A Guy Was Exploring An Ice Patch In Norway When He Uncovered A Perfectly Preserved Viking Relic

It’s 1974 and Per Dagsgard has just made the arduous climb through Norway’s Jotunheim Mountains to reach the Lendbreen ice patch. Searching for clues of lost civilizations, he reportedly had nothing more in mind than looking for centuries-old reindeer hunting gear. But what he actually found was far more impressive.

Although Lendbreen is home to an ice patch, it’s glaciers which are perhaps the most well-known ice formations. Glaciers begin life as massive snow deposits which gradually compress and harden into ice over time. Yet what makes them even more impressive is that they’re capable of incredibly slow movement, as their weight allows them to shift.

By contrast, ice patches cannot change their position. Instead, they form in covered areas, when deposits of snow freeze together and coalesce into dense ice blocks that can be as thick as 65 feet. If the weather remains cold enough, these ice patches will continue to grow and eventually mature into glaciers.

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In addition to geographers and glaciologists, archaeologists have also proven to be fascinated by these frozen phenomena. Indeed, many historians have flocked to the colder climes of northern Europe and Canada’s upper-most territories, particularly in recent generations. In these places they search for artifacts amongst all of the ice and snow.

But how come these historical relics can be found within the ice? Well, many objects were discarded near one of these formations thousands of years ago and were then blanketed by snow. Thus, they were kept in stasis for centuries – until melting ice revealed them to the world once more.

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Global warming, however, increases the rate at which large ice masses melt. This means that historians must act quickly to retrieve any previously frozen ancient treasures, before they are lost for good. In 2013 Albert Hafner, an experienced glacier archaeologist from the University of Bern, warned in an interview with Archaeology magazine, “If [we] don’t do it now, [these artifacts] will be lost.”

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Furthermore, archaeologists face difficulties when actually handling artifacts that have been preserved in glaciers. Instead of being perfectly preserved, many finds are irreparably damaged by their time inside the glacier. Indeed, the ice’s momentum sometimes leaves them crushed – and what’s left of them is often then deposited at the glacier’s mouth.

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Luckily, relics that are preserved in ice patches are stationery and therefore not damaged by movement. They are instead literally frozen into place by the ice. And as there’s almost no risk of these patches sliding away (unless they become glaciers), the finds can be discovered in locations near to where they were originally left.

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But despite the relative merits of ice patches as sites for well-preserved artifacts, the difficulty of excavating precious finds from thick chunks of ice remains high. You see, these ice forms are very sensitive to slight weather changes. And this can even come down to which way the wind is blowing.

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Archaeologists also sometimes have to contend with more complex dating processes when retrieving artifacts from ice – and this is particularly true of the Lendbreen ice patch. Unlike at a regular excavation site – where the objects would generally be layered according to when they were lost – the ice melts unevenly at Lendbreen. Ergo, relics from different time periods can be pushed into the same layer.

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Nevertheless, archaeologists have put up with these adverse conditions and recovered countless artifacts from ice patches and glaciers. Objects made from stone or metal – such as arrowheads – seem to cope well with icy conditions and often remain intact. Organic substances like bone and wood can also be found in a good state, but textiles don’t tend to fare so well.

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In terms of the ice patches themselves, Lendbreen has enjoyed its fair share of archaeological fame. Situated in southern Norway, it can be found in the highest mountain range in northern Europe, the Jotunheim Mountains. Named after the mythological Norse frost and rock giants known as the jötnar, these mountains are permanently covered in snow.

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The Lendbreen ice patch itself lies across a ridge that joins together two separate valleys. And there is also evidence of a mountain pass near Lendbreen that farmers and their animals have reportedly used to traverse between the valleys for many hundreds of years. To this day, the path is still marked by upstanding rocks.

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It should come as no surprise that this remote place was once only capable of being accessed by foot. However, there is now another option for those with ample monetary means to take advantage of. Indeed, for the right price wannabe explorers can charter a helicopter to reach the ice patch.

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A famous period for finds at Lendbreen was in 2006. The mountain range had enjoyed a particularly hot summer that year and the sun had melted much of the compacted ice. And so when an amateur archaeologist was hiking nearby, they found something in the melting ice – a leather shoe. This item hadn’t been seen for a very long time; since the Bronze Age, in fact.

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Since that discovery, over 1,600 relics have been found in the region, with hundreds of objects occasionally recovered simultaneously. In a 2013 interview with Archaeology magazine, archaeologist Lars Pilö suggested that these finds account for over 50 percent of ice patch artifacts found across the globe. By contrast, only 850 have been recovered from the Alps.

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Yet out of these 1,600 finds, perhaps two of the most notable are some amazingly well-preserved items of clothing. In 2011 a woolen tunic – large enough to be worn by a man and dating back to the Iron Age – was recovered. And archaeologists also found a mitten in the same year. Radiocarbon dating revealed that this mitten was from the Viking era.

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Before this veritable flood of discoveries, there had been a scarcity of archaeological finds at Lendbreen. Of course, people had been reporting artifacts in the ice across Norway from as early as the 1930s. But discovering relics in this specific region, however, was still relatively unheard of in 1974 – until Per Dagsgard came on the scene.

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Dagsgard was a student from the Norwegian municipality of Skjåk in Oppland County. In September 1974 he travelled up to the ice patch on a quest to find evidence of reindeer hunting in the area. The hike up to Lendbreen from the valley below reportedly took him around two hours. But when he finally arrived, he was met with something quite unexpected.

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Dagsgard discerned that the ice patch had experienced a large melt, as it was smaller than it had been in previous years. This was specifically a point of interest for other archaeologists. Indeed, a professor by the name of Sverre Marstrander later questioned Dagsgard regarding the size of the patch.

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On the day of his hike, Dagsgard continued to traipse across Lendbreen until he reached its bottom section. Then, as he peered through the thawing rocks and detritus, he noticed what appeared to be a lengthy wooden shaft nestled amongst the pebbles. The object appeared to have a shapely piece of iron affixed to one end.

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Dagsgard discovered that the stick was, in fact, a spear. And as the student had some historical knowledge, he was aware that other explorers had previously chanced upon arrowheads from the Viking era in this very ice patch. So, the budding archaeologist apparently believed his own find could belong to the same period.

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As the shaft and its head had become detached during the melt, Dagsgard was able to pick up the head of the spear and transport it down the slopes in his backpack. The shaft, meanwhile, he elected to carry by hand. As the wood was in such excellent condition, it was seemingly not at risk of decomposition.

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The staff at Oslo’s archaeological museum were suitably impressed with the student’s find. Sverre Marstrander – the archaeologist who had asked Dagsgard about the size of the ice patch – dated the object. And it turned out that Dagsgard’s hunch had been right – the spear had once probably belonged to a Viking.

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Devoid of any evidence of decorative markings, the spearhead was strikingly simple in its appearance. It reportedly measured just over 17 inches, boasting a blade of around 12 inches in length and approximately two inches across at its widest point. Experts were able to date the spearhead to a time between 825 A.D. and 950 A.D.

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Furthermore, experts also examined the wooden shaft in meticulous detail. As well as determining that it was made from birch, they measured it as being just under 73 inches long. At its thickest, the shaft’s diameter was still under an inch, with the wood tapering to become even smaller at its end.

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However, as wood is known to sometimes shrink if it’s preserved in ice, the shaft may have been wider when it was first made. The impact of the ice was also evident in the shaft’s curvature. This was likely the result of the pressure that the spear had been subjected to through centuries spent in compacted snow.

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As well as looking at the spearhead and shaft as separate entities, the archaeologists also examined the spear as a whole. Its total length was measured to be just below 91 inches. Although this isn’t quite as long as other spears from the era, experts also discovered knife indentations on the lower half of the spear – which suggested that it hadn’t been broken.

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For generations it was widely believed that Dagsgard had uncovered the relic simply by luck. Indeed, glacial archaeology would not be recognized for at least another two decades. This meant that the circumstances surrounding the Lendbreen spear were generally viewed as unique, rather than as a new means of uncovering objects from the past.

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However, this didn’t stop Dagsgard from continuing to travel to Lendbreen in search of more ancient objects. Over the years, he repeatedly wrote letters to Oslo’s archaeological museum to document his finds. In these correspondences he detailed other relics he had discovered at the Lendbreen ice patch, but the museum never replied.

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But returning back to Dagsgard’s original find, the spear seemingly conjured more questions than answers. For one, how had it got there in the first place? You see, a variety of factors could have transported the object – from the flow of meltwater to something as small as a strong breeze.

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However, experts believe that they might have solved this particular mystery. As the spear’s weight would have likely prevented it from being lifted by the winds, this option of transportation was widely ruled out. Furthermore, the part of the Lendbreen ice patch where the spear was found isn’t known for extensive movement – so it couldn’t have travelled in this way, either.

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The only remaining means of movement post-freeze was that the spear could have been carried downwards by newly melted water – but this was also deemed unlikely. You see, the spear was thought to be too well-preserved to have been carried in this way. Therefore, it’s likely that a Viking originally lost the spear near where it was discovered.

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Although this question was likely solved, however, another arose in its place. Namely, what had the spear been used for? This matter was made more complicated as Lendbreen had historically been used for two reasons – to travel and to hunt. For both of these activities, carrying a spear would have been commonplace. This then led rise to two differing hypotheses – “the hunter” and “the warrior.”

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In the summertime in Norway, reindeer would seek respite from troublesome botflies by migrating to ice patches and glaciers, where the flies would not bother them. Hunters were aware of this and would regularly flock to sites like Lendbreen to stock up on reindeer meat. In fact, Lake Lendholtjønne, a known reindeer hunting site, is located close to where the spear was found.

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However, there is a fundamental flaw to the hunter theory – Norwegian Vikings seemingly did not use spears when hunting reindeer on ice patches. In fact, if the hunter theory was proven accurate, it would mark the first evidence ever of a spear being used in this context. Instead, archaeologists have found bountiful evidence of hunters using bows and arrows.

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Therefore, some historians have postulated that the spear was actually dropped by a traveling warrior who was taking the Lendbreen mountain path. And the spearhead itself strengthens this theory. This type of broad blade was typically favored by those who needed a weapon for close combat with other humans – not for hunting animals.

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And while it might seem odd that a traveler would bring a spear with them simply to cross a path, the behavior actually fits well with the Viking lifestyle. Indeed, the notion that a person need be armed is actually found within Norse mythology. In the age-old poem Hávamál, for instance, the god Odin apparently wrote, “Let a man never stir on his road a step without his weapons of war.”

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Other archaeological finds over the years have given weight to this idea. For example, in 2017 reindeer hunters discovered a Viking sword in Oppland County at around 5380 feet above sea level. Some experts believe that its original owner could have dropped it while they were disorientated during a storm.

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So in spite of all that is presently known about the spear, we still don’t know why it was left behind in the first place. But perhaps one day, someone will discover a clue that unlocks the whole mystery. Until then, however, all we can do is wait and wonder.

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