Secrets of the Ice, the Glacier Archaeological Program in Innlandet County, Norway, has helped uncover a number of fascinating finds in recent years.
However, the discovery of the Digervarden pair of skis (the first ski was discovered in 2014, while the second one was discovered in 2021) is among its most fascinating.
The story of the Digervarden pair of skis
In 2014, the Secrets of the Ice program discovered a ski from pre-Viking times (around 1300 years old!) at the Digervarden ice patch in Norway.
The ski was one of only two skis from prehistory found in complete condition. After 2014, the expert team continued to keep an eye on the Digervarden ice patch, hoping it would discover the second ski.
In 2021, the hard work paid off – they found the second ski, which was in even better condition than the first one.
The second ski was discovered by archaeologist Runar Hole and his tour companion Bjørn Hessen, only five meters from where the first ski was found.
However, the second ski was stuck in the ice, so Hole and Hessen had to leave it there and get additional support.
A larger and better-equipped team made its way to the site, where it was able to free the ski from the ice and get it off the mountain in a safe manner.
A few months ago, the Secrets of the Ice team managed to get a more precise dating for the second ski. The Viking Herald reached out to the program's co-director Espen Finstad to find out more about the dating and new information it provided.
Archaeologists used an ice axe to chip away at the ice and free the second ski. Photo: Espen Finstad / Secrets of the Ice
TVH: Were you surprised by the dating that came through in November, placing the skis to 668-775 CE?
EF: When we found the second ski in 2021, only 5 meters from the first ski from 2014, we were reasonably sure there must be a pair of skis. The dating confirmed this. The new date is narrower in range than the one for the 2014 ski.
It places the pair of skis in what is known as the Merovingian Iron Age here in Norway.
TVH: Can you describe the feeling the Secrets of the Ice team had when the second ski was discovered in 2021?
EF: We saw on satellite images that the ice had melted at the place where we found a ski in 2014. We thought there might be a possibility of new discoveries and went out to check.
And there, just 5 meters from the previous find, we found another ski. We got very enthusiastic. But parts of the ski were still in the ice. We had to leave it and come back to collect it a week later.
A close-up of the second prehistoric ski, discovered in 2021. Photo: Espen Finstad / Secrets of the Ice
TVH: What were the risks associated with retrieving the second ski in 2021 - we hear it was quite an exciting operation?
EF: There was no great risk. But it was exciting. The challenge was that there had been a blizzard, and the ski had been covered in snow. After 3 hours of walking in quite a lot of snow, we arrived. We found the ski under the snow.
Then the challenge was to free it from the ice carefully. We spent some hours with a mixture of chopping and melting ice. It was a big moment when we lifted it out of the ice.
TVH: In your expert opinion, who left the skis behind at Mount Digervarden - any educated guesses?
EF: This is an area where there was extensive reindeer hunting in prehistoric times. The skis may have been used by a hunter.
There are also old traffic routes in this area – mountain routes. There was a lot of activity in the mountains in prehistoric times.
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