PHOTOS Viking treasures uncovered in lost mountain pass

Horse snowshoeA scale shown next to the snowshoe for a horse, found during the 2019 fieldwork at Lendbreen. Photo: Espen Finstad /

Responsible for the discoveries is Secrets of the Ice, a groundbreaking glacier archeology collaboration between the Innlandet County Council and the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo. Since 2011, a team of scientists headed by Dr. Lars Holger Pilø and Espen Finstad has been – literally – uncovering the secrets of the ice, some of which have been buried for thousands of years.

Melting glaciers are giving way to monumental discoveries from the Viking period and earlier. Since 2006, the team at Secrets of the Ice has uncovered over 3000 artifacts (the oldest of which are 6000 years old) from 51 glaciers and ice patches.

An ancient Viking “highway”

Dr. Lars Holger Pilø led the discovery of an ancient Viking “highway” running through Lendbreen Glacier in Norway’s Breheimen National Park. Stack rock formations called cairns, which were found on the site, are thought to have been used as road signs to guide travelers through the land. This, coupled with a rock shelter and invaluable artifacts, points to the area once being a major trade and/or travel route.

Lars Pilø standing by a lichen-covered cairn in front of the Lendbreen ice patch. From this cairn, the route crossed the ice up to the pass. The light-colored bedrock in the background shows areas that were covered by ice and snow before the melt connected to ongoing climate change started. Photo: James H. Barrett, University of Cambridge.
Bottom: The ruins of a stone-built shelter in the pass area. The maximum extension of the snow and ice in the pass is indicated by the light-colored rocks to the right in the picture. Photo: Espen Finstad,

Traffic through the highway is thought to have diminished just after the Viking Age, when major outbreaks of illness began to plague Europe.

Lendbreen within its regional and Norwegian setting. Map: Lars Holger Pilø,
Distribution of horse finds, cairns and the shelter at Lendbreen. Map: Lars Holger Pilø,

When glaciers double as museums

Organic objects such as textiles, leather, wood, and wool are rare finds in the field of archeology across the world. Because organic artifacts deteriorate when exposed to air and light, few regions in the world have the natural capabilities to preserve them.

The glaciers of Scandinavia are an example of a landscape with the conservation capabilities to protect these delicate items with ice. However, ice archeologists have a very difficult job. They must act quickly and carefully to retrieve objects as the ice melts, and the risk of deterioration increases.

A fascinating collection of artifacts

We’re bringing you photos of some of the fascinating discoveries unearthed by Secrets of the Ice.

Small container made of birch bark. Found in the pass area at Lendbreen. Radiocarbon-dated to c. AD 400. Photo:
Wooden bit for goat kids/lambs to prevent them suckling their mother, as the milk was processed for human consumption. Found in the pass area at Lendbreen. Made from juniper. Such bits were used locally until the 1930s, but this specimen is radiocarbon-dated to the 11th century AD. Photo: Espen FInstad,
Distaff made from birch, radiocarbon-dated to c. AD 800. From the pass area at Lendbreen. A similar distaff has been found in the Oseberg Viking ship burial. Photo: Espen Finstad,
Pieces of horse dung found in the pass area at Lendbreen. Radiocarbon dates of the dung shows that it belongs to the 9th to 14th Century AD. Photo:
A beautifully preserved horseshoe that melted out of the ice in the lower part of Lendbreen in 2018. The shape dates it to the 11th to the mid-13th Century AD. A small part of the hoof was still attached to the other side of the shoe. Photo: Espen Finstad,
A small iron knife with a birchwood handle found just below the pass area at Lendbreen. Radiocarbon-dated to the 11th Century AD. Photo: Espen Finstad,
An object believed to be a locking device. Found in the Lendbreen pass area. Made from birchwood. Radiocarbon-dated to c. AD 800. Photo: Espen Finstad,
Mitten, made from different pieces of woven fabric. Found in the pass area at Lendbreen. Radiocarbon-dated to the 9th century AD. Photo: Johan Wildhagen, Palookaville
Small wooden needle found in the Lendbreen pass area. Not dated. Photo: Espen Finstad,
Shoe, made from hide. Found in the Lendbreen pass area. The hair is on the outside to provide a better grip on the snow. Radiocarbon-dated to the 10th century AD. Photo:
Possible stylus made of birchwood. Found in the Lendbreen pass area. Radiocarbon-dated to c. AD 1100. Photo: Espen Finstad,
A piece of textile which shows remains of blue coloring. From the Lendbreen pass area. Not dated, but two other textile rags from the site are dated to the Viking Age and the Medieval period. More than 50 such textile rags were found at the site. Their original use is not known. Photo:
Tinderbox, found on the surface of the ice at Lendbreen during the 2019 fieldwork. Not radiocarbon-dated yet. Photo: Espen Finstad,
An object known locally as “tong” (plier), used in modern times for securing the load on haysleds in the winter. It was the first object found in the depression leading up to the pass. Radiocarbon-dated to the 5th Century AD. Scale is 50 cm. Photo:
The tunic as it was found, crumpled up and lying in a depression in the scree. Radiocarbon-dated to c. AD 300. Scale is 50 cm. Photo:
Whisk made from pine (held upside down). Found in the pass area at Lendbreen. Radiocarbon-dated to c. AD 1100. Such whisks are still made today, but they are usually not pointed, so this artifact may have been used secondarily for another purpose, perhaps as a tent peg. Photo:

Photos and photo information courtesy of Secrets of the Ice.

Source: Norway Today

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