Controversy over the alpine route that Hannibal of Carthage followed from the Rhône Basin into Italia has raged amongst classicists and ancient historians for over two millennia. The motivation for identifying the route taken by the Punic Army through the Alps lies in its potential for identifying sites of historical archaeological significance and for the resolution of one of history’s most enduring quandaries.
Here, we present stratigraphic, geochemical and microbiological evidence recovered from an alluvial floodplain mire located below the Col de la Traversette (~3000 m asl—above sea level) on the French/Italian border that potentially identifies the invasion route as the one originally proposed by SirGavin de Beer (de Beer 1974). The dated layer is termed the MAD bed (mass animal deposition) based on disrupted bedding, greatly increased organic carbon and key/specialized biological components/compounds, the latter reported in Part II of this paper. We propose that the highly abnormal churned up (bioturbated) bed was contaminated by the passage of Hannibal’s animals, possibly thousands, feeding and watering at the site, during the early stage of Hannibal’s invasion of Italia (218 BC).
As discussed in Part I, a large accumulation of mammalian faeces at the mire site in the upper Guil Valley near Mt. Viso, dated to 2168 cal 14C yr., provides the first evidence of the passage of substantial but indeterminate numbers of mammals within the time frame of the Punic invasion of Italia.
Specialized organic biomarkers bound up in a highly convoluted and bioturbated bed constitute an unusual anomaly in a histosol comprised of fibric and hemist horizons that are usually expected to display horizontal bedding. The presence of deoxycholic acid and ethylcoprostanol derived from faecal matter, coupled with high relative numbers of Clostridia 16S rRNA genes, suggests a substantial accumulation of mammalian faeces at the site over 2000 years ago. The results reported here constitute the first chemical and biological evidence of the passage of large numbers of mammals, possibly indicating the route of the Hannibalic army at this time. Combined with the geological analysis reported in Part I, these data provide a background supporting the need for further historical archaeological exploration in this area
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