5,800-Year-Old Snowshoe Kept in Office as a Keepsake by its Finder is Oldest in the World

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A crude snowshoe dating back about 5,800 years has been turned over to authorities after an Italian cartographer found it near where the ice mummy of Otzi the Iceman, a Neolithic hunter slain some 500 years later, was discovered in the Italian Dolemite Alps. Researchers at a press conference called it an exceptional find.

The snowshoe is made of birch wood and twine, and experts say it was preserved in the icy environs of the South Tyrolean Alps, where Simone Bartolini was mapping Italy’s border with Austria in 2003, says the Telegraph in a story about the snowshoe.

Dr. Bartolini found the snowshoe on the Gurgler Eisjoch glacier near the Italian border with Austria at about 3,134 meters or 10,280 feet. It will be put on display in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, the capital of German-speaking South Tyrol.

Otzi the iceman. Credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Dr. Bartolini of Florence found the snowshoe in 2003 but apparently did not immediately recognize its significance. The Telegraph reports that he kept the snowshoe in his office as a keepsake. He announced in a press conference Monday in Bolzano that he had turned it over to archaeologists for study in 2015.

“At first I thought it was maybe 100 years old and was a snowshoe that belonged to a farmer who lost it while driving cattle. I kept it in my office as a keepsake,” Dr. Bartolini said during the press conference, according to the Telegraph.

The Telegraph story says Dr. Bartolini did not realize the significance of the find until 2015, when he turned it over to archaeologists for study.

Otzi, also spelled as Oetzi, is named after the mountain range in which two German hikers found him. The corpse has helped shed light on what Otzi’s people ate and wore, their weapons and how they hunted and traveled, the Telegraph story says.

Otzi was killed after someone hit him with a blunt implement, possibly a club, and shot him with an arrow.

This photo of Ötzi’s clothing, which included materials from five animal species, was taken by Niall O Sullivan of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman. Otzi dates to about 5,300 years ago, while the snowshoe is even older at about 5,800 years, carbon dating has shown.

This photo of Ötzi’s clothing, which included materials from five animal species, was taken by Niall O Sullivan of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman. Otzi dates to about 5,300 years ago, while the snowshoe is even older at about 5,800 years, carbon dating has shown.

Dr. Catrin Marzoli of the province’s cultural heritage department said the shoe provides further evidence that people of the Neolithic, or Late Stone Age, lived in this area of the Alps and equipped themselves to travel on snow.

Researchers are unsure why anyone was traveling through such tough, barren terrain at an altitude of 10,000 feet, said Dr. Marzoli. Speculation has included that they were fleeing enemies, hunting or even visiting pagan worship or ritual centers.

As Ancient Origins reported in January 2015 , in an article titled ‘Ancient Artifacts and Human Remains Surface as Glaciers Melt’, archaeologists and hikers are finding artifacts and remains of humans and animals from hundreds or thousands of years ago.

The topic is so prevalent that Equinox Publishing has established the online Journal of Glacial Archaeology , which will report on archaeological discoveries from glacial, permafrost, polar and high‐altitude frozen contexts around the world. “The main themes will include archaeological analyses of recovered frozen artifacts, interpretations of frozen finds in relation to past and present climates, problems and solutions related to managing, monitoring and rescuing frozen deposits as well as social, political and ethical issues related to these discoveries … from Europe, North and South America, Asia and Antarctica,” the journal says.

In 2013 Archaeology.com did a seven-page article about the phenomenon that says the pressure to find, document, and conserve the exposed artifacts is tremendous. “The next 50 years will be decisive,’ says Albert Hafner, an archaeologist at the University of Bern who has excavated melting sites in the Alps. ‘If you don’t do it now they will be lost.”

Featured image: The birch and twine snowshoe would have helped Neolithic people navigate the snowy terrain in the Italian Alps more than 5,000 years ago.

By Mark Miller



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