Climate change is rapidly thawing the world’s ice reserves––the glaciers in the Jotunheimen Mountains of southern Norway are no exception. While this is certainly catastrophic to the region’s ecosystem, it also provides an opportunity for Norwegian archaeologists to delve into their history. Cold glacial ice preserves ancient artifacts in near perfect condition, allowing researchers to uncover secrets of bygone civilizations.
On February 28, the Glacier Archaeology Program Oppland posted a tweet from its Secrets of the Ice project displaying a 1,500-year-old iron arrowhead that was found near the edge of a glacier in Jotunheimen, at an altitude of 2,050 meters. The artifact dates back to the Germanic Iron Age when the Celtic and Germanic kingdoms were rising in Western Europe. It was discovered alongside its arrow shaft and one of the feathers from the fletching.
“You call that an arrowhead? THIS is an arrowhead!” 🙂— Secrets Of The Ice (@brearkeologi) February 28, 2020
1500-year-old iron arrowhead recovered on one of our sites. Found close to the melting ice at 2050 m, together with the wooden shaft. It is 18 cm long and 2 cm wide, weighing in at 32 g #glacialarchaeology pic.twitter.com/310zjuPdpd
“Three national parks converge in this region of central Norway, but Jotunheimen is arguably the most spectacular, with 250 peaks over 1,900 meters high, including the two tallest in northern Europe—Galdhøpiggen and Glittertind. Among the stone titans are alpine lakes and shimmering turquoise glaciers, chequering an ancient landscape of unspeakable beauty,” anthropologist Shoshi Parks wrote on Adventure.com.
Parks continued: “Archaeological work is often undertaken in extreme conditions—desert heat and tropical humidity are par for the course—but glacier archaeology is a different kind of challenge. It’s so cold and snowy on the mountains of Jotunheimen that the Glacier Archaeology Program only has about a month each year, from mid-August to mid-September, to study the receding ice.”
The following is a video that was taken just after the arrowhead was discovered. It shows the proximity of the melting ice as well as the arrow shaft to which it was attached.
Yesterday we posted a photo of a very large arrowhead from c. AD 500 found on one of our ice sites. Here is a video taken moments after it was discovered, showing both the projectile point and the arrowshaft close to the melting ice. We ❤️ glacial archaeology🙂 pic.twitter.com/3hEF4S0EaI— Secrets Of The Ice (@brearkeologi) February 29, 2020
Many fascinating artifacts have been discovered from the Viking Age as well, including items such as mittens, skis and spears. In August 2019, Secrets of the Ice discovered a horse snowshoe at 2,000 meters in Oppland County, Norway, dating back to the Viking Age or the Medieval Period. Preserved perfectly intact, the outer ring was made from juniper and the rope was made from twisted birch roots.
This was how the horse snowshoe was found lying on the old ice, with a thin layer of new snow on top pic.twitter.com/X8xi9Ki2YF— Secrets Of The Ice (@brearkeologi) August 15, 2019
Though it was just founded in 2011, The Glacier Archeology Program in Oppland, Norway has already discovered over 2,000 artifacts, the oldest being around 6,000 years old, which dates back to the Stone Age. Artifacts include man-made items like hunting tools, textiles, leather and clothing, as well as zoological materials like antlers, bones, and dung. Altogether, these artifacts form a picture of the mountains, “not as an extreme and isolated environment, but as a place of continuous human activity going back thousands of years,” Parks wrote.
Archeologists have a wonderfully alluring road ahead as they rescue the stories of the past from the climate transformations of the future.