Norway’s summer months can be hot and the habit of the reindeer was to climb up to the Juvfonna to escape the heat and the biting insects found in the lower pastures. Up around 6000 feet, snow fields provided cooling relief from the parasites and enough food to wait out the hot weather. Hunters following the herds noticed that the reindeer were in fact bedding on islands of ice and snow and with cunning, advantage could be taken. Climate change is exposing reindeer hunting gear used by the Vikings' ancestors faster than archaeologists can collect it from ice thawing in northern Europe's highest mountains. The front edge of Jovfunna has retreated about 18 meters (60 ft) over in recent years, exposing a band of artefacts probably from the Iron Age 1,500 years ago, according to radiocarbon dating. Others may be from Viking times 1,000 years ago. Jotunheimen is unusual because so many finds are turning up at the same time -- 600 artefacts at Juvfonna alone. Inside the Juvfonna ice, experts have carved a cave to expose layers of ice dating back 6,000 years. Some dark patches turned out to be ancient reindeer droppings -- giving off a pungent smell when thawed out. Ice fields like Juvfonna differ from glaciers in that they do not slide much downhill. That means artifacts may be where they were left, giving an insight into hunting techniques.

As water streams off the Juvfonna ice field, archaeologists collect "scare sticks" they reckon were set up 1,500 years ago in rows to drive reindeer toward archers. "The ice has not been this small for many, many centuries," said Lars Piloe, a Danish scientist heading a team of "snow patch archaeologists" on newly bare ground 1,850 meters (6,070 ft) above sea level. Specialized hunting sticks, bows and arrows and even a 3,400-year-old leather shoe have been among finds since 2006 from a melt in the Jotunheimen mountains, the home of the "Ice Giants" of Norse mythology.

Freed from an ancient freeze, wood rots in a few years. And rarer feathers used on arrows, wool or leather crumble to dust in days unless taken to a laboratory and stored in a freezer.

"Our main focus is the rescue part," Piloe said on newly exposed rocks by the ice. "There are many ice patches. We can only cover a few...We know we are losing artefacts everywhere. I expect we will see more 'ice patch archaeology discoveries'," he said.

In Norway, "some ice fields are at their minimum for at least 3,000 years," said Rune Strand Oedegaard, a glacier and permafrost expert from Norway's Gjoevik University College. Juvfonna also went through a less drastic shrinking period in the 1930s, Oedegaard said.



Mary Stapleton

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