Relics of World War I that spent many years frozen are surface due to the melting and retreating glaciers in the Alps of northern Italy.
There are cups, cans, letters, weapons and bones from which the marrow has been sucked out. The objects were found in military barracks located in caves near the icy peak of Mount Scorluzzo in northern Italy, near Switzerland. The summit rises to more than 3000 meters.
The Austro-Hungarian soldiers who occupied these barracks fought the Italian troops during the so-called White War. There in the Alps – far from the more famous Western Front, which was the scene of a bloody trench warfare between Germany and France – troops scaled the mountains to dangerous altitudes, in freezing temperatures, to create fortifications in the midst of ice and stone.
The weather conditions that put a strain on the soldiers on Mount Scorluzzo ended up preserving their barracks, freezing the entrance and closing it after the military abandoned their post at the end of the war in 1918.
The structure remained essentially impenetrable for decades, until 2017, when enough ice and snow had melted to allow researchers to enter. Now the ice has been removed from the barracks, revealing the items left behind and providing a better glimpse into the people who inhabited this cramped space over a century ago.
Located in the Stelvio National Park, the lodges are “a kind of time machine,” according to Stefano Morosini, a historian who coordinates projects related to the historical and cultural heritage of the park and teaches at the University of Bergamo, in Italy. “Our interest is not only historical, it is also scientific,” he explained. “What was the pollution like? What were the epidemiological conditions in the barracks? How did the soldiers sleep and how did they suffer? What did they eat? “
According to Morosini, many relics discovered will be exhibited in a museum that will open in 2022 in the town of Bormio. There is already another museum dedicated to the White War, this one in the nearby town of Temù, and the professionals of this first museum are now working to restore the relics found in the military barracks.
Luca Pedrotti, science coordinator of the park, said the relics contained lessons not only of history, but also of environmental science. Extreme cold killed soldiers in northern Italy over a century ago. Today, warmer weather conditions create a different kind of risk.
Pedrotti, who lived in the park as a child, said he has seen glaciers recede for decades. He observed changes in the flora and noted that the cold-loving animals have moved to the mountain peaks, seeking to stay in habitable areas, which continue to shrink. “I think it’s important that we use the park as a study area to raise awareness about climate change,” he said.
It is believed that most of the soldiers killed in the White War died not only in combat, but because of the environment. Their remote outposts were difficult to supply with food and equipment, and avalanches were frequent in the snow-capped, windswept mountains.
“Here, men spend their days wrapped in fur furs, with animal fat smeared on their faces to protect them from freezing gusts of wind, which hurt like stings. And they spend their nights in holes that open in the snow, ”wrote newspaper correspondent E. Alexander Powell in a 1918 book,“ Italy at War ”.
“On no other front does the fighter lead such a painful existence as here on the roof of the world. Neither in the sunny plains of Mesopotamia, nor in the frozen swamps of Masuria [na Polônia], nor in the bloody mud of Flanders.
No remains have been found in the military barracks, although the frozen bodies of people who fought in the White War have been found nearby. But, according to Alessandro Nardo, director of the national park, researchers have found at least one sign of life.
“When I arrived here to manage Stelvio National Park at the end of 2018, one of the first things that caught my eye was a small vase on a table with a wild green geranium,” he said. “I asked my colleague what it was, and he said the plant sprouted from seeds found in mattresses at the Scorluzzo military barracks.”
Translation by Clara Allain