Home Glaciers Melting ice, high-altitude excavation reveals Viking secrets in Norway

Melting ice, high-altitude excavation reveals Viking secrets in Norway


Melting ice, high-altitude excavation reveals Viking secrets in Norway

A proposed digital reconstruction of one of the ancient Viking houses, featuring Elling Utvik Wammer, a member of the Secrets of the Ice team. Source: The secrets of ice cream. Illustration: Espen Finstad / Hege Vatnaland

The summer of 2011 was exceptionally hot for southern Norway. Where the high mountain passes had been blocked by snow and ice in previous years, the surveyors and members of the famous team The secrets of ice cream project found only embankments and meltwater mixed. Fight your way through the rocks that covered the ice free space Lendbreen Pass, the crew soon realized that they had entered a vast archaeological treasure, the one who had remained frozen for a thousand years. They began to collect countless tools, artifacts and weapons, items that once belonged to the Vikings.

After receiving international Attention to their discovery, the crew decided to return to Lendbreen this summer in search of more in-depth answers. Questions remained, such as the purposes that had occupied these Alpine travelers and where they had traveled. In search of understanding, the team members ventured through and beyond the Lendbreen Pass, which over the years has revealed clothing, household items, sleds and animal remains, between other artifacts. The ancient cairns, which marked a trail descending the mountainside from the pass, were in popular legend – 18th century traditions told of much older settlements on this hill, from pre-existing houses to historical records available even 300 years ago. years. With persistent research came the breakthrough. Cutting through dense bushes, the team discovered several stone foundations which once supported wooden dwellings centuries ago. Radiocarbon dating has placed these houses between the years 750-1150 CE.

Lars Pilø is a glacial archaeologist who leads the Secrets of the Ice project, a Cooperation between Innlandet County Council and the University of Oslo. Speaking to GlacierHub, Lars noted that there was still little knowledge about how the Vikings used these high mountain passes and whether their primary purpose was cattle ranching, travel, or trade. “The artifacts that melt glacial ice are a new and very important source of data to shed light on these issues. They show that the high mountains of southern Norway were not remote areas, devoid of external contact. The truth is quite the opposite: Evidence gathered by the Secrets of the Ice team shows that the ancient peoples who used these Alpine passes had contact with the wider Viking world.

The team carried out small digs in some of these stone foundations under Lendbreen and found charcoal in the center of each indentation, evidence of hearths containing carbon-rich material that allowed the houses to be accurately dated. The evidence recovered of melting ice at higher elevations was even more varied: the long list of the nearby Digervarden ice patch in Reinheimen National Park included arrowheads from the Iron and Bronze Ages, indicating the he continued importance of hunting in this period of breeding and rearing. cattle, as well as a 8th century wooden ski CE with its binding intact (one of two prehistoric objects never found).

Archaeologist holding an ancient viking ski

Runar Hole archaeologist holding the 8th century Digervarden ski. Source: Aud Hole, the secrets of ice cream

Acquiring this evidence also has grim implications, as such discoveries are made possible by climate change and the rapid melting of the ice sheets that are now abandoning these ancient artefacts. According to the Center for International Climate Research (CICERO), 326 square kilometers of Norwegian glaciers have disappeared since the mid-1980s, the total area covered by glaciers having decreased by 11% over the past 30 years.

Mark Aldenderfer, a recognized expert in high altitude archeology and emeritus professor emeritus at UC Merced, spoke to GlacierHub about the implications of climate change for these unique sites. “I think for the foreseeable future the ice will melt at an increasingly rapid rate, and archeology should take advantage of that,” he noted. His argument for investigation instead of avoidance is based on the sad truth that there are limited conservation efforts that would be effective in preventing these small plots from melting. He added that “we can only hope that governments and others will strive to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions for the benefit of the entire planet.”

Pilø echoes this position, saying that “our job is to try to save the archaeological finds that emerge from the melting ice”. In fact, the recovery time for these artifacts is very limited. Their organic composition makes them vulnerable to disintegration and decomposition, which means that if the objects are not found soon after they are released from the ice, they will likely be lost forever.

A melting glacier in Norway

A rapidly melting Norwegian glacier near Broksdal. Source: Bosc d’Anjou

The work is not without emotion, and he emphasizes that it makes a “deep impression” to witness such rapid melting of mountain ice and glaciers. “Collecting pieces of human history as they appear in reverse temporal order from the recessed ice is a job that cannot be done without a deep sense of apprehension. He added that they keep the program’s carbon footprint low, which often means avoiding the use of helicopters and hauling heavy equipment to higher altitudes on foot (although sometimes using horsepower. building).

With a total of 63 sites in 2021, and a hundred additional applicants, the Secrets of the Ice program is not slowing down. All of these places are former reindeer and caribou hunting grounds and two of them are high mountain passes, one of which is Lendbreen. The fact that prehistoric communities lived and hunted in these areas, combined with the persistent ice that preserved their lost artifacts, gives the sites significant archaeological potential.

According to the Norwegian Center for Climate Services (NCCS) Climate in Norway 2100 report, large glaciers are expected to lose a third of their total area and volume by the end of this century. Small glaciers are expected to disappear entirely, except at the highest elevations. Pilø is grimly unfazed. “There is still a ton of work to do. “