Re-emergence
Re-emergence

Who is the Lyskamm marmot?

The scientific world is particularly interested in the finding of a marmot mummy that resurfaced from theLyskamm glacier in the summer of 2022. It is believed to be the oldest mummified remains in Italy.According to radiocarbon dating it is geologically from the Middle Holocene (about 6,600 years ago) and, inrelation to humans, it is placed in the Neolithic period (4,691-4,501 BCE).

The discovery

Climate change is revealing the past.
Climate change is causing a progressive and rapid deterioration of the Alpine ecosystem. This is bringing about a re-emergence of an ancient and remote past life that has been preserved for millennia in glaciers. One of these valuable discoveries is the Lyskamm marmot.

Marmot Mummy Project

Observing the mummy from a scientific perspective.
Mummies provide a wealth of opportunity for scientific investigation and are living reminders of the past. Studying them using modern technologies enables us to obtain important data to reconstruct the history of a living being and its habitat.
The purpose of the Marmot Mummy Project has been to research the Lyskamm mummy and to explore and investigate the many aspects relating to it.

The conservation container

The importance of conserving the remains in a stable setting.
A specially designed case will house the mummy for over 500 years. Inside there is no oxygen present, and the chemical-physical parameters can be adjusted and calibrated to stop deterioration. It operates entirely eco-sustainably and without the need for electricity.

Italy’s oldest mummy

Finding a mummy is a rare and valuable discovery.
Traces of animal and plant life, especially of mummified remains, provide insight into the creation and transitions of ecosystems over time and their progression through eras, periods and geological epochs.
The Lyskamm marmot is the oldest mummy in Italy and a unique animal from the Holocene, a period of ongoing geological evolution.

Age (years) Year Mummy Where AGE OF THE EARTH HISTORY OF HUMANITY Holocene Epoch of climate change 10,000 years ago – present day 2,195 178 BC Lady of Dai – XinZhui Cina 2,300 300 BC Grauballe Man Denmark 2,400 400 BC Tollund Man Denmark 3,000 1,000 BC Tarim mummies China 3,340 1,341 – 1,323 BC Tutankhamun Egypt 5,300 3,300 BC Similaun Man – Ötzi Italy 6,640 – 6,460 4,691 – 4,501 BC Lyskamm Marmot Italy Pleistocene End of the last ice age 12,000 years ago 17.000 Dog – Yakutia Siberia 22,000 – 39,500 Polar bear – Yakutia Russia 39,000 Mammoth – Yuka Siberia 56,000 – 57,000 Arctic Wolf – Zhur Canada 23.5/5.3 million years ago The first hominids developed 5.3/1.8 million years ago Hominids start making tools About 40,000 years ago Spread of modern man ( Homo sapiens )
Age (years) Mummy Where Holocene Epoch of climate change 10,000 years ago – today 2,195 Lady of Dai – XinZhui China 2,300 Grauballe Man Denmark 2,400 Tollund Man Denmark 3,000 Tarim Mummies China 3,340 Tutankhamun Egypt 5,300 Similaun Man – Ötzi Italy 6,640 – 6,460 Lyskamm marmot Italy Pleistocene End of the last ice age 12,000 years ago 17,000 Dog – Yakutia Siberia 22,000 – 39,500 Polar bear – Yakutia Russia 39,000 Mammoth – Yuka Siberia 56,000 – 57,000 Artic wolf – Zhur Canada 23.5-5.3 million years ago The first hominids developed 5.3-1.8 million years ago Hominids start making tools About 40,000 years ago Spread of modern man (Homo Sapiens)

What distinguishes a marmot from the past
from one of the present?

The Alpine marmot: not a highly varied genome

An international team of researchers studied the genome of the Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) to ascertain the influence of climate change on its genetic diversity.
The results demonstrated that the DNA of the species has changed little and only slowly and that, despite this, the marmot managed to survive the ice age. This is exceptional in the animal kingdom since low genetic variability is associated with a high risk of extinction (as happened with the mountain gorilla, the Arctic polar bear and the Iberian lynx).
This leads us to conclude that today’s Alpine marmot is very similar to the one of 6,600 years ago.

DIET
Feeding on roots, fruit, shoots and grasses, it also occasionally eats insects. It doesn’t drink since the water in plants keeps its body sufficiently hydrated.

THE BURROW
The marmot’s summer burrow is shallow with many exits, while the winter one is a single room with a very long entrance to accommodate up to 5 marmots.

HIBERNATION
Marmots go into a very deep state of hibernation, but they periodically wake up briefly in order to maintain their vital body temperatures.

BEHAVIOUR
It is a social but possessive mammal that marks the limits of its territory with its scent. It lives in groups and stays close to its burrow.

MATING
The marmot breeds from April to June. The female can have 3 to 5 cubs that become self-sufficient after a couple of months. A female reaches reproductive maturity after about 2 years.

PREDATORS
Foxes and eagles are its predators. The marmot’s whistle is a signal for alarm: if the danger is at ground level, their whistle is rhythmic, and if it comes from the sky, they give a single and loud whistle.

What does the mummy tell us about the past, present and future ecosystem?

Climate change

Pedology

The discovery of a herbivore above an altitude of 4000 metres may suggest that alpine meadows once existed higher up than they do now. We can better understand the consequences of global climate change on Alpine ecosystems and glacier landscapes thanks to scientific study conducted in these high-altitude regions.

The discovery of soil in the embryonic stage of development (proto-soil) at these altitudes could back up the theory that climate conditions were once conducive to life here.

Biology

Understanding the balance of the ecosystem requires knowledge of the oldest microbial communities, which can be obtained from the DNA of microorganisms found in the area where the marmot was discovered.

Extreme environments are capable of hosting extraordinary and varied forms of life. The microorganisms that grow and proliferate at low temperatures and live in ice and snow are an example of this. Climate change puts their presence at risk, threatening ecosystem balance and biodiversity.

Glaciology

Even though the high mountains appear static, they are very dynamic and are prone to extreme weather and climate conditions. Given the severe climate change we are witnessing, what now looks to be dominated by glaciers may not have been so in the past and most likely won’t be so in the future.

The location of the mummy’s discovery can provide important clues about how the climate and physical environment have changed over time.

What does the discovery of the Lyskamm mummy represent?

Marmot Mummy Project

The mummy is a significant source of information and a valuable cultural artefact. In 2023, the Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta organised the study group for the Marmot Mummy Project, comprising Santa Tutino, Velca Botti, Francine Navillod, Alessandra Armirotti, Gianfranco Zidda, Marco Samadelli, Alice Paladin, Umberto Tecchiati, Fabrizio Troilo, Michele Freppaz and Maurizio Azzaro.

To spread this discovery across a broad scientific panorama, the Marmot Mummy Project entails multidisciplinary investigations employing modern technologies and soft skills in biology. The objective of the research is to answer current questions about the mummy and those that arise during the studies, to broaden present and future knowledge in relation to the past.

Scientific fields

The Museum collaborates with important scientific partners, such as EURAC Research of Bolzano, the Universities of Turin and Milan, the CNR Institute of Polar Sciences, the Montagna Sicura Foundation and the Regional Department for Cultural Heritage and Activities. The establishment of a multidisciplinary team aims to acquire archaeological, biological, climatological, genetic and pedological information.

Project management
Santa Tutino
Museum director – Efisio Noussan Regional Museum of Natural Sciences

Biologist and an executive with the Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta, she deals with nature conservation, protected natural areas and sustainability. Director of the Efisio Noussan Regional Museum of Natural Sciences and head of the biotechnology laboratory, she coordinated the project for restoring and reorganising the Museum in Saint-Pierre Castle. She is in charge of managing and promoting sustainable tourism in the regional protected natural areas.

Archaeology
Study of the evolution in the human to environment relationship in the Valle d’Aosta
Alessandra Armirotti
Archaeologist – Regional Department for Cultural Heritage and Activities

A specialist in classical archaeology, as an official in the Regional Department for Cultural Heritage and Activities, she deals with the study, protection and conservation of the Aosta Valley archaeological heritage. In carrying out her institutional functions, she directs numerous excavation sites, coordinates museum organisation work and organises investigations for authorisations to construct and install infrastructures, implementing the requirements of rescue archaeology

Study of the biological profile of the Lyskamm marmot
Francesca Fapanni
Archaeologist – Università degli Studi di Milano

She graduated in Prehistoric Ecology at the University of Milan with a thesis on ornamental objects made of hard animal material from the Copper Age burial site of Breno (Brescia). She is a member of the Italian Association of Archaeozoology (AIAZ) and, since 2021, she has formed part of the research group of the archaeological mission of the University of Milan in the Neolithic site of Colombare di Negrar (Verona). Her research interests focus on the study of faunal finds, with special attention to the Alpine area.

Study of the biological profile of the Lyskamm marmot
Alice Paladin
Bioarchaeological researcher – Eurac Research

She heads the Anthropology Laboratory of the Eurac Research Institute for the Study of Mummies at Bolzano. Ancient biological remains, especially human remains, from different geographical areas, are the focus of her research. She conducts bioarchaeological, paleoradiology and biochemical analyses to reconstruct the lifestyle, health, eating habits and funerary practices of past populations.

Study of the biological profile of the Lyskamm marmot
Umberto Tecchiati
Associate professor – University of Milan

Specialist in Alpine archaeology and Archaeozoology. He studies the socioeconomic and spiritual components of the prehistoric and protohistoric communities of northern Italy, with particular attention to the relationships existing between the Italy of the Po Valley and the Alps and the regions north of the watershed. He is President of the Teaching Committee of the three-year degree course in Cultural Heritage Sciences of the University of Milan, and President of the Italian Association of Archaeozoology (AIAZ). Since 2018, he has been an Associate Professor of Protohistory and Prehistoric Ecology at the University of Milan.

Study of the evolution in the human to environment relationship in the Valle d’Aosta
Gianfranco Zidda
Archaeologist – Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta

Archaeologist and historian of prehistoric art, he graduated in Classical Studies and Specialisation in Archaeology atthe University of Florence. Excavation and research activities with the Universities of Florence, Siena, Sassari, and with the Regional Departments of Tuscany, Campania, Calabria, Puglia and Sardinia. Since 1987 he has worked at the archaeology sites in Saint Martin-de-Corléans with the archaeologist Franco Mezzena. Former Regional Officer, with roles for historical and artistic heritage and regional sector regulations, from 2018 to 2024 he has been the scientific director of the Megalithic Area of Aosta.

Biology
Study of prehistoric ecosystems through soil DNA analysis
Maurizio Azzaro
Researcher – CNR – Institute of Polar Sciences

Lead Researcher at the National Research Council – Institute of Polar Sciences in Messina. Expert in microbial ecology and the functioning of polar terrestrial and marine ecosystems, he has participated in numerous multidisciplinary research projects and his research has also included the development of new technologies for thestudy of extreme environments and the conservation and protection of ecosystems subject to climate change. He is vice president of the Italian Polar Research Committee (CRP) and member of the Board of Directors of the Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (SIOS).

Recovery and conservation of the mummy, biological, genetic and museum project studies of the artifact. Coordination of the Marmot Mummy Project.
Velca Botti
Researcher – Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta

She has been a researcher at the Museum of Natural Sciences since 2013 and has a degree in medical, pharmaceutical and veterinary biotechnology from the University of Pavia. As part of the VDNA BarcodingResearch Unit she set up the first biotech lab in Valle d’Aosta equipped with a DNA sequencer. She performs genetic analyses in the fields of nature and biodiversity, agrifood and conservation of cultural heritage, planning, scientific dissemination and is the author of publications.

Study of prehistoric ecosystems through soil DNA analysis
Angelina Lo Giudice
Researcher – CNR – Institute of Polar Sciences

She works on microbial ecology at the Institute of Polar Sciences in the National Research Council (CNR-ISP), Secondary Branch of Messina. With a degree in Biological Sciences and a PhD in Environmental Sciences, for about thirty years she has been studying the microbial biodiversity of cold and extreme environments, including the Arctic and Antarctica, by applying classic and molecular biology methods as part of multidisciplinary projects. Since2019, at CNR-ISP, she has headed the Microbial Ecology and Biotechnology Laboratory.

Paleogenetic analysis of the mummified marmot
Frank Maixner
Microbiologist – Eurac Research

Renowned German microbiologist, since 2009 he has been working at the Institute for the Study of Mummies where he is in charge of the laboratory for ancient DNA research. His field of study combines archaeology, anthropology and molecular biology, focusing on genomic analysis to investigate the connections between ancient human remains and pathogens of the past, with the aim of anticipating the onset and development of diseases. Hismetagenomic study of ancient human microbiomes is invaluable for understanding changes in microbial communities over millennia. He dedicates himself to histological investigations aimed at perfecting and innovating molecular methods in ancient DNA research.

Conservation, display organisation and communication of artifacts
Francine Valérie Navillod
Biologist – Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta

She is in charge of the conservation of the naturalistic collections of the Efisio Noussan Regional Museum of Natural Sciences. A biologist by training, she participated in the creation of the new museum layout. She is responsible for managing the museum’s collections and presenting them to the public, helping to spread scientific and naturalistic knowledge.

Study of prehistoric ecosystems through soil DNA analysis
Maria Papale
Researcher – CNR – Institute of Polar Sciences

Researcher at the Institute of Polar Sciences of the CNR in Messina, she has taken part in numerous research projects in the polar environment. From 2019 to 2023 she was coordinator of the national MicroPolArSe project, and in 2022 she coordinated the international SNOW-BALL project. She mainly deals with the treatment of microbiological samples for the extraction of nucleic acids (DNA / RNA) and their subsequent preparation for sequencing. Over the years she has been able to perfect her bioinformatics skills, a field in which she actively works today.

Conservation of mummies
Design of a modified atmosphere display case
Marco Samadelli
Researcher – EURAC Research

He is a senior researcher and head of the Conservation laboratory of the Institute for the Study of Mummies of EURAC Research in Bolzano. Author of scientific publications and patents, he has created numerous display cases and other conservation systems for the protection and safeguarding of biological remains. He considers achieving a balance between conservation and museum display to be his chief goal.

Pedology
Chemical, physical and mineralogical analysis of the soil near the marmot’s body.
Michele Freppaz
University Professor – University of Turin

Expert in snow and soils at high altitudes, he has participated in research projects not only in the Alps but also in the Rocky Mountains, Andes and Himalayas, where he specifically studied how the retreat of glaciers and the reduction of snow cover have impacted on the properties of soil and water. He is the Scientific Director of the IPROMO Summer School (International Research and Training Program on the Sustainable Management of Mountain Areas) in collaboration with the FAO-Mountain Partnership and President of the Degree Course in Mountain Sciences and Technologies at the University of Turin.

Chemical, physical and mineralogical analysis of the soil near the marmot’s body.
Emanuele Pintaldi
Researcher – University of Turin

Having graduated in Forestry and Environmental Sciences, he was a researcher with a scholarship in pedology, laterobtaining a PhD in Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences. Since 2023 he has been a researcher at DISAFA and is aprofessor of pedology in the degree courses in Forestry and Environmental Sciences. Specialised in the study of Alpine soils and their use as historical-natural archives for paleoclimatic reconstructions, he contributed to the creation of the Soil Map of the Aosta Valley and is the author of several scientific publications.

Glaciology
Evolution of high-altitude glacial areas
Luca Mondardini
Glaciologist – Montagna Sicura Foundation

With a degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Canterbury (NZ), he works as a glaciologist at the Montagna Sicura Foundation within the research group specialised in the study of the impacts of climate change on the cryosphere and high-altitude territories with particular attention to the analysis and the management of glacial and periglacial risks.

Evolution of high-altitude glacial areas
Fabrizio Troilo
Geologist – Montagna Sicura Foundation

Coordinator of the research activities of the Montagna Sicura Foundation of Courmayeur, he received a degree in geology from the University of Turin and specialised in glaciology with a PhD on the study of glacial risks and their monitoring.

How is the marmot preserved?

The display case

The structure is entirely self-sufficient and isolated, consisting of a steel tank with a plate glass covering.

The seal between glass and steel is created by an innovative and special hydrocarbon-based wax.

The technology employed keeps the conservation parameters inside the display case stable and adjustable. Its hexagonal prism shape is inspired by nature; it is reminiscent of a geometric element seen, in some rock formations, ice crystals, in the eyes of insects and in beehives.

Polished steel, AISI 316


Extra-clear glass with UV filtering

Internal environment: purest argon


45% relative humidity stabilisers


Tested against volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Cover in grey albitic gneiss

Pressure compensator

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