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Where Exactly Did Hannibal Cross the Alps? Follow the trail of manure

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Researchers make use of a most unusual clue to find exactly where he travelled to attack Rome in 218 BC

The year is 218 BC. Hannibal is crossing the Alps with an army of approximately 30,000 soldiers, infantry and cavalry, including 37 war elephants, brought all the way from Carthage — in Tunis now— which the conqueror expected to use to terrorize Italy, whose inhabitants might have never before seen such gigantic, strange, monstrous beasts.

Hannibal intended to attack Rome from the north, surprising his enemies, who would naturally expect him to arrive from the south, after crossing the Mediterranean, but his plan revealed itself problematic: the intense cold and humidity made his elephants ill, and all of them but one died before making it to Rome.

More than 2,000 years later the mystery regarding how such a vast army could cross the Alps, after marching for more than a thousand miles, in the middle of the winter, might becould finally solved according to a team of experts in microbiology from the University of Belfast, in Northern Ireland: thanks to a layer of manure, discovered only 40 centimeters below the surface of a semi-marshy path close to the Col de la Traversette, a strait path midway from France and Torino.

An army that included more than 15,000 mules and horses besides those 37 elephants should have, obviously, left an incredibly vast amount of this kind of “evidence” — ahem, ahem — behind, and due to the fact that Hannibal insisted in crossing the Alps during winter — for strategic reasons — most of these “traces” were well preserved by the cold.

The microbiologists team from Belfast analyzed the incredibly well-preserved samples using carbon isotopes tests — such as the famous Carbon 14 method — and managed to identify them as dating back to, precisely, the second century before Christ. As they say, “One man’s … okay, let’s call it ‘trash’ … is another man’s treasure.”

 

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