During the war, the cave shelter housed 20 Austrian soldiers stationed at Mount Scorluzzo on the Alpine front, close to the famous Stelvio Pass, historian Stefano Morosini told CNN.
While people knew the shelter existed, researchers were only able to enter it in 2017 as the surrounding glacier had melted, added Mr Morosini, who is scientific coordinator of the heritage project at Stelvio National Park and teaches at the University of Bergamo.
Inside they found food, dishes and jackets made from animal skins, among many other items, he said.
The artefacts illustrate the “very poor daily life” of the soldiers, who had to deal with “extreme environmental conditions,” Mr Morosini said.
Winter temperatures in the region could drop to -40C.
“Soldiers had to fight against the extreme environment, fight against the snow or the avalanches, but also fight against the enemy,” he said.
“The artefacts are a representation, like a time machine, of … the extreme conditions of life during the First World War.”
More items are appearing annually in the area as the glacier continues to melt.
“It’s a sort of open air museum,” Mr Morosini said.
Five years ago the bodies of two soldiers were found, along with documents that allowed them to be identified and their remains given to their families.
The artefacts from the cave shelter are being preserved and will form part of the collection, due to open in late 2022, at a museum dedicated to World War I in the northern Italian town of Bormio, Mr Morosini said.
The shelter was occupied in the first days of the war by Austrian troops, who made it completely invisible from the Italian side or from aerial observation, according to a statement from the White War Museum, located in Adamello, Italy.
It sits at an altitude of 3094 metres, just below the peak of Mount Scorluzzo, and excavation work has been carried out each July and August since 2017, removing around 60 cubic metres of ice from the cave.
A total of 300 objects were recovered, including straw mattresses, coins, helmets, ammunition and newspapers.
“The findings in the cave on Mount Scorluzzo give us, after over a hundred years, a slice of life at over 3000 metres above sea level, where the time stopped on November 3, 1918, when the last Austrian soldier closed the door and rushed downhill,” the museum said in a press release.