The chamois remains discovered in Val Aurina and sent to the mummy experts Eurac Research’s lab will be studied to improve mummy conservation practices around the world. Now this curved-horned mountain antelope, an artiodactyl mammal native to Europe and Asia Minor, is kept for research at low temperatures.
At first glance, the chamois carcass did not seem to the climber Hermann Oberlechner an unusual discovery, since he often encounters the remains of wild animals during his high-altitude excursions.
However, after carefully examining the chamois skin, Arnthal’s climber realized that he was faced with a highly unique discovery and reported the find to the appropriate ranger. In fact, the chamois was protected by a glacier for 400 years until the ice receded. With the help of the Alpine Army Corps, the chamois mummy was returned to the valley and handed over to Eurac Research for scientific study by the Department of Cultural Heritage.
Due to their age and state of preservation, the remains are in fact the perfect imitator of a human mummy and will allow researchers to improve methods of preserving ice mummies around the world, while identifying methods to protect ancient DNA – a storehouse of valuable information for humanity.
In mummified samples, DNA is often degraded and is only present in minimal amounts. In fact, faced with a new discovery, the first question that experts face is how to research the mummy while continuing to preserve it without damaging its ancient DNA. Every action has irreversible consequences for DNA fragments, which makes it impossible to experiment with new methods.
In contrast, an intact animal mummy is the perfect simulator to explore, especially if its conditions are similar to those of other ice mummies in the world.
Having met the chamois, Hermann Oberlechner soon realized the importance of the find. “Only half of the animal’s body was exposed from the snow. The skin looked like skin, completely hairless; I’ve never seen anything like it. I immediately took a picture and sent it to the park ranger, and together we notified the Department of Cultural Heritage”.
The opening site can only be reached by a six-hour hike. For this reason, after an initial inspection, the researchers decided to seek help from the Alpine Army Corps. “The request from Eurac Research came during the training phase of our military mine rescue team. We plan regular exercises, not only to always be ready to intervene and protect our personnel in high-altitude missions but also in case we need civil protection too, ”said Mario Bisica, Head of Public Information and Communication of the Alpine Army housing.
The helicopter flight was organized in collaboration with the Army’s Specialized Air Corps, which has its own regiment in Bolzano, with pilots specially trained for high altitude operations. Thanks to the efforts of the group, Eurac Research experts were able to reach the glacier and, with the help of troops, conduct the scientific operation necessary to extract the mummy. The suede was then wrapped in an inert casing custom-made by conservationist Marco Samadelli. The remains are currently stored in the Eurac Conservation Research Laboratory at NOI Techpark in a refrigerated chamber at 5°C and are ready for study.
The melting of glaciers leads to more frequent finds, including biological ones. Under the supervision of Eurac Research anthropologist Alice Paladin, the cover of fresh snow and the thick layer of ice covering the chamois mummy were removed using various archaeological tools. The precise operation required everyone’s cooperation and commitment to avoid any risk, minimize contamination, and ensure the safety of the find.