The mummified bodies of World War I soldiers have been turning up as glaciers recede high in the Alps. The soldiers fought and died in what is known as The White War—a snow-bound World War I battle between Italy and Austria. Nearly 750,000 Italian troops were killed in savage, hopeless fighting on the stony hills north of Trieste and in the snowy mountains of the Dolomites. The fighting lasted four years in makeshift tunnels and trenches on mountain tops as high as 12,000 feet. The White War is widely considered by historians to be the highest military battle in history.
The fighting claimed the lives of countless soldiers on both sides. Many of the soldiers died from the extreme weather and avalanches. Now, melting ice is revealing frozen soldiers, some of them perfectly preserved for nearly a century. So far, 80 mummified people have been exhumed from the ice.
An Austrian rifle found melting out of the ice. Photo: Museo della Grande Guerra, Peio.
Apparently artifacts began flowing down from the mountains a few decades ago; theTelegraph reports that these even included still-legible, never-sent love letters and poetry. But it’s the mummified people—80, so far—that are proving the most wrenching.
The mummified remains of three Hapsburg soldiers found in 2004. Photo: Museo della Grande Guerra, Peio.
“While temperatures and avalanches were the most common cause of death, claiming souls in the thousands, nature wasn’t the only killer. Last year, two teenage soldiers were interred in Peio, an Alpine village on the frontline that didn’t evacuate during the conflict—both had bullet holes in their skulls. Ultimately all of the finds go to a forensic anthropologist; though he’s able to extract DNA, there often isn’t enough contextual info about the family’s current whereabouts to make the proper identifications and announcements.” – gizmodo.com
Lead image: The remains of two Austrian soldiers found on the Presena Glacier in 2012. Photo: Office for Archaeological Finds, Autonomous Province of Trento