OSLO – Ice patches that melted from the slopes of a remote mountain pass in Norway have revealed artifacts that provide new insight into the livelihood of hunters, traders and travelers along a route thousands of years old, archaeologists said.
The relics of this distant past include tunics and mittens woven with wool, leather shoes, arrows still adorned with feathers, and snowshoes made for horses. Giant stone cairns mark pathways once used by traders to find their way through fog and heavy snow. Antlers, bone and animal dung have also been found, the archaeologists said.
The discoveries, outlined in the scientific journal Antiquity, were made on the central mountain range in Norway’s Innlandet County by the Glacier Archaeology Program, one of many programs studying what glaciers and ice patches are laying bare as they shift and melt because of climate change.
Archaeologists said the discoveries have contributed to evidence that a mountain pass at Lendbreen, on the Lomseggen ridge in north-central Norway, was part of a larger network connecting it to the wider Viking world, making it the “first such ice site discovered in Northern Europe.” Previously, they said, the archaeology of glaciated mountain passes had been derived from research in the Alps.
“The findings are rich,” archaeologist Lars Holger Pilo said. “It is obvious that the mountains have been more actively in use than previously believed.”
The program started work on the ice patch at Lendbreen in 2006, but attention increased after a wool tunic, dated to the Bronze Age, was found in 2011. That led to surveys and discoveries of artifacts such as pieces of sleds, remains of horses and kitchen utensils, suggesting the route was used for trade, hunting and farming.
The findings show the pass was used from about A.D. 300 to 1500, with a peak of activity during the Viking Age in 1000 that reflected its importance during a period of long-range trade and commerce in Scandinavia.
The items tell a story of how the route was used and of priorities, such as how farming migrated from the bottom of the valley to higher elevations in summer to take advantage of long daylight hours. It was well-traveled, and it connected to other parts of the country and ultimately to ports.
“You can literally walk in the footsteps of the past,” Dr. James Barrett, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. “It really is showing that in what would seem to be the most remote possible place, the highest elevation is caught up in broader world trends.”
The discoveries have illuminated scientists’ understanding of transhumance, which describes how, where and why people moved from one place to another for trade, food, marriage or customs.
The ruins of an undated stone-built shelter were situated near the top of the ice patch, making Lendbreen the only one of five mountain passes on the Lomseggen ridge to have such a shelter and a large number of cairns. “It was clearly a route of special significance,” the researchers said.