Melting Ice Coughs Up 3K-Year-Old Arrow, Good as New

Scientists race to recover artifacts uncovered by climate change before they're spoiled
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2023 12:20 PM CDT
3K-Year-Old Arrow Looks Almost New
The arrow with quartzite tip. "The fibers fastening the arrowhead are intact, and black pitch still covers the arrowhead," according to Secrets of the Ice.   (Espen Finstad/Secrets of the Ice via X)

If anyone else had come upon the wooden arrow with feather fletching and a quartzite tip, they might have thought it was new. But as the New York Times reports, glacial archaeologist Espen Finstad immediately suspected the arrow he found this month in the Jotunheimen mountains of eastern Norway was very old—some 3,000 years old, in fact. The remarkable find, which has not yet been carbon-dated, is one of numerous artifacts to emerge from melting ice in Norway in recent years. Archaeologists have discovered roughly 250 artifacts this year alone. But "I've never seen something like this before," Finstad tells the Times, "because it was so complete."

Though the arrow itself is broken into three pieces, the arrowhead and fletching remain attached, per the Times. Typically, archaeologists are "sort of guessing at the big picture from whatever was robust enough to weather through the centuries," but this "leaves nothing to the imagination," says William Taylor, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who searches for similar discoveries amid melting ice in Mongolia. Finstad counts the arrow, believed to have belonged to a reindeer hunter of the late Stone Age or early Bronze Age, among this "top 10" favorite discoveries, which is saying something.

He and his colleagues at Secrets of the Ice, a cooperative project between the Innlandet County Municipality and University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History, claim to have discovered more than 3,700 artifacts across 65 sites, per Discover Magazine. They've found thousands of sticks used to scare reindeer into the path of hunters, various arrows, bows, a spear, a 1,000-year-old pine whisk, a wood-handled iron knife, a mitten dating to AD 1000, and a complete tunic dating to AD 300, among other finds. In addition to the arrow with feathers, archaeologists this month discovered an intact wooden arrow with a freshwater pearl mussel as an arrowhead, per Discover.

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"It looks like it was lost last year, but the arrow is around 3,300 years old," Secrets of the Ice wrote in a Sept. 13 post on X, accompanied by a photo. "It doesn't get much better than this." "Such shell arrowheads are only known in Norway and in northwest America," Lars Holger Pilo, another Secrets of the Ice archaeologist, tells Discover. Taylor notes archaeologists around the world are racing to find such artifacts revealed by melting ice before they're destroyed by the elements. "This is a discipline that exists almost exclusively because we are in the sort of throes of catastrophic global climate change," he tells the Times. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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