Best-Preserved Pair of Skis From Ancient World Revealed By Melting Ice Sheet

Very happy archaeologists admiring the ski. From left: Espen Finstad (Secrets of the Ice) and Julian Post-Melbye (Museum of Cultural History, Oslo). Image credit: Andreas Christoffer Nilsson / secretsoftheice.com

The melting of an ice sheet in Norway has revealed a pair of incredibly well-preserved skis that have laid untouched for some 1,300 years. The archaeologists who stumbled upon this discovery believe they might be the best-preserved pair of skis from prehistory ever discovered.

The first of the skis was discovered seven years ago at the Digervarden ice patch in the Norwegian county of Innlandet by Secrets of the Ice, a team of glacier archaeologists who scour the receded ice sheets for long-lost treasures. Satellite imagery had revealed that this ice patch had made another big retreat this summer, so the team headed back on September 20 and discovered the second ski, just 5 meters (16 feet) away from the site of the original find. 

The second ski took some work to get out of the ice and was initially left behind upon their discovery, but the team returned on a day of fairer weather armed with pickaxes and equipment to boil water. Eventually, the second ski was freed. 

Ancient ski.
The ski laying on the Digervarden ice patch where it has been for 1,300 years. Image credit: Espen Finstad / secretsoftheice.com

The wooden ski was measured at 187 centimeters (74 inches) long and 17 centimeters (6.5 inches) wide, around 17 centimeters (6.5 inches) longer and slightly wider than the first ski discovered. However, it’s clear that both were part of a pair due to the similar foothold, made out of three twisted birch bindings, a leather strap, and a wooden plug. The foothold also shows signs of repairs, indicating the ski was well used, and the back is missing, likely caused by damage over the centuries. 

While evidence of Iron Age skis such as these is rare, it’s known that the history of skiing in Scanadvadia goes back at least 4,000 years. It likely evolved as a practical means to travel across snow-capped plains and hills, rather than a recreational sport for fun-loving hunter-gatherers.

Prehistoric ski.
Detail of the raised foothold with repairs and preserved bindings. Image credit: Espen Finstad / secretsoftheice.com

The archaeologists are especially curious about what happened on Mount Digervarden some 1,300 years ago to result in these abandoned skis. If the ancient skier suddenly abandoned their travel due to a freak snowfall, they would have likely left their skis upright in the snow to make it easy to spot on their return to the area. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that an Iron Age hunter-gatherer would desert an object of such craftsmanship and value unless totally necessary.

These skis, notably, we also laid in disorderly, chaotic fashion. This raises the possibility of two options: either the skis were scattered by a small avalanche or the skier was injured, perhaps fatally. The researchers aren’t certain yet, but they have said they will keep a close eye on the ice around Mount Digervarder for any remains of an unfortunate skier.

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