Sion, Switzerland-The group climbed the steep mountainside, clambering across an Alpine glacier, before finding what they were seeking: a crystal vein filled with the precious rocks needed to sculpt their tools.

That is what archaeologists have deduced after the discovery of traces of an ancient hunt for crystals by hunters and gatherers in the Mesolithic era, some 9,500 years ago. It is one of many valuable archaeological sites to emerge in recent decades from rapidly melting glacier ice, sparking a brand new field of research: glacier archaeology.

Amid surging temperatures, glaciologists predict that 95 percent of the some 4,000 glaciers dotted throughout the Alps could disappear by the end of this century. While archaeologists lament the devastating toll of climate change, many acknowledge it has created “an opportunity” to dramatically expand understanding of mountain life millennia ago. “We are making very fascinating finds that open up a window into a part of archaeology that we don’t normally get,” said Marcel Cornelissen, who headed an excavation trip last month to the remote crystal site near the Brunifirm glacier in the eastern Swiss canton of Uri, at an altitude of 2,800 metres (9,100 feet).