More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat

March 18, 2024

Switzerland’s melting glaciers have revealed more unexpected, macabre secrets than ever this summer: human remains and plane wreckage trapped in the ice for over 50 years. Such discoveries are set to multiply in the coming years, says Robert Bolognesi, a snow science expert.

More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat - SWI swissinfo.ch

As can be seen in the video above, amid record high temperatures in the Alps, in early August hikers found human bones on the Chessjen glacier in the southern canton of Valais. A week earlier, another body was found on the Stockji glacier near the resort of Zermatt, north-west of the Matterhorn.

In the first week of August, a mountain guide also discovered the wreckage of a plane that crashed on the Aletsch glacier, near the Jungfrau and Mönch mountain peaks, 50 years ago.

Closer examination revealed the wreckage to be that of a small Piper Cherokee aircraft that crashed in the area on June 30, 1968, carrying a teacher, a chief medical officer and his son, all from Zurich. The bodies were recovered at the time, but the wreckage was not.

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More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat - SWI swissinfo.ch

This content was published on Aug 8, 2022 Two bodies have been found in recent weeks in the Swiss Alps, discovered as glaciers recede under high summer temperatures.

Read more: Skeletal human remains found in southern Swiss Alps

Human remains and other objects found on glaciers in canton Valais are carefully collected and studied by police and forensic experts using DNA samples, dental records and radiological techniques. The local police keep a list of about 300 cases of people who have gone missing since 1925. It is thought that two-thirds of them disappeared in the mountains or on glaciers.

Some experts believe that more and more bodies and objects will emerge on glaciers as the huge ice sheets continue to retreat at an accelerating rate.

“Climate change increases the melting of glaciers and accelerates the movement of a glacier,” Robert Bolognesi, a snow scientist and director of Meteorisk, told Swiss public television, RTS. “So bodies will be directed more quickly towards the bottom of the glacier.”

And with more people hiking in the mountains and crossing glaciers, the numbers are likely to rise.

“There will be many more remains appearing from now on than we have seen in the past,” said Bolognesi.

More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat - SWI swissinfo.ch

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Debris from 1968 plane crash found on Swiss glacier

This content was published on Aug 5, 2022 Parts of a plane that crashed in 1968 have been found on the Aletsch glacier by a mountain guide.

Read more: Debris from 1968 plane crash found on Swiss glacier

As Swiss glaciers thin and recede, rare archaeological objects trapped in the ice, such as Neolithic wooden bows and quartz arrowheads, also frequently emerge. The Valais authorities have a special archaeological service that collects and researches the finds.

They have also developed a mobile phone appExternal link – the Icewatcher app – to encourage the public to report any unusual objects encountered while out in the mountains or on glaciers.

After a winter with relatively little snowfall, the Swiss Alps have experienced a severe summer heatwave. Scientists warn that almost all the ice sheets in the Swiss Alps could disappear by 2090 due to climate change.

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More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat - SWI swissinfo.ch

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In pursuit of the crystal hunters

This content was published on Jul 25, 2022 In the Swiss Alps, a melting glacier has revealed crystal tools made by hunter-gatherers. Now archaeologists are examining what they left behind.

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More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat - SWI swissinfo.ch

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This content was published on Oct 18, 2018 Neolithic wooden bows, quartz arrowheads and a prayer book: archaeological treasures and human remains are surfacing from retreating glaciers.

 

More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat - SWI swissinfo.ch

In pursuit of the crystal hunters

This content was published on Jul 25, 2022 In the Swiss Alps, a melting glacier has revealed crystal tools made by hunter-gatherers. Now archaeologists are examining what they left behind. More human remains and objects emerge as glaciers retreat - SWI swissinfo.ch