From Secrets of the Ice: The recovery of a small blunt arrow, radiocarbon-dated to Late Antique Little Ice Age, is a testimony to the importance of hunting during this period. Due to its small size, it is very likely to be a toy arrow. From a young age, children had to practice and master the art of bow-and-arrow. It was essential for survival, especially during harsh climatic conditions. The toy arrow was found in the glaciated mountain pass at Lendbreen in Breheimen National Park, southern Norway. The unlucky child probably lost it in the snow and thought it was gone forever. Not so, the ice preserved it for 1,400 years.
Read about this find and more glacier archaeology here.
Counting on NASA’s ICESat-2
From NASA: NASA’s most advanced laser instrument of its kind launched into space earlier this fall. According to the agency, the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, provides critical observations of how ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice are changing, leading to insights into how those changes impact people where they live.
Glaciers on Svalbard Survived the Holocene Thermal Optimum
From Quaternary Science Reviews: “About 60% of Svalbard is covered by glaciers today, but many of these glaciers were much reduced in size or gone in the Early Holocene… Relative sea level has been rising during the last few millennia in the north and western parts of Spitsbergen, while land still emerges in the remaining part of Svalbard. Here we show that this sea level rise in the northwest is caused by the regrowth of glaciers in the Mid- to Late Holocene that slowed down, and even reversed, the post-glacial isostatic uplift and caused the crust to subside over large areas of Spitsbergen.”
Craig M. Lee, from the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), is a renowned researcher in the field of glacier archaeology. Recently, Lee and his team from INSTAAR created a video on ice patch archaeology in the Greater Yellowstone region. The video introduces Lee’s glacier archaeological findings and work in the region since 2005 as he has sought to reveal Native American cultures with impending climate change.
“We really want the people of Montana to know that there is a very deep heritage to their state,” Lee says passionately in the video before the camera pans across a beautiful landscape of ice patches. “High in the alpine, above the modern treeline, ice patches – frozen for millenia – are melting,” he adds.
Lee has experience working in federal, state and municipal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He has also directed field projects in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, publishing his research in several major journals, including Antiquity, American Antiquity, Arctic, and The Holocene.
In an interview with GlacierHub, Lee explains more about his work at INSTAAR and his recent video.
GlacierHub: Please give a brief introduction of yourself and your academic interest.
Craig M. Lee: I’m an anthropologist and archaeologist interested in the human use of alpine environments. Beginning in 2000, through impetus of doctors E. James Dixon of the University of New Mexico (formerly of INSTAAR) and William F. Manley (INSTAAR), I was introduced to the then nascent field of “ice patch archaeology” through several years of formative and amazing fieldwork with members of the Ahtna Tribe in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the Interior of Alaska. The field has grown in geographic range and complexity, and we now recognize it to be global in nature (And yet all of Asia remains terra incognita). Researchers in Europe frequently refer to the field as “glacial archaeology,” in part because of archaeological finds in glaciated passes.
GH: What drove you to create the video?
CML: The field is a tiny silver-lining to climate change in that the host of paleobiological material and archaeological material being exposed by melting ice patches is providing an unprecedented window into the past. Archaeological resources emerging from retreating ice patches can capture public interest and integrate education about archaeology and Native American cultures with ancient and modern climate change. The United States Forest Service, a consistent, primary partner in the research for more than a decade recognized it was important to share the results of the project with a broad public audience and helped fund the video. The target audience includes all of the citizens of Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Area (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming), but it will resonate with people living elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains and other areas with alpine snow and ice in North America and around the world.
GH: After watching the video, what is the main takeaway message you would like the audience to get?
CML: Ice patches and the alpine have been central elements of the socio-cultural landscape of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA)–and of many mountainous areas— since time immemorial. The places, now construed as wilderness— ostensibly devoid of Man— were a “peopled-landscape” and contain clear evidence of sustained human interaction and involvement year-over-year, century-over-century, and millennia-over-millennia. It is patently wrong to think of these places as “intact” ecosystems without humans as an apex participant.
GH: Any other information you would like to share with our readers?
CML: In the conterminous United States alone, archaeological material exposed by melting snow and ice has been identified from the Sierra Nevada of California to Olympic National Park in Washington, and from the Colorado Front Range to the Greater Yellowstone. We have no cogent way to respond outside of the sheer force of will brought to bear by a few incredibly hard-working scientists in staff positions in our federal agencies, for example, forest and park ecologists and archaeologists. The ice patch record is finite, and the overt decisions we make to engage (or not) with this opportunity to “know” the past affects all future generations. To quote friend and colleague Francis Auld (Kootenai), “The protection of these resources is essential for sustaining the living cultures.”
GH: The video has received high reception from residents of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem/Greater Yellowstone Area (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming) thus far. If you are living in the Rocky Mountains or other areas with alpine snow and ice in North America and around the world, or are simply intrigued by the work of glacier archaeologists, this video is highly relevant and recommended.
On August 4, 2011, a hot summer sun exposed the upper edges of Lendbreen Glacier at the Lomseggen mountain in Breheimen National Park in Norway. An archaeological team was on the scene to excavate the area for potential findings from prehistoric times. After a treasure trove of a day with artifacts littering the ground, including ancient shoes, hunting gear, tent pegs, and even horse dung, the most significant surprise was when archaeologists came across what appeared to be a crumpled up piece of cloth. When examined it at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, it turned out to be an incredibly well-preserved 1,700-year-old tunic, the oldest piece of clothing found in Norway and one of only a few surviving garments from the 1st millennium A.D. in all of Europe.
“It’s very rarely that we find well-preserved clothing from prehistoric times,” explains Marianne Vedeler, professor at the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo to Yngve Vogt of the Apollan Research Magazine. “Only a handful of clothing like this has been found in Europe.”
Since the find, archaeologists and conservators have worked to study this tunic to learn more about its mysterious past. Who wore the tunic? Why was it left in the glacier? How was it made? What raw materials were used, and how time-consuming was the process? Vedeler and Swedish handweaver Lena Hammarlund recently published an article about the reconstruction process to find the answers.
With climate change rapidly melting glaciers across the world, archaeologists have been able to uncover the story behind the ice. The day of discovery on August 4 revealed much more than the tunic and multitudes of other artifacts. Researchers also discovered the area was once a glaciated mountain pass.
As visualized in this eight-minute video on the history and reconstruction of the Lendbreen tunic, the Lomseggen mountain, home to the Lendbreen glacier, now separates the modern villages of Lom and Skjak. Archaeologists determined that this was once a passage used during the Iron Age as a transport route for people traveling between valleys, such as Bøverdalen and Ottadalen.
“The upland areas in which snow patches are found are little frequented by humans today, but hunting and trapping have been carried out there since prehistoric times. Reindeer often congregate on snow patches in late summer to regulate their body temperature and to avoid parasitic insects, making them attractive hunting grounds,” explained a study by Vedeler and Nordic archaeologist Lise Bender Jørgensen back in 2013.
Why was the tunic left behind? Many hypotheses are up in the air. Mai Bakken of the Norwegian Mountain Center in Lom described how treacherous the mountain passes were in the ancient past. “It was quicker to go over the mountain pass than to go round. The glaciers in those days were much bigger, and easy to walk on. The tunic may have been lost on just such a trip,” Bakke told Medieval Histories back in 2014. But given the extended use of the tunic, Vedeler and other archaeologists don’t see how it would have been carelessly cast aside. Another possible account is that the tunic was left at a place where people had camped to hunt reindeer. Perhaps the hunting party had gotten caught up in a storm and died.
In the realm of archaeology, textiles are difficult to preserve over time. “Artifacts from different periods are found deposited in the ice patches, many of them made of organic material rarely preserved elsewhere,” indicates the study. “Ice patches often provide exceptionally good conservation conditions for textiles.”
The Lendbreen tunic is estimated to have been made between 230 and 390 A.D. and gives archaeologists and historians a glimpse of what life would have been like 1,700 years ago. Woven from sheep’s wool, it is of a basic cut and was evidently frequently used with repaired patches on the back, indicating its extensive use 1,700 years ago. It is also relatively short, with historians concluding it was meant for a man or boy of slender build. Overall, specialists claim the yarns and patterns in the tunic were of a standard Iron Age practice and not requiring expert knowledge to produce.
However, it is evident the tunic was time-consuming to make. “In prehistory, the time spent on fiber preparation, spinning, and weaving must have varied greatly depending on differences in the raw materials and the tools used, and the knowledge and skills of the people producing the textiles,” stated the study, “It must still have been a very time-consuming task to produce a textile. This applies to everyday fabrics as well as to the most valuable ones.”
Regarding the reconstruction process, Vedeler and Hammarlund had two goals with the Lendbreen tunic project. The first one was to create two new tunics as similar as possible to the original, using old-fashioned techniques in hopes to recreate the process. But there was also a broader aim to the reconstruction, according to the study: “to gain greater knowledge of time and labor used in each step of the chain of production by analyzing the original fabric. It is known that prehistoric textile production was a very time-consuming process, but timing each step of the process gave a more detailed picture.”
With the reconstruction process complete, it took 760 hours for handweavers to reproduce the tunic from scratch using old-fashioned techniques. They used wool from traditional breeds of sheep in western Norway that could have been used to create the yarn in the tunic. Although Vedeler and Hammarlund quickly discovered it would be too expensive not to use machines, they indicated it was still an incredibly laborious process to accurately stitch the tunic.
Today, the museum curators at the Norwegian Mountain Center in Lom and the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo are busy preparing the new exhibits that will showcase the tunic and its reconstructions. The original Lendbreen tunic will be on display alongside one its reconstructions at the Norwegian Mountain Center, while the other will be part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.
Bakken of the Norwegian Mountain Center shared with GlacierHub the excitement surrounding the tunic and its reconstruction. “We look forward to having the original in our new exhibition. It was exciting to follow the reconstruction of the tunic and very nice for the museum to have an authentic copy,” she told GlacierHub. She additionally described that they are both an important part of the exhibition, “Spellbound,” opening in June.
With climate change melting glaciers like the Lendbreen at unprecedented rates, hundreds of artifacts emerge from the ice every summer, presenting clues to piecing together the lives of communities dependent on glaciers and the interconnected relationship between the humans and the rest of the environment.
Climate change is melting ice sheets and glaciers, causing panic among the climate scientist community. Yet, to historians and anthropologists, these melting events provide an opportunity to glimpse into the past. Glacier archaeology is mainly concentrated in Scandinavia, the Alps and North America. Those in this field sleuth for artifacts precipitating out from glacial ice. A prominent example is Lars Pilø, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council in Norway. His team recently published a paper in the Royal Society Open Science Journal on the chronology of reindeer hunting in Jotunheimen, Norway.
In their extensive fieldwork in the mountains from 2006 to 2015, they uncovered over 2,000 artifacts mainly associated with reindeer hunting, ranging from wood, textile, hide, arrows and other organic materials such as reindeer antlers, bones and horse dung that are rarely well-preserved. By radiocarbon dating 153 of these finds, trends in the intensity of reindeer hunting and civilization in high-alpine environments from circa 4,000 BCE to the present were revealed. The results suggest a peak in human activities during the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age and the Viking Age, as attributed to warmer periods in time, which is within expectations. After all, a harsher climate is likely to deter hunting as both animals and humans alike avoid higher elevation areas.
More striking is the indication of trade with Denmark and even England that began before the dates suggested in historical documentation records. The intensity of reindeer hunting points at regional trading of fur and antlers (used to make combs) that began during the Viking (800-1050 CE) and Middle (1050-1537 CE) Ages. This exceeds formal records of reindeer exports which first appeared in 1400 CE. Also, high hunting activities may not necessarily reflect a rising population and increasing economic activity. Periods of low agricultural yields also intensified high altitude hunting as in the Little Ice Age (AD 546-660).
“The unpredictable weather is perhaps the greatest challenge for the fieldwork,” Pilø told GlacierHub. “The weather in the high mountains changes quickly— one moment we are out surveying, next thing we sit in our tents and wait for a snow blizzard to pass. There is a lot of logistics and scouting for sites involved as well.”
There is also the unpredictability of the ice melt. “Some years we have extreme melting and are just racing around in the high mountains, trying to save as many artifacts as possible. Other years, there is little or no melting, and we cannot get survey work done,” Pilø explained. “This is why we are happy to have a permanent program and not just a short-term project. Many of our colleagues in North America and the Alps struggle with short-term funding for their ice surveys. If you are lucky you get money for a year or two, but if you have lots of snow during this time, you cannot get work done, and funding dries up.”
In the same vein, Ralph Lugon, a glacier archaeologist working in the Alps, also described the difficulty of accessing glaciate sites. “Potential prospection areas are vast and there are many types of frozen environment to assess. And the time window for archaeological prospection in the field is constrained to a maximum of two or three weeks at the end of the melting season (summer), in optimal meteorological conditions,” he told GlacierHub in an interview.
Glacier archaeologists must scramble to collect and conserve these findings as most objects consist of perishable materials that degrade and decompose rapidly once exposed to the open air. In fact, this sub-discipline in archaeology is relatively new and only emerged in the last 20 years due to increased ice melting, making glacier archaeology possible.
When asked whether climate change will actually help or hinder glacier archaeology, Pilø and Lugon both readily agreed that with glaciers, ice patches, and snow levels at their lowest point in recent history, they finally have access to unexplored landscapes, throwing new light on how humans interacted with high-altitude and -latitude environments in the past.
However, to Pilø, this phenomenon itself is a conundrum. “The artifacts have been preserved by the ice for such a long time, and the melting is exposing them to the elements, which will destroy them in the end. So we need to get up to the ice and collect the artifacts to avoid the loss of important historical remains,” he said. In the realm of glacier sleuthing, it is a race against time to capture what is frozen in time.
This Week’s Roundup: Glacier Archaeology, Medicine and Simulation
Researchers explore an abandoned ice-skating rink at a glacier in New Zealand
From the New Zealand Department of Conservation: “In its heyday (the 1930s), the Mt. Harper ice rink was reputed to be the largest ice rink in the Southern Hemisphere, attracting hundreds of ice skaters and hockey players to its remote location each winter. However, World War II, petrol rationing, warmer winters and new indoor rinks all contributed to its demise. Today, considerable evidence of the complex remains intact, from buildings, to the rinks themselves, and the trees that were planted to shade and protect the rink—all in a remote and spectacular location.”
A specialist in sports medicine finds glaciers less risky than other sites for ice-related spots
From Extreme Sports Medicine: “Rock and ice climbing diversified from mountaineering with various forms of activities, such as sport climbing or deep water soloing. … The overall injury rate is low, with most injuries being of minor severity. Nevertheless the risk of a fatal injury is always present. Both injury rate and fatality rate vary from the different subdisciplines performed and are the lowest for indoor climbing, bouldering or sport climbing. They are naturally higher for alpine climbing or free solo climbing. External factors as objective danger through, e.g. wind chill or rockfall add to the risk. Most injuries and overstrain are on the upper extremity, mostly at the hands and fingers. …Most of the acute injuries (73.4 %) happened in a waterfall, few in glacier ice walls (11.4 %) and on artificial ice walls (2.5 %).”
Learn more about risks associated with glacier sports and other ice sports here:
An Austrian glacier served as a field site to test a mission of human researchers on Mars
From Acta Astronautica: “… the AMADEE-15 mission, a 12-day Mars analog field test [was conducted] at the Kaunertal Glacier in Austria. Eleven experiments were conducted by a field crew at the test site under simulated Martian surface exploration conditions and coordinated by a Mission Support Center in Innsbruck, Austria. The experiments’ research fields encompassed geology, human factors, astrobiology, robotics, tele-science, exploration, and operations research. A Remote Science Support team analyzed field data in near real time, providing planning input for a flight control team to manage a complex system of field assets in a realistic work flow, including: two advanced space suit simulators; and four robotic and aerial vehicles. … A 10-minute satellite communication delay and other limitations pertinent to human planetary surface activities were introduced.”