Melting Ice Reveals Ancient Artifacts: “Tiny Silver Lining to Global Warming”

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Climate change and global warming open a new chapter called “glacial archeology.” One Norwegian team uncovered thousands of objects, including a 3,000-year-old arrow. Many believe it is just the beginning, though scientists need to act fast due to the unpredictability of constantly rising temperatures and melting glaciers.

Treasure in the ice

Deep down, blurring in the ice, scientists find millions of years old artifacts, paving the way for a new domain, “glacial archeology.” This includes bodies, various items, and frozen viruses.

A glacial archaeologist and co-director of Norway’s Glacier Archaeology Program, also known as Secrets of the Ice project, Lars Holger Pilø, told CNN, “I call it dark archaeology because archaeologists have become the unlikely beneficiaries of climate change.” The archeologist added, “It’s a tiny silver lining to global warming.”

Pilø also said these findings were incredibly kept because they were frozen, so the scientists have “organic material” that could not be found elsewhere. Among these discoveries were clothes, hunting gear, horse equipment, and more. The group has been responsible for 90 percent of Norway’s glacial finds in the past 12 years.

Saving history

Speaking to Artnet News, Pilø noted that the group is dedicated to preserving history and must act quickly. The archaeologist also shared, “The impact of climate change on our work has been and is profound.”

He continued, “The mountain ice is retreating, and the finds are getting older, with the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, [we estimate] 60 to 80 percent of the ice in our mountains will disappear.” Pilø and his team work primarily in the Innlandet area, and they learned that “the mountains were not remote in the past.” He added, “They were used intensively and were connected to the outside world.”

The archeologist and his team began working intensely in 2006, and since granting government funding in 2011, they have never stopped. But they also noticed that things are changing at a rapid speed. In the past two decades, 70 percent of the ice on the site has vanished, Pilø told CNN.

Finding a 3,000-year-old arrow

One remarkable finding is a 3000-year-old arrow with a quartzite head, the fibers that fasten it to the shaft, and feather fletching. The arrow was discovered in the Jotunheimen mountains, and the ice preserved it so well that it looks almost brand new. Archaeologists are convinced it belonged to a reindeer hunter in the late Stone Age or early Bronze Age.

Archaeologist Reidar Marstein found a shoe in 2006. Pilø shared at the time, “We thought that the shoe could perhaps be as old as the Viking Age if we were lucky.” He added, “When the radiocarbon date came back, it turned out to be much older—3300 years old, from the Early Bronze Age. That find was a real shocker for us.”

On the side of Mount Lauvhøe, which stands at just over 6,500 feet in Norway’s Lom Municipality, the group found a broken arrow, and Pilø wrote on social media, “Sometimes when an arrow missed its target, it burrowed itself deep into the snow and was lost.” He added, “Sad for the hunter but a bull’s eye for archaeology!”

Regarding the arrow, the archeologist explained, “The arrowhead is likely to have been a pressure-flaked stone projectile, meaning that the arrow is probably around 4,000 years old.”

The ice is a time machine

The group of “glacial archaeologists” made 4,000 finds across 66 sites, and they are popular across social media, especially X and Instagram. In one post, they wrote, “The ice is a time machine: It brings precious objects from the past to our time in an unaltered state, like sleeping beauties.”

For Pilø, the most exciting finding was a 1300-year-old ski. The first was found in 2014, but then in 2021, the group found the second. The team made replicas and enjoyed snow activities, which the archeologists said were “a lot of fun.”

Still, one of the most significant findings to this date was the 1991 discovery of Ötzi (or Iceman), a prehistoric human. The natural mummy of a man who lived between 3350 and 3105 BC was found in a melting glacier in the Italian Alps. Two German tourists discovered the historical remains, displayed at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.