Climate change is melting ice in high mountains, enabling archaeologists to discover artifacts once preserved in glacial ice in Scandinavia, North America, and the Alps. A team led by Lars Pilø of the Oppland City Council recently published their discoveries on artifacts (many of which are related to reindeer hunting) in Royal Society Open Science. Pilø wrote in a Secrets of the Ice blog post, “This is a new and fantastic archaeological record of past human activity in some of the most remote and forbidding landscapes.”


Arrow, arrow shaft, ice, snow, reindeer hunting, hunting, artifact

Pilø said in the post, “The ice has acted like a time machine, preserving the finds through millennia like a giant prehistoric deep-freezer.” His team has conducted fieldwork in the mountains of Oppland County in Norway over more than ten years, and they’ve come up with some impressive finds. Pilø said they’ve recovered over 2,000 artifacts.

Related: Archaeologist may have uncovered the second Viking settlement in North America

Some of their discoveries date all the way back to 4,000 BC. They’ve uncovered arrows; remains of pack horses, sleds, and skis; and clothing from the Iron Age and Bronze Age.

Norway, Oppland, mountain, archaeology, ice, glacial ice

Ice melting is unveiling what the research paper abstract described as “a fragile record of alpine activity, especially hunting and the use of mountain passes.” In the article, the researchers share radiocarbon dates of 153 items, and they compared those dates against the timing of economic changes or environmental changes, like periods of warming or cooling.

Norway, arrow, artifact, hunting, reindeer hunting, archaeologist, mountains

They came up with a few surprises; for example, while you’d expect cold temperatures to keep people out of the highest elevations in Norway, like in the Late Antique Little Ice Age from around 536 – 660 CE, it seems hunters kept going into the mountains. Archaeologist James Barrett of the University of Cambridge told Ars Technica, “Remarkably, though, the finds from the ice may have continued through this period, perhaps suggesting that the importance of mountain hunting (mainly for reindeer), increased to supplement failing agricultural harvests in times of low temperatures.”

Nine researchers from multiple Norwegian universities, the University of Oxford, and the University of Cambridge contributed.

+ Glacial Archaeology, Ancient Reindeer Hunting, and Climate Change

+ Secrets of the Ice

Via Ars Technica

Images via Øystein Rønning-Andersen, Secrets of the Ice/Oppland Count Council; Johan Wildhagen, Palookaville; and secretsoftheice.com/Oppland County Council