Global Warming Uncovers Corpses Frozen in Time

scientists study inca child photo
Photo via Last Days of the Incas

Five hundred years ago, three Inca children were left to freeze high in the cold Argentinian Andes as a religious sacrifice. In time, their bodies mummified, having been swallowed in snow and entombed within the glacier, lost to time. But centuries later, in a warmer world, their perfectly-preserved corpses were discovered beneath the melting snow -- an increasingly common sight. Experts say that as glaciers continue to recede throughout the world, more of their long-guarded secrets will be revealed in the warm grip of a changing climate.

Photo via Last Days of the Incas

When the three Inca children were discovered thanks to melting in the Andes, their well-preserved, mummified remains helped advance archeological knowledge of their rather mysterious civilization. But some more recently deceased individuals uncovered by the receding glaciers has helped bring closure to mourning families.

For example, the frozen body of 24-year-old pilot, Benjamin Rafael Pabón, was discovered by hikers in Peru -- over 20 years after his plane crashed in the Andes. If not for global warming's effect on Andean glaciers, his fate might have remained a mystery forever.

"It took me a very long time to acknowledge he might be dead," said the pilot's mother. "Now we have a body. I can visit my son at his burial site and grieve like any mother has a right to do."

Photo: Noah Friedman-Rudovsky for The New York Times

A recent report from The New York Times sheds light on several fascinating discoveries that have been made amid the melting ice of some of the world's most threatened snow packs.

Scientists say the retreat of the ice is an unexpected boon for those yearning to peer back in time.

"It looks like the warming trend seen in many regions is continuing," said Gerald Holdsworth, a glaciologist at the Arctic Institute of North America in Calgary, Alberta. "There are still some large snowbanks left in promising places, and many glaciers of all different shapes, orientations and sizes, so the finds could go on for a long time yet."

Some discoveries are personal, allowing families closure after years of mourning loved ones who appeared to have vanished.

Photo via Last Days of the Incas

As global warming continues to cast open these icy graves, such long-preserved corpses are subject to decay and exposure to the elements. For the three sacrificed Inca children who rested so for centuries suspended in time on an Andean glacier, now a climate-controlled casing at an Argentine museum keeps them from decay.

While the degrading affects of passing years seems to pause for those trapped within the ice, for the glaciers, time itself may be running out. In the past few decades, a warming climate in this region has taken its toll on the frozen landscape, threatening the livelihoods of people in the region. Impacted nations have enacted measures to combat the melting, but localized efforts stand little chance in combating the problem without international support.

Scientists say that more bodies will likely be uncovered as the snow continues to melt -- drawing the dead from their icy graves and reuniting them with a world warmer than the one they left.

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