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2 October 2010
Home of 'Ice Giants' thaws, shows ancient hunts in Norway

Climate change is exposing reindeer hunting gear used by the Vikings' ancestors faster than archaeologists can collect it from ice thawing at 1,850 meters (6,070 ft) above sea level in mid-Norway.
     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. Lars Piloe, a Danish scientist heading a team of 'snow patch archaeologists,' reports the finding of specialized hunting sticks, bows and arrows and even a 3,400-year-old leather shoe since 2006 from an ice melt in the Jotunheimen mountains, the home of the 'Ice Giants' of Norse mythology.
     As water streams off the Juvfonna ice field, Piloe and two other archaeologists collected 'scare sticks' they reckon were set up 1,500 years ago (according to radiocarbon dating) in rows to drive reindeer toward archers. Jotunheimen is unusual because so many finds are turning up at the same time - 600 artefacts at Juvfonna alone. Freed from the ancient freeze, wood rots in a few years; rarer feathers used on arrows, wool or leather crumble to dust in days unless taken to a laboratory and stored in a freezer.
     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. In summer, reindeer often go onto snow patches to escape parasitic flies. Ice fields like Juvfonna differ from glaciers in that they do not slide much downhill. That means artefacts may be where they were left, giving an insight into hunting techniques. Most finds are 'scare sticks' about a meter long. Each has a separate, flapping piece of wood some 30 cm long that was originally tied at the top. The connecting thread is rarely found since it disintegrates within days of exposure. The archaeologists reckon they were set up about two meters apart to drive reindeer toward hunters.
     Such a hunt would require 15 to 20 people, Piloe said, indicating that Norway had an organized society around the start of the Dark Ages, 1,500 years ago.
     
Edited from Reuters, Yahoo News (14 September 2010)

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