MELT: The Archaeology of Climate Change
In 1991 two hikers stumbled upon the frozen remains of a 5,300-year-old mummy melting out of an ice patch high in the Italian Alps. Ötzi, named after the mountain range in which he was found, was so well preserved by ice and snow that bits of brain clung to his skull and the undigested contents of his last meal remained within his shriveled stomach. From Ötzi's tools, clothing, and Ötzi himself, scientists have reconstructed the Ice Man's life, from where he was born to his last hours as the victim of a brutal murder.
Ötzi's age, extraordinary preservation, and circumstances surrounding his death inspired archaeologists to climb mountain ranges around the world in search of other clues to our past, marking the beginning of a phenomenon called ice patch archaeology. But like Ötzi, these aren't just the stones and bones that archaeologists usually find. Ice patch artifacts include leather shoes and grass capes, birch bark containers and cups made of elm wood, and bows and arrows with bird feather fletching still attached. Organic artifacts like these decay in a few years if left exposed to sunlight and wind, but alpine ice and snow has kept these objects in a state of suspended animation for hundreds or even thousands of years.
That is until, the ice began to melt.
Through first-hand travels with archaeologists, glaciologists, and climate scientists from the Alps to the Andes, MELT offers a fresh perspective on our warming planet as well as insights into how humans fared during past climate changes, how we are adapting to current climate change, and what the future holds in a world without ice.
Many narratives about melting ice focus on the physical environment with little, if any, reference to people. In MELT we discover that glaciers and alpine ice patches have more than one story to tell. These bodies of ice figure prominently in Indigenous narratives, they inspire art and literature, they spark both fear and awe, and they give and take life.
Glaciers can be read like a book, allowing us to peek behind the curtain of time to better understand our past so that we can move into a new and uncertain future. But today's audiences crave narratives around climate change that aren't so bleak. MELT provides just such a perspective by focusing on themes of connection and hope rather than of fear and loss but without being Pollyannaish about the truth of what we are facing. Join me as we traverse both time and geography to discover what these vanishing artifacts have to tell us about glaciers, ice patches, and the role of the alpine in cultures around the world.
MELT will be published by Timber Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group in spring 2024.