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Where Did The Carthaginian Army Leader Hannibal Cross The Alps? Scientists Follow Horse Dung Microbes For The Answer

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A team of researchers from York University might have answered one of the biggest questions of ancient history - how did Hannibal cross the Alps during the second Punic War? What is more incredible is that the discovery was based on horse dung.

Hannibal of Carthage is considered as one of the greatest historical commanders to have ever reigned. He was even compared to Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, when it comes to being one of the finest strategists of the era.

The route taken by the Carthaginian army leader in crossing the Alps has been a subject of great interest and debate for thousands of years among historians, academicians and statesmen. So much so that even Napoleon had shown interest in it.

In 218-201 B.C., Hannibal led his army to fight Rome, which was then headed by General Scipio Africanus, in what was later came to be known as the second Punic War.

Recently, the research led by Bill Mahaney seems to have substantial evidence for the most plausible path that Hannibal followed - the Col de Traversette pass. This way was first proposed by Sir Gavin de Beer, a biologist and director of the British Museum of Natural History about a century ago, but was never seriously taken into consideration.

The route, which is 3,000 meters above sea level, lies at the border of Southeast Grenoble in France and Southwest Turin in Italy. It is a narrow pass with the most treacherous terrain even as it stands today.

Hannibal, along with his cavalry of 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 elephants, made their way through the treacherous and impassable Alps, which the Romans presumed would be their natural barrier against invasion.

Mahaney and his team have been studying the muddy terrains of the Alps at the Traversette pass since 2011. They came across an abundance of fecal matter of animals, mostly that of horses, mixed along with the mud. Interestingly, this fecal material was found in a pond that could have served as the perfect watering hole.

Using a combination of environmental chemistry, microbial genetic analysis, pollen analysis and carbon isotope analysis, microbiologists found that the mud and the horse dung dated back to 200 B.C., further supporting the hypothesis.

The findings of this research have been published on Archaeometry.

Photo: Robert Tannemaat | Flickr

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