PHOTOS: Archeologists unravel 6000 years of reindeer hunting in Norway through arrows

Reindeer on ice patchPhoto: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Advertisements

68 arrows were found during a multi-year archeological study of Norway’s Langfonne ice patch. This record-breaking find comprises the largest amount of arrows ever found on any single frozen site.

Behind the groundbreaking discovery are archeologists from Secrets of the Ice (SOTI). To learn more about their fascinating endeavors, see our two-part article series which dives into the life and work of an ice archeologist here and here.

The treasure-trove Langfonne ice patch

The research team at SOTI has published their recent achievement in a paper titled Interpreting archaeological site-formation processes at a mountain ice patch: A case study from Langfonne, Norway in the scientific journal Holocene.

The site of the find and focus of the study is the 60-acre-spanning Langfonne ice patch, nestled within the Jotunheimen Mountains of central Norway’s Innlandet County.

Map of ice sites in Innlandet County
Map of ice sites in Innlandet County, Norway with Langfonne marked. Drawing: Lars Pilø/Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council

Dr. Lars Holger Pilø, a pioneer of the glacial archeology field, gives more details on the ice patch:

“Langfonne is a fantastic archaeological site, situated in a harsh and beautiful mountain landscape. Reindeer still roam the ice and snow here like they did back in the Stone Age.

Reindeer at Langfonne
The reindeer move on to the ice and snow during hot days in July and August to avoid pestering botflies. This provided an opportunity for ancient reindeer hunters. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council

“With the ice now retreating due to climate change, the evidence for ancient hunting at Langfonne is reappearing from what is, in essence, a frozen archive. The ice melt, sad as it is, provides an unprecedented archaeological opportunity for new knowledge.”

6000-year-old finds

And provided the ice patch certainly has: in addition to the 68 arrows, 290 finds of faunal material (mostly reindeer bones and antlers), were recovered.

102 of the total finds have been radiocarbon dated – including almost all of the arrows.

The oldest date as far back as BC 4000 and the youngest extend through the Viking Age.

“Periods with the highest number of arrows were times with very few reindeer finds. The period of maximum arrow finds, between c. AD 540-1160, yielded only two antlers, both of which had cut marks from harvesting by humans.

“This is surely not a coincidence. It would seem that peaks in arrow finds preserve evidence of increased hunting despite changing preservation conditions through time”, states James H. Barrett, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study.

But what causes variabilities in preservation and amounts? Is it human activity or natural processes?

“Glacial archaeology has the potential to transform our understanding of human activity”

Dr. Pilø explains that either factor can influence ice finds, saying, “Ice patches are not your regular archaeological sites. They are situated in the high mountains in a cold and hostile environment.

Langfonne ice patch
An overview of the Langfonne ice patch, taken from the ground on the top. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council

“What happens to the finds once they are lost in the snow? In what ways do ice movement, meltwater, wind, and exposure affect the finds? Is the impact of nature so massive that we cannot get historical information beyond what we can learn from the individual finds, say an arrow?

Langfonne ice patch
Overview of Langfonne from the top, taken from a helicopter

“This is a crucial, yet unsolved question in the new field of glacial archaeology”. Dr. Pilø adds, “Glacial archaeology has the potential to transform our understanding of human activity in the high mountains and beyond.

“However, in each case, we have to carefully consider how natural processes may have altered the archaeological record. Without such analysis, we may mistake patterns in the record produced by natural processes with traces from human activities.”

Record-breaking finds from the Langfonne ice patch, in photos

Arrow from Langfonne
A 1300-year-old arrow as it was found lying in the scree, close to the melting ice. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrow from Langfonne
Close-up of a 1300-year-old arrow with the arrowhead still in the shaft and remains of the sinew which originally secured it. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Viking Age arrow
Foreshaft for a Viking Age arrow with an arrowhead with a special “split” edge. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrow from Langfonne
Well preserved arrow found just after it was released by the melting ice. Radiocarbon-dated to be about 1300 years old. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrowshaft from Langfonne
A 4000-year-old arrow shaft found just after it melted out on the surface of the ice. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrowhead from Langfonne
A team member (Elling Utvik Wammer) is holding a small arrowhead in quartzite. A radiocarbon date of the arrow shaft belonging to the arrowhead tells us that it is 4000 years old. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrowhead from Langfonne
A 4000-year-old arrowhead in quartzite, moment after it was pulled from the dirt below an arrow shaft. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrowhead from Langfonne
A team member (Tessa de Roo) holding an iron arrowhead. The arrow shaft belonging to the arrowhead gave a date of c. 1500 years ago. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrowshaft from Langfonne
Small fragment of an arrow shaft, found in the scree below the ice patch. This is the earliest shaft from the Langfonne site, dated to 6000 years ago – the oldest find from the ice in Northern Europe. Photo: Reidar Marstein/ Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Reindeer antler
A large reindeer antler with part of the cranium still attached, as it was found in the scree below the ice patch. Radiocarbon-dated to be c. 800 years old. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Distribution of Langfonne finds
Distribution of all finds recovered at Langfonne. Measured/mapped ice margin is from August 2014, the last year of major ice retreat. Survey perimeter delineates the off-ice area that has been systematically surveyed. The extent of the LFZ is estimated from aerial photos, while the estimated Little Ice Age maximum extent is based on Grønås (2019). Map: Lars Pilø/Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council

The Langfonne research team in action!

Researchers
The survey areas around the retreating ice are vast. They are surveyed systematically and intensively, with only 2 meters between the surveyors. When a find is discovered, the surveyor puts down a marker and continues. The find will be collected later by a finds team. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Researcher at Langfonne
A team member (Julian Post-Melbye) is taking a picture of an arrow in the scree. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Survey team at Langfonne
Once enough finds have been made, two team members separate from the survey team and start documenting and collecting the finds. They use a high precision GPS to measure the position of each find. Julian Post-Melbye (left) and Øystein Rønning Andersen (right). Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Langfonne field team
The 2014 Langfonne field team, including four of the authors (from left: Barrett, Finstad, Pilø, and Post.Melbye). Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Arrow with researcher
This is an arrow that has been out of the ice for quite some time, but which has been preserved by natural freeze-drying. The arrowhead, the sinew, and the fletching have been lost, only the wood of the shaft is preserved. Moss has started to grow in the area. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
SOTI basecamp
The 2014 basecamp was situated on the permafrost in front of the lowest ice patch. The thin layering in the old ice behind the camp is clearly visible. Photo: secretsoftheice.com
Ice patch basecamp
The weather in the high mountains is unpredictable. Sometimes fieldwork is interrupted by snow, as happened in 2014 (and on other occasions). Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Langfonne basecamp
An overview of the upper part of the site, showing the harsh landscape. Reindeer on the snow in the back. Part of the 2016 basecamp in the foreground. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Langfonne volunteer
Lunch break during fieldwork. A volunteer who participated in the 2016 fieldwork (Enok Groven) is resting in front of the mess tent. In front of him are ancient reindeer antlers collected from the site. Reindeer can be seen on the snow in the background. Photo: Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council
Ice patch researchers
Mapping the ice with ground penetrating radar in March 2017. Photo: Kjell Nyøygard

Photos and photo information courtesy of Secrets of the Ice.

Source: Norway Today / Secrets of the Ice

Advertisements

Be the first to comment on "PHOTOS: Archeologists unravel 6000 years of reindeer hunting in Norway through arrows"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*