Bizarre Things Scientists Have Found Trapped in Ice
Amazing, beautiful, terrifying and weird — scientists have found countless interesting and downright bizarre things buried and preserved in ice. In recent years, global warming has caused these types of discoveries to happen more often. As the Earth's ice melts at an alarming rate, more oddities are emerging from the shrinking tundra.
Despite the frightening implications of the world melting around us, it provides an incredible opportunity to take a peek back in time. Check out 30 of the coolest (and weirdest) things scientists have found in ice — some of them thousands of years old.
The Frozen Lighthouses of Michigan
Not everything hidden in the Earth's ice is ancient and mysterious. Every winter, the lighthouses on Lake Michigan become barely recognizable, as ice formations turn them into gorgeous frozen works of art. In order for these "sculptures" to happen, the air has to remain well below freezing for an extended time, while the water remains unfrozen.
A 39,000-Year-Old Brain
Talk about a smart discovery! In 2010, scientists discovered a woolly mammoth mummy with a surprisingly well-preserved brain. At the time, it was the only preserved mammoth brain ever discovered. Researchers believe the mammoth (named Yuka) was likely between 6 and 9 years old when it died.
A Variety of Modern Day Mammals
In 2017, one unfortunate German fox fell into the Danube River and drowned, eventually becoming fully encased in ice. It's unclear how long he had been there before local hunter Franz Stehle extracted the animal and put him on display in the middle of town, but it was likely only a short time.
Frozen (But Alive) Alligators
Not everything trapped in ice is dead. If you ever see an alligator floating in a frozen pond, don't get too close! He might just be waiting out the weather. Although alligators can't completely freeze, of course, they can survive for at least a couple of days in an icy pond.
Long Lost Airplanes
Almost as often as explorers find animals (or remnants of them), they find relics of war. In 2018, a team of searchers located the wreck of a P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft more than 70 years after it went missing. Found deep within a glacier in Greenland, the wreck was part of a lost squadron of U.S. warplanes.
A Very Hungry Fish
Two Indiana brothers made the discovery of a lifetime in 2017 when they found a frozen pike fish that died mid-meal. According to reports, the boys found the pike frozen near the surface of Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana — with a bass hanging out of its mouth.
A New Dinosaur Species
On the afternoon of March 21, 2011, heavy equipment operator Shawn Funk was busy excavating at the Millennium Mine in McMurray, Alberta, just as he had done hundreds of other times. He didn't know he was about to unearth a never-before-seen dinosaur.
A Flash-Frozen Bird
Christoph van Ingen was skating on a frozen ditch in the Dutch town of Oostzaan when he came across a kingfisher frozen into the surface of the water. The kingfisher is native to Europe, although the striking blue color of the bird he found isn't common at all. They are known for diving straight into the water to catch their meal of choice — minnows and sticklebacks.
An Ice-Age Puppy
In 2011, a group of Moscow hunters were scanning a riverbank for mammoth tusks when they happened upon something even more valuable — an Ice Age puppy. The dog's snout was just peeking out from the permafrost, barely visible. The men immediately alerted Sergei Fyodorov, head of exhibitions at the World Mammoth Museum at North-Eastern Federal University.
A Rare Copper Arrowhead
Archaeologist Christian Thomas and his team were in the Yukon filming a documentary when they happened upon an ancient artifact by pure luck. The scientists were flying over a mountainside when they spotted a herd of caribou and decided to land. On the ground, Thomas spotted a barbed antler arrow shaft sticking out of the ice.
Thousands of Viking Artifacts
Melting glaciers in Norway have been releasing thousands of Viking treasures out into the elements, and as the climate continues to warm in the area, experts anticipate many more discoveries to come. Since 2011, archaeologists have been surveying the edges of glaciers in Oppland, Norway. So far, the objects they have found date back as far as 4,000 B.C.
Blood Falls Glacier
This one isn't so much about an object found in the ice, as it is about the ice itself. Blood Falls in East Antarctica is named for its rusty red hue. Up until recently, the source of the falls was a mystery, as the average temperature in McMurdo Dry Valleys is roughly -17 degrees Celsius.
The glaciers of the world are retreating at an alarming rate — perhaps more so in Alaska than anywhere else. Factors such as warmer summer temperatures and less winter precipitation are only making the issue worse. As one of the state's largest glaciers — the Mendenhall — continues to shrink, it has exposed the remains of an ancient forest.
Ancient Inca Sacrifices
Like many ancient cultures, the Inca performed human sacrifices as a means of appeasing the Gods. These ceremonies often took place during or after important events, such as the death of an emperor. The victims were typically children, as they were considered physically perfect and healthy — traits most likely to please the deities.
The Mummy of a Young Boy
The Incas worshiped the breathtakingly high peaks of the Andes, believing they provided a direct means of approaching the Sun God, Inti. That's why so many sacrifices were made on peaks that were well over 20,000 feet tall, despite the thin air and life-threatening cold.
Freakishly Good Preserved Artifacts
Artifacts buried beneath ice — like the remains of Incan sacrifices or prehistoric dinosaurs — can remain in astonishingly pristine condition for thousands and thousands of years. Why? Because the ice not only keeps things at a frigid temperature, but also cuts off the normal supply of oxygen from the atmosphere.
Memories of Wars Past
War is always difficult, but when World War I was fought more than 100 years ago, it was especially brutal. Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops fought hand-to-hand at altitudes up to 12,000 feet in temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the dead couldn’t be removed from the mountains and were left to the elements.
The Canadian Ice Man
Kwaday Dan Ts’ìnchi, also called "Long Ago Person" or "Canadian Ice Man", was found in a melting glacier in British Columbia in 1999. Three Canadian sheep hunters were hiking through the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park when they noticed a walking stick, fur and bone lying on a glacier. They notified museum officials as well as local authorities.
The Woolly Mammoth
One of the more frequently found artifacts — or at least the one most often on the news — is the woolly mammoth. The first specimen was discovered in 1806, and more than a dozen other mammoths have been located since then. One example stands out above all the rest: the female woolly mammoth found in a Siberian ice tomb in 2013.
10,000-Year-Old Spear Found Near Yellowstone
In 2010, researchers from The University of Colorado located an ancient hunting weapon in melting ice near Yellowstone National Park. Ice patch archaeologist (and university professor) Craig Lee found the 10,000-year-old wooden dart while conducting research in the Beartooth Mountains.
Otzi the Iceman
In September of 1991, German tourists stumbled across human remains protruding from the ice while hiking in the Alps. Although authorities initially believed it was the body of a young mountaineer who had recently died, it was soon discovered that the corpse was more than 5,000 years old!
A Rare Woolly Rhino
Woolly rhino remains are extremely rare. Since the 18th century, only two complete adult bodies have been found, neither with hair intact. That's why when a hunter found Sasha — the only complete young woolly rhino ever discovered — it was a HUGE deal.
A Pair of Adorable Cave Lions
In 2015, Russian researchers discovered a pair of remarkably intact cave lion cubs in the Ice Age permafrost of Yakutia, Siberia. Named Uyan and Dina, the cats were the first of their kind ever found in such a well-preserved state. They had likely been in the ice for at least 10,000 years.
A Perfectly Preserved Atlatl
An atlatl (pronounced at-latel) is a stick with a handle on one end and a hook or socket that engages a light spear or dart on the other. A quick flick of the tool (used as far back as the Upper Paleolithic era) can propel the dart quickly, allowing a hunter to easily take down a large animal such as a caribou.
A Yucky Surprise
In what we can only describe as a crappy surprise, researchers once found a dart shaft inside the preserved feces of an ancient caribou. How the dart shaft ended up inside the caribou, only to be pooped out later, is unclear, but it’s still a remarkable discovery.
Frozen Bacteria Back from the Dead
Bacteria are like cockroaches — they can survive almost anything. Still, even bacteria do have some limits. For instance, water heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit or greater will kill bacteria. Up until recently, it was also believed that extreme cold would do them in.
Anthrax and Smallpox and Tetanus! Oh My!
Saying that frozen bacteria may not bode well for humanity could be an understatement. As the permafrost melts at an unprecedented rate, bacteria that have been trapped or dormant for millennia are being released and coming back to life. According to the BBC's Jasmin Fox-Skelly, "melting ice could potentially open a Pandora’s box of diseases."
Melting Will Continue to Reveal More Treasures
Glaciers and permafrost hold countless treasures buried inside them, and as the climate continues to warm up, they will release more and more of those treasures back into the world. There are numerous negative impacts of global warming, but the recovery of ancient artifacts could be one unexpected positive. Interestingly, the bacteria found in ice may play a surprising role in the way we assess climate change.
It's not something you hear about very often, but scientists find ancient poo hidden in ice more often than anything else. It certainly isn’t glamorous, but scientists can actually learn a lot from feces. Take, for example, the 17,000-year-old puma scat researchers discovered in 2019.
The Impact of Global Warming on Artifacts
Although the melting permafrost and glaciers are giving us more access to artifacts than ever before, it’s also exposing those same artifacts to the elements for the first time in thousands of years. The reason organic material remains so well-preserved in ice is because it isn’t exposed to the elements, so what will happen when that suddenly changes?