A relative newcomer to the debate, [microbiologist Chris] Allen insists that until now no hard material evidence has been presented that would indicate the most likely path. “Nada, zero, zip, zilch,” he says. “Everything has been guesswork based on readings of the classical texts.” He believes that he and his team of collaborators—led by Canadian geomorphologist Bill Mahaney—recently unearthed the first compelling clues, thanks to a massive patty of ancientmanure.Allen's theory that this is the trail left by Hannibal's army during his crossing of the Alps in the Second Punic War. But it is controversial. I have already noted the theory here, but this Smithsonian article is a very detailed treatment of it and is worth reading.
Embedded 16 inches deep in a bog on the French side of the Traversette is a thin layer of churned-up, compacted scat that suggests a large footfall by thousands of mammals at some point in the past. “If Hannibal had hauled his traveling circus over the pass, he would have stopped at the mire to water and feed the beasts,” reasons Allen. “And if that many horses, mules and, for that matter, elephants did graze there, they would have left behind a MAD.” That’s the acronym for what microbiologists delicately term a “mass animal deposition.”
By examining sediment from two cores and a trench—mostly soil matted with decomposed plant fiber—Allen and his crew have identified genetic materials that contain high concentrations of DNA fragments from Clostridia, bacteria that typically make up only 2 or 3 percent of peat microbes, but more than 70 percent of those found in the gut of horses. The bed of excrement also contained unusual levels of bile acids and fatty compounds found in the digestive tracts of horses and ruminants. Allen is most excited about having isolated parasite eggs—associated with gut tapeworms—preserved in the site like tiny genetic time capsules.
For past PaleoJudaica post on Hannibal and the Punic wars, start here and follow the many links.
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