Glacial archaeologists in Oppland, Norway are racing against the clock to recover ancient artifacts that are emerging from the ice due to climate change.
Lars Pilø, the co-director of the Glacial Archeology Program at Oppland County Council, said the artifacts have been melting out of the ice since about 2006. Over the past 10 years or so, he and other glacial archaeologists have recovered more than 2,000 artifacts from 51 ice patches and glaciers.
Some of those artifacts date as far back as 6,000 years.“We anticipate that when the ice continues to melt up in the high mountains, that we will eventually find artifacts that are maybe up to 7,000 years old,” Pilø said.
Pilø added that many of the artifacts, which range from a Viking mitten to dead pack horses, have been preserved by the ice.
“It’s [the ice] been like a giant prehistoric deep freezer,” he said. “They get sort of frozen in time, they don’t get old.”
Most of the artifacts they find are on the ground, which Pilø said is often misunderstood by people who read about their work. He explained that just because the artifacts were found on the ground, that doesn’t mean there was no ice when the item was lost.
“Many of the artifacts, if not all of the artifacts, had been moved since they were originally lost,” Pilø said.
Artifacts are often moved by wind, water and melting ice, he added.
The glacial archaeologists recently published their findings in the journal Royal Society of Open Science.
In the paper, Pilø and his team explained that the artifacts have given them insight about ancient hunting technology, as well as how hunter-gatherer communities adapted to a changing climate.
For instance, many of the artifacts they’ve recovered date back to the Late Antique Little Ice Age (AD 536 – c. AD 660), which was a period believed to be marked by cold temperatures that caused crops to fail.
Because farmers in the area relied on agriculture and hunting at the time, Pilø suggested on the website Secrets of the Ice, that adapting to the climate and focusing on hunting when crops failed would only make sense.
Pilø also noted that finds from the eighth to tenth centuries AD show how hunting techniques evolved. Instead of using traditional bow-and-arrow hunting techniques, communities relied on a trapping approach.
After the plague in the eleventh century, their findings show a decrease in human activity in the high mountains.
Pilø added that they are still waiting for several artifacts, including reindeer bones and a few birds, to be radiocarbon dated.
Once August arrives, Pilø said he and his team will head back to the field to see what else has been uncovered by melting ice.
Read more stories from Alix Hines on Circa.