Items lost in the Stone Age are found in melting glaciers

January 16, 2015 - 06:00

Mittens, shoes, weapons, walking sticks – lost in the high mountains of Norway thousands of years ago - are now emerging from melting ice.

A small knife with a wooden handle, probably from the Iron Age, was one of the treasures found by archaeologists at the glacier Lendbreen in Oppland County, Norway during the 2014 summer season. (Photo: Oppland County)

Around 7,000 years ago the Earth was enjoying a warm climate. Now glaciers and patches of perennial ice in the high mountains of Southern Norway have started to melt again, revealing ancient layers.

“Actually we should be slowly approaching a new ice age. But in the past 20 years we have witnessed artefacts turning up in summer from increasingly deeper layers of the glaciers,” says Lars Pilø.

He is an archaeologist working for Oppland County, and has for many years done fieldwork in glaciers and ice patches, finding things our ancestors discarded or lost.

The summer of 2014 was hectic in this respect. In Oppland County alone, Pilø and his colleagues found 400 objects, now emerged from the deepfreeze.

Among these were a horse skull and hiking staffs from the Viking Age. An arrow shaft found by the archaeologists is from the Stone Age.

An ancient route over the mountains once passed by the glacier where Lars Pilø and his colleagues conducted field work. People crossed the mountains with livestock, and went back and forth to their high summer farms – or simply travelled from one place to another. They have left a wide array of artefacts in their wake over the centuries, to the delight of 21st century archaeologists.

“We often find things associated with hunting. There are also ordinary objects such as mittens and shoes and the skeletons of horses that died on the trek across the mountains. This makes it a real thrill,” says Pilø.

Lendbreen in Oppland County is one of Norwegian glaciers that hides archaeological treasures. The picture is taken from a helicopter during the field season of 2014. (Photo: Oppland county)

See photos from this field work in 2014 on the web pages of Oppland County.

Expanding field of archeology

Such objects reveal copious information about the people who lived in Norway as far back as the Stone Age. The material is emerging quickly so archaeologists have to work fast to gather them and preserve them as well as nature has done for so long.

Such artefacts from ancient mountain people are also being found in the Rocky Mountains, the Andes and the Alps.

Science recently featured a lengthy article on the new archaeological field based on retreating glaciers and melting snow and ice patches. This is becoming a new field of specialisation among archaeologists. They have their own conferences and in November 2014 the Journal of Glacial Archaeology was launched.

Future editions of this newcomer will include many descriptions of archaeological discoveries from Norwegian glaciers and ice patches that have preserved objects nicely for up to several thousand years. In Oppland County alone, some 2,000 artefacts have melted out of the ice.


Read the article in Norwegian at

Translated by
Glenn Ostling