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More than two thousand years ago, thirty-seven elephants from heat-shimmering latitudes ascended Europe’s highest mountain range, tramped though snow and across ice, and breathed the thin air of high altitudes. Those that survived the perilous journey met with a bitter winter and war, as the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who had urged them through the Alps, battled the emergent Roman Republic.
The unlikely image of the elephants, those naked mammoths, picking their way through frigid, jagged peaks and along narrow defiles, clearly contributes to an ongoing fascination with Hannibal. Many narrative gaps keep his story alive as well, leaving room for lively, persistent dispute and imaginings.
Perhaps the most animated controversy centers on the last leg of the surreptitious invasion: the path across the Alps. Over the years, experts have proposed, and sparred over, six principal routes. Recently, a team of scientists published a two-part study suggesting that Hannibal and his ever-dwindling company of soldiers and animals took a southerly course, travelling by way of the Col de la Traversette, a nearly ten-thousand-foot pass. The authors point to geological evidence—some already published—and to new microbiological evidence: genetic fragments from bacteria common to manure. The bacterial bits were found in a layer of possibly hoof-roiled sediment that might date to around 218 B.C., the year of Hannibal’s traverse.
Read full, original post: Searching for signs of Hannibal’s route in DNA from horse manure