As highlighted in The Viking Herald in October 2022, the team at Secrets of the Ice is making ever more spectacular discoveries in their quest to recover artifacts as the ice melts across Scandinavia and Alpine Europe.

Pioneers in the field of glacial archaeology, from their base in Innlandet County, central Norway, Secrets of the Ice has generated enormous global interest in their work. 

We speak with co-director Lars Holger Pilø to find out more about this vital project.

The Viking Herald: How and when did you first become involved in glacial archaeology, and how has your research changed since? Do you feel the world is more receptive to this form of investigation, given the global discussions around climate change?

Lars Holger Pilø: Our work started here in Innlandet County in 2006, and I got involved in 2007. Our main task, in the beginning, was the rescuing of artifacts. 

As time went on and we got a better grip on the situation, including permanent funding for our program, we also found the time to publish our work in scientific papers and start the Secrets of the Ice website and social media.
 
There is clearly a rising interest in our work as the signs of climate change become clearer, both from the public and the media. The incredibly well-preserved finds carry a message from the past, but they are also a harbinger of a future where most of the ice in our high mountains will melt away. 

This will have serious consequences for nature and our local mountain communities. So, the finds are great, but they have a dark background.

TVH: Of locations around Scandinavia, which in particular have appeared to be the most interesting and fruitful – and are there any particular local conditions that generate this apart from an overall decrease of ice?
 
LHP: The center for glacial archaeology in Scandinavia is our Innlandet County. In fact, we have more than half the archaeological finds from the ice globally – 66 sites with 3,800 finds. 

One of our sites, the Lendbreen pass, has more than 1000 finds. Our finds are connected to reindeer hunting and transport. The reason we have so many finds here is probably that the distance from the settled valleys to the mountain ice is quite short. Having a permanently funded program also helps, of course.

TVH: Of the many amazing finds you highlight, swords and arrows seem to be some of the most dramatic – how does it feel when you discover something like this, and is there a protocol for what to do afterward, in terms of contacting local experts, museums, and so on?
 
LHP: Discovering and rescuing unique artifacts is always an awesome feeling. We are archaeologists and work at the Heritage Department of Innlandet County Council, so doing this job is part of our professional work. 

Our main partner is the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, which curates the finds. Local hobby archaeologists assist us in our work. Many of our finds are exhibited at the local Mountain Museum.

The Secrets of the Ice team securing the finds at Lendbreen, the lost Viking mountain pass. Photo: Secret of the Ice

TVH: What are the main risks associated with the fieldwork that glacial archaeologists carry out?

LHP: Safety hazards on our sites include rock falls, blizzards, and falling over in the scree. Sometimes, when we survey on the ice itself, we have to wear crampons. We pay a lot of attention to safety, and we have not had a serious accident yet – knock on wood!

TVH: Is there any way the public can support your efforts, via donations or similar?

LHP: We are a government-funded program, and there is currently no way to donate directly. We do, on occasion, take volunteers in the field, but this is difficult both due to the unpredictable weather and to rough conditions in the field. One way to support our work is to share our finds through word-of-mouth or social media.

TVH: Can you point to any specific plans or locations you have earmarked for 2023?

LHP: That is too early to say. We need winter to end first, so we can evaluate the snow situation.

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