The discovery of ancient poop may reveal a secret long hidden from historians and archaeologists. A layer of dirt found at an high-mountain pass near the French-Italian border shows clues to the route taken by the ancient Carthaginians and their leader Hannibal as they sought to conquer ancient Rome.
As reported in the Archaeometry journal, scientists say that a layer of churned up soil exhibits sediment rich in micro-organism common in horse manure. The international team is seeking to find other evidence that the column of invaders from North Africa marched through the Traversette Pass in the Third Century BC. Evidence such as tapeworm eggs may prove the use of battle elephants used by Hannibal – a master strategist who sought to overwhelm Roman defenses.
Hannibal was the commander of the Carthaginian army during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). At the time, Carthage was Rome’s greatest rival and stood in the way of Roman predominance in the Mediterranean Basin. Carthage is located in what is now modern Tunisia.
Hannibal and the Carthaginians cross the Alps on their way to Rome
To attack Rome on its home turf, Hannibal brought 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 elephants from Spain and across the Alps. His masterstroke nearly defeated the stout Romans, who fell beneath Carthaginian troops in battle after battle. However, Hannibal was finally defeated by the Roman general Scipio Africanus in 202 BC at the Battle of Zama.
Historians have long sought to find the route used by the Carthaginian general. The 1-milimeter layer of dung that international researchers found at the Col de Traversette may resolve the dispute. According to Dr. Chris Allen of Queen's University Belfast, the layer of mire was produced by "the constant movement of thousands of animals and humans."
He said, "Over 70% of the microbes in horse manure are from a group known as the Clostridia, that are very stable in soil - surviving for thousands of years.”
"We found scientifically significant evidence of these same bugs in a genetic microbial signature precisely dating to the time of the Punic invasion."
The crossing point at Traversette was first proposed more than 50 years ago by the British biologist Sir Gavin de Beer, but it has not yet been widely accepted by the academic community.