I know the Hannibal meadow muffin story has done the rounds this week, but I find the approach very interesting: Tracing a historical invasion by looking for trace evidence. One of the principal investigators, Chris Allen, has written about the work himself on The Conversation, and it’s worth pointing people to that synopsis: “How ancient horse-dung bacteria is helping our team locate where Hannibal crossed the Alps”.
Using a combination of microbial genetic analysis, environmental chemistry, pollen analysis and various geophysical techniques, we unveiled a mass animal deposition of faecal materials – probably from horses – at a site near the Col de Traversette. The dung, which can be directly dated to around 200BC through carbon isotope analysis (very close to the date on historical records - 218BC), was found at a mire or pond. This is one of the few in the area that could have been used for watering large numbers of animals. The site was originally discovered during geological expeditions to the area, and already fitted descriptions of the terrain – including rockfalls – that Hannibal had to work his way through.