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Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway


A veritable treasure trove of ancient artefacts has been discovered in an Norwegian ice patch that climate change has caused to melt.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
Detail of a 1300-year-old arrow from the peak period of hunting at Langfonne 
[Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

Researchers found nearly 70 arrow shafts, plus shoes, textiles and reindeer bones on a mountainside in Jotunheimen, about 240 miles from Oslo.




Based on radiocarbon dating, the oldest arrows are from around 4100 BC, with the most recent dating from 1300 AD.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
The Langfonne ice patch, seen from the top
[Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

While the discovery confirms the region was a popular spot for reindeer hunting millennia ago, it upends conventional wisdom about how ice patches can be used to interpret the historical record.


Archaeologists had assumed the ice preserved items as they were deposited, sealing them in place and providing a timeline — with older artefacts on the bottom and newer ones on top.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
The upper part from Langfonne, photographed from a helicopter in September 2014. The light
 grey areas have been benn exposed by retreating ice and snow in the last two decades 
[Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

But the different amounts of weathering on the objects, as well as their seemingly random order, counters the theory that ice patches are like photographs, presenting a preserved image of the past.


A record-setting 68 arrows were found in all, some with their arrowheads still attached. The heads were made from a variety of materials — iron, quartzite, slate, mussel shell and even bone.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
The finds team at Langfonne in 2016. Øystein (right) is holding a high-precision GPS
[Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

"This is earlier than finds from any other ice site in Northern Europe," according to archaeologist Lars Holger Pilø, "and about 800 years earlier than Ötzi," the 5,100-year-old ice mummy found in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991.




Other artefacts from Langfonne include a well-preserved shoe from more than 3,000 years ago and fabric Pilø says may have been used to package meat.   


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
The Early Bronze Age shoe found at Langfonne in 2006 
[Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

The Langfonne ice patch was first uncovered in 2006, when hiker Reidar Marstein discovered a leather shoe from the early Bronze Age there and reported it to Pilø. 


At the time, researchers had assumed new layers of snow added to a patch, like strata in the earth, with older layers near the core and newer layers near the surface.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
The earliest arrow shaft found on the site, dated to c.4100 BC. That is 800 years older 
than Ötzi, the iceman from the Tyrolean Alps [Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

"The idea was, ice is like a time machine. Anything that lands on it stays there and is protected," Pilø, a researcher with the Innlandet County Council Cultural Heritage Department, told National Geographic.


But a closer examination showed the ice melted and re-froze numerous times over the millennia, shifting the arrows around from their original locations.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
A 4000-year-old arrowhead made from quartzite, moments after 
it was pulled from the dirt [Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

In addition, if the patch was acting like a time machine, older artifacts should have been just as well preserved as newer ones.




Instead, the Neolithic arrows were broken and heavily weathered, suggesting they had been exposed to the elements at various times.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
An arrow from c. AD 700 as it was found lying on the stones in the scree, 
close to the melting ice [Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

The 14th century arrows, though, "looked as though they were shot just yesterday," National Geographic reported


"This led to a suspicion that something had happened to them while inside the ice," Pilø wrote in a post in Secrets of the Ice.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
A large reindeer antler lying in the scree below the ice patch. Radiocarbon-dated to AD 1260-1290.
It would have been one of only few reindeer left after the large scale killings of the 
Late Iron Age and Medieval Period [Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

In a new report in the journal Holocene, Pilø says that makes it hard to glean certain information about the people who used these artefacts.


"The ice is an artefact-preserver but it is also at the same time a destroyer of history," he told National Geographic.


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
The distribution map of artefacts and biological material at Langfonne 
[Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

New discoveries may still present themselves as Langfonne, now split into three smaller patches, continues to thaw.




Its melting is part of a worldwide pattern of retreating mountain glaciers linked to global warming, Pilø wrote. 


Prehistoric arrow bonanza revealed by melting ice patch in Norway
The chronological patterns of artefacts and reindeer bones, compared with glacier size 
[Credit: Secrets of the Ice]

"Langfonne has retreated dramatically in the last two decades. It is now less than 30 percent of the size it was 20 years ago. This retreat is clearly visible in the landscape."


And the patch is only 10 percent of what it was at its height, he said, during the 'Little Ice Age' that took place between the 15th and 20th century.


Author: Dan Avery | Source: Daily Mail [November 26, 2020]



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