The acclaimed Secrets of the Ice team has been hard at work this summer, uncovering a wealth of unique finds as warmer temperatures reveal rare artifacts previously buried beneath the frozen surface.

Working in tandem with the Innlandet County Municipality and the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, the team was investigating high up at nearly 2,000 meters above sea level in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, the highest mountain in Norway. 

The mysteries of a hidden mountain pass 

Around the Lendbreen mountain pass, they found an ancient horse bridle, with its metal piece and leather straps preserved by centuries of being encased in ice. They also had to carefully free the item from the rocks it was trapped in.

In the immediate surroundings, they also discovered horseshoes, horse manure, and scraps of textiles. 

Together with the bridle, these items indicate that the mountain pass was a regular route for both two-footed and four-hoofed travelers during the Viking Age

It allowed access to high-altitude summer pastures and, potentially, trading posts. Likely used by merchants, farmers, and herders, at some point, this mountain pass fell into disuse. However, it's still unclear as to why.

Back in the 1970s, mountain hikers began finding random items in the Lendbreen ice patch here in Norway's Jotunheim Mountains, 200 miles or so northwest of Oslo. 

Above the treeline and inaccessible to amateur discoverers, the mountain pass first made the news in recent times during what was known as the big melt in the summer of 2011.

Members of Secrets of the Ice, drawing from previous finds decades ago, correctly surmised that this would be rich ground for historic troves.

Sure enough, they came across various artifacts, including scraps of textile, leather, and horse dung. 

There were so many individual pieces that the team had to work from first light until sunset in the subsequent days, collecting everything as quickly as possible before the snow returned. 

Each summer, the dedicated members of the Secrets of the Ice team embark on expeditions, unearthing treasures that have lain hidden beneath layers of ice for centuries. Photo: Secrets of the Ice

Rich pickings in wretched conditions 

As project co-director, Lars Holger Pilø told The Viking Herald before this year's investigations began: "One of our sites, the Lendbreen pass, has more than 1,000 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."

Since 2011, spring has seen the team prepare for another arduous trek up to these bleak heights, packhorses carrying their equipment, sometimes dealing with awful weather conditions and hardship.

Lars Holger Pilø again: "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!"

The rewards, of course, are days that they find items such as horse bridles and other discoveries that have made this summer so memorable for Secrets of the Ice: An arrowhead from the Late Stone or Bronze Age, medieval crossbow bolts, and a horse snowshoe, among others.

It will be a few months before we know more about these items. Radiocarbon dating experts in the lab will analyze the organic material trapped by the ice, providing further insights.

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