Melting ice reveals a Viking trade route

Hyperaxion Apr 17, 2020

Climate change has caused ice to melt in the Lendbreen Mountains, Norway, where the route was found. It was used between 1750 B.C. and 300 A.D.

Global warming and melting ice in the Lendbreen mountains in central Norway have led a group of archaeologists to find traces of the existence of a Viking trade route. According to the study, published this month on Antiquity, the route was probably used for centuries during the Bronze Age, between 1750 B.C. and 300 A.D.

Global warming leads to the discovery of Viking trade route in Norway
Global warming and melting ice in the Lendbreen mountains have led archaeologists to find traces a Viking trade route. (Credit: Lars Pilø/Espen Finstad/Secretsoftheice.com).

More than 1,000 artifacts have been discovered in the region, including pieces of wool clothing and leather shoes, fragments of sleds, horseshoes, walking sticks, reindeer horns and even traces of butter. The team believes that the objects were transported to European markets and sold there.

“The pass was at its busiest during the Viking Age around 1000 A.D., a time of high mobility and growing trade across Scandinavia and Europe,” study co-author James Barrett, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, told the Smithsonian. “This remarkable peak in use shows just how connected even a very remote location was to wider economic and demographic happenings.”

Some of the artifacts found in the region.
Some of the artifacts found in the region. (Credit: Lars Pilø/Espen Finstad/Secretsoftheice.com)

Radiocarbon dates of objects showed that locals used snow cover to pass over the ragged rocks of the mountain range. According to the researchers, from the nearby Otta River, the trading posts were just a few days’ walk in the direction of the water flow. “It may seem counterintuitive, but high mountains sometimes did serve as major communications routes, instead of major barriers,” explained James Barrett to Science.

The age of Lendbreen’s artifacts indicates that the use of the path declined after the Viking Age. For historians, this decline may be linked to a cooling period known as the “Little Ice Age”, or to the Black Death, the 14th-century pandemic that killed between half and two-thirds of the Norwegian population.

A horseshoe found in Lendbreen
A horseshoe found in Lendbreen. (Credit: Espen Finstad/Secretsoftheice.com).

“There were also other subsequent pandemics in the late medieval period making the situation even worse,” reported researcher Lars Pilø, an archaeologist in the Department of Cultural Heritage at Innlandet County Council in Lillehammer. “This obviously had a great influence on local settlement and economy, and thus mountain traffic.”

Check out more photos of what was found:

Objects related to clothing and daily life: A) goat or lamb bit?; B) knife; C) shoe; D) mitten; E) leaf-fodder; F) whisk and/or peg; G) distaff?
Objects related to clothing and daily life: A) goat or lamb bit?; B) knife; C) shoe; D) mitten; E) leaf-fodder; F) whisk and/or peg; G) distaff? (Credit: Glacier Archaeology Program & J. Wildhagen).
Aerial view of Lendbreen from the south-west; light-grey areas (without lichen) have seen recent ice-melt.
Aerial view of Lendbreen from the south-west; light-grey areas (without lichen) have seen recent ice-melt. (Credit: Lars Pilø).
 Above: examples of cairns marking the Lendbreen pass. Below: stone shelter near the top of the pass.
Above: examples of cairns marking the Lendbreen pass. (Credit: J.H. Barrett);
Below: stone shelter near the top of the pass. (Credit: Espen Finstad).

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