Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Where did Hannibal cross the Alps?

If only my smart dog Fitzroy had been around in 218 BC, I'm sure he would have figured out rapidly the exact itinerary chosen by Hannibal to cross the Alps and move into Italy. Fitzroy would have simply sniffed around for a while until he determined with accuracy the places where there were traces of horse dung and elephant piss, and he would have known immediately where Hannibal had traveled.

These days, scholars are still trying to solve this problem, and they are using scientific instruments to sniff at ancient specimens of animal dejections. Click here to access an article by Chris Allen, an environmental microbiologist at Queen's University Belfast, who reveals how microbial evidence has located dung left by Hannibal's horses when they were moving across the mountains.

[ I find it hard to believe that this kind of pseudo-scientific historical research is indeed serious. I'm not exactly proud to admit that I tend to be biased by the fact that the research in question has been conducted by would-be Alpine specialists from Northern Ireland. ]

The exact spot where Hannibal crossed the Alps is thought to be the treacherous Col de Traversette, seen here:

In the following map of the section of the Alps between France and Italy, the red blob indicates the location of the Col de Traversette:

Click to enlarge slightly

In the lower left-hand corner of this map, you can find a tiny village named Risoul. That's the Alpine birthplace of my dog Fitzroy, which lies just a whiff to the west of the spot where Hannibal and his animals scrambled over the Col de Traversette. It goes without saying that, if the Irish fellow Chris Allen wanted to call upon help from a local specialist to locate traces of archaic elephant piss and horse dung, I'm sure that my dog Fitzroy would be thrilled to participate in such an excursion... particularly if it's a chance to get involved in ancient history.

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