Horse Manure Helps Crack Ancient Military Mystery

Researchers think they know where Hannibal crossed the Alps
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2016 12:44 PM CDT
Horse Manure Helps Crack Ancient Military Mystery
A 17th-century rendering of Hannibal crossing the Alps by Nicolas Poussin.   (Wikimedia Commons)

Ace history students might remember that Hannibal led his Carthagian army across the Alps around 200BC and soundly defeated the Roman army in one of the most epic military maneuvers of all time. But not even actual historians can tell you with any degree of certainty where Hannibal crossed those mountains—until now. Researchers think they've solved the mystery after finding a "mass animal deposition," they write in a press release out of Queen's University in Belfast. In other words, they found a lot of manure, they're nearly certain it's from horses, and they can date it to the time that Hannibal was making his crossing with 15,000 horses, not to mention 37 elephants and 30,000 troops. The answer to future trivia questions: Hannibal crossed at a pass known as Col de Traversette, near Grenoble in France and Turin in Italy.

The locale has been floated as a possibility previously, but without proof. The search team did their digging near a pond, "one of the few in the area that could have been used for watering large numbers of animals," writes researcher Chris Allen in the Conversation. The terrain also generally matches the landscape described in ancient history texts. Further genetic testing is being done to confirm that the manure is from horses, and scientists also plan to conduct a radar survey to find evidence of humans and the famous elephants as well. "My sniffer tells me some will turn up, coins, belt buckles, sabres, you name it," study leader Bill Mahaney tells the Guardian. This wouldn't have been the easiest route for Hannibal's army, but Allen writes that he likely picked it because he was afraid of being ambushed on easier routes. The findings have been published in Archaeometry. (More Hannibal stories.)

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