Melting Glaciers Could Reveal How Our Ancestors Dealt With Changing Climates

When Lars Pilø, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council, noticed Norway was experiencing a particularly warm autumn in 2006, the archaeologist turned to the mountains. If climate changewas thawing glacial ice, what did that mean for the artifacts that were emerging from the melt? So, starting officially in 2011, Pilø and an international team took to Norway’s icy Jotunheimen and Oppland mountains to see what ancient objects they could rescue from the snowmelt.

Over the years, the archaeologists uncovered thousands of artifacts, some of which date back 6,000 years. Since the ice acts like a giant freezer and preserves the objects, the finds look like they could have been uncovered yesterday.

“The moment these artifacts melt out of the ice, they’re immediately vulnerable to the elements,” says James H. Barrett, a University of Cambridge environmental archaeologist.

The glacier archaeologists detailed their findings in a Royal Society Open Science paper published January 24. Pilø and Barrett are authors on the paper.

Telltale Finds

From mid-August to mid-September of each year, the team trekked out to the Norwegian mountains. Working in two groups, they surveyed the edges to the melting ice, looking for objects that had become dislodged in the melting ice.

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