When the snow melts
August 29, 2013 7:27 PM   Subscribe

The BBC reports that 6000-year old clothing, bows and arrows have been found under melting snow in Norway. Earlier reports with different photos. Meanwhile, Archaeology has a longer article about "the race to to find, and save, ancient artifacts emerging from glaciers and ice patches in a warming world". And glacial archaeology is becoming so much of a thing that it's getting its own scholarly journal.
posted by Athanassiel (26 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
So it was all to help archeology! Grandma always told us God opens a window when he shuts a door.
posted by thelonius at 7:30 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is really interesting and depressing.
posted by latkes at 8:29 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Global weirding is going to have all kinds of unforseen effects (new sea routes over the North Pole have been anticipated by major shipping interests for years), some of which will be kinda fun like this one. We make do with what we get, I suppose, and new archeological finds as the northern ice melts are at least some small consolation for the chaos to come from what look to be significant and unpredictable changes in plankton populations, with serious consequences for the fish and mammals who depend on them, disruption of ocean currents, large-scale CO2 and methane release from thawing permafrost, etc etc etc.

Easier searching for Hannibal's exact route over the Alps is still cool, though. No, really.
posted by mediareport at 8:36 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cool links, thanks. In the short term, some places are seeing the glacial and ice-patch wasting slow down or even reverse. This is likely just short term noise, or a result of warming producing greater precipitation. It's really essential to get on top of this unique suite of archaeological sites. I've written a few pieces on my blog about North American ice patch archaeology which can mostly be found through this tag (self link, obviously).
posted by Rumple at 8:39 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wow, Rumple, thanks for sharing your work. Great stuff there, esp. the clear explanation of the odd, almost Catch-22 situation where ice patch sites have been generally written off by archeologists in the past (due to the difficulty of access and in excavating, I assume?):

Almost nothing has been done on Ice Patches in British Columbia, even though it is certain such archaeological sites are abundant in this province. I suspect lack of direct impact on these high altitude places combines with the likelihood that ice is rated as “zero potential” on most archaeologists predictive models (both mental and paper models of where things “ought to be found”) to mean they are still off the radar of many practicing archaeologists. Nonetheless, this is a disappearing resource of the highest importance, so we can hardly take a distanced view that these are somehow not threatened sites. They are extremely threatened: once the ice melts, normal preservation conditions will prevail and these precious glimpses into technologies we usually see nothing of will disappear. We need to make an effort to do pro-active research and salvage work on these, as they have done in neighbouring jurisdictions.
posted by mediareport at 8:50 PM on August 29, 2013


Hey, if we're not going to have any future, at least we can look to the past.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:55 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I found it quite interesting that the garment is diamond patterned in green and brown. It evokes a very human scene of someone spinning, choosing colors, dyeing, and making this tunic. Can anyone tell from the mittens if they are woven or knitted?

What with global warming and all, I imagine there's going to be plenty of us taking off winter clothes eventually.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:59 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is like what happens when I defrost my freezer and find things embedded in the ice.
posted by srboisvert at 9:37 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile in northern Siberia, the ice melt is revealing woolly mammoth tusks which people are digging up and selling. There was an article about it a few months ago in National Geographic.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:45 PM on August 29, 2013


As a guy who has tried his hand at very amateur fletching with both iron and stone and found wanting many years ago, that's some quality workmanship on those arrows.

It's hard to say if the heavier points were a deliberate choice, or one made out of necessity - it would considerably shorten the range, and you would need to adjust for the weight difference in aiming, but it should give one a bit more penetration at closer ranges. There could be benefits in a tactical way, if one were in a tree lying in wait to fire below you, at a deer or boar, perhaps, the extra kinetic force and size of the wound of those larger, heavier arrows would be quite suitable in that situation. A more damaging first strike would shorten the distance of the ensuing chase as the prey bleeds out.
posted by chambers at 10:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have an interest in fabrics from the Near East, but do you see anyone doing this sort of research on Iraqi glaciers?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:49 PM on August 29, 2013


BlueHorse, I can't find a picture of the mittens (which link is it?), but I don't think knitting had appeared at that time in Scandinavia. My guess would be that they were made by naalbinding.

I have mixed feelings about this too - I am always happy about new archaeology (particularly textiles! ), but this is not how I want it to happen. I was at an archaeological conservation conference earlier this year where there was a great talk about some snow patch finds - I assume this is only the beginning of a new branch. It's weird to think that I may have more job possibilities because of global warmjng.
posted by kalimac at 12:35 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


the garment is diamond patterned in green and brown.

that's some quality workmanship on those arrows.

These were modern people. Just like you or me. Exactly like you or me. Same intellectual capacity. Same ingenuity. The only real difference is the amount of knowledge and technology available to us.

So it is rather easy to imagine myself wearing such a tunic and imagining how horribly uncomfortable - and cold - life must have been for these poor wretches.

do you see anyone doing this sort of research on Iraqi glaciers?

Funny that because it reminds me that during the same period of time (3rd - 4th century AD) the Persians were making treasures like this and not the crude handicrafts found in Norway. But I guess the Persians, not having had to wait for a thaw, had a head start. But still, it took the Norwegians many centuries to catch up.
posted by three blind mice at 1:14 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can anyone tell from the mittens if they are woven or knitted?

They were made from sewn-together pieces of woven fabric.

I really, really wish archeology and (perhaps especially) journalism on archeology would get with the gender equality program, because reading that the tunic was made with both lambswool and adult sheep wool has me very curious about how the thread was spun and how the fabric was woven, which would be relatively easy to figure out if someone knowledgeable had a close look at it. But instead we get hypotheticals about the hunter(s). Sigh.

So it is rather easy to imagine myself wearing such a tunic and imagining how horribly uncomfortable - and cold - life must have been for these poor wretches.

Having lived in Finland, and being of Norwegian descent recent enough that I grew up wearing wool cross-country ski knickers that my great-grandmother had sewn, I beg to differ. You only need one layer of well-woven wool to keep you warm. It can get soaking wet, and you're still warm, because wool. For instance, I would go skiing with wool socks, the wool knickers, a wool sweater over a wool undershirt, and a wool hat. That's it. No layering other than the undershirt (which was more because I usually ended up taking off the sweater at one point). That's what fascinates me about the tunic: combining lambswool and adult sheep wool is a brilliant way to combine their properties. It would be even MORE fascinating if they said what type of sheeps' wool it was. The spinners and weavers obviously knew what they were doing.

I suspect comparisons are also being made to modern-day wool: it would behoove we modern-day humans to realize that anything manufactured is much lighter-weight across the board than skilled spinners and weavers can make. The thread is thinner and made with shorter filaments (this is why a lot of really cheap wool sweaters literally fall apart when you touch them, the filaments are so short the thread doesn't hold together), and then it's woven loosely. It counteracts much of wool's warming properties. Whereas if you have good, solid thread, and a tightly-woven fabric, yes, you can get so warm that you'll need to take your sweater off. Happened to me more than once.
posted by fraula at 1:29 AM on August 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


So it was all to help archeology! Grandma always told us God opens a window when he shuts a door.

That's interesting, because my grandma* told me that the Devil put archeological artifacts on earth to trick us away from believing in the biblical creation story.

*OK, not really my grandma, a neighbor's who I actually saw more often than my own.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:46 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Global weirding is going to have all kinds of unforseen effects

Typo/auto-correct error or intentional? Either way, great phrase.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:33 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Intentional, thanks. I didn't invent it but it makes much more sense. Things are going to get stranger with more energy in the system, and some places will get cooler. "Global weirding" seems more scientific.
posted by mediareport at 5:37 AM on August 30, 2013


Cool! We can leave this crap along with a short note about how we offed our own culture with heat, drought, sea level rise, etc. for the ETs that find us in a couple hundred years.
posted by nowhere man at 6:02 AM on August 30, 2013


Wool makes me itch and I stopped wearing any of it decades ago. I've often wondered how my distant ancestors in northern Europe tolerated the itchiness of wool. Perhaps the person who cast off this tunic had had enough of the scratchiness and ensuing rash and vowed to go naked.
posted by mareli at 7:26 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


kalamac: The picture I was referencing was in the reports link, also here.

fraula: I was intrigued, because the links appear more chained than woven, yet those stitches look like they were done by a three year old--they just don't match the quality of the fabric, and even someone doing a quick and dirty repair job in the field would know that they'd leak cold like a sieve. I agree with your evaluation of the warmth of good quality wool. Wool for warmth, and leather to cut the wind--I think our ancestors with enough resources could have stayed plenty warm. (also, felting!)


the garment is diamond patterned in green and brown.

These were modern people. Just like you or me. Exactly like you or me. Same intellectual capacity. Same ingenuity.


three blind mice: I didn't mean to imply the makers were less then we are now, I was caught up in the very human scene of someone musing over what dyes to use, picking the plants for the colors, choosing one pattern rather than another, perhaps sitting in front of a fire to make the item, or outdoors on a sunny day. The patches themselves are evocative. Someone in a very shaky survivalist situation would simply weave a garment, not take the time to design and color it.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


These were modern people. Just like you or me. Exactly like you or me. Same intellectual capacity. Same ingenuity.

I don't think we have enough information to make that call. They could have been of greater or lesser intellect, we just don't know. Maybe malnutrition blunted their capacities. Maybe their high (pre-mercury) seafood diet increased them. Maybe they were just morons that took off and left their woolens despite a growing wall of ice and snow. We just don't know enough from a sweater and a pair of gloves to make that call.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:37 AM on August 30, 2013


I really, really wish archeology and (perhaps especially) journalism on archeology would get with the gender equality program, because reading that the tunic was made with both lambswool and adult sheep wool has me very curious about how the thread was spun and how the fabric was woven, which would be relatively easy to figure out if someone knowledgeable had a close look at it. But instead we get hypotheticals about the hunter(s). Sigh.

You may enjoy some of Elizabeth Wayland Barber's work, if you have not done so already.
posted by Thing at 10:01 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


which would be relatively easy to figure out if someone knowledgeable had a close look at it. But instead we get hypotheticals about the hunter(s). Sigh.

Agreed - there needs to be more research (and public visibility of it) that covers more than just the hunters but I don't think the current research is as gender-biased as it appears on the surface - there are definite factors that make research and conjecture of objects like clothing empirically more difficult to reach a scientifically sound conclusion on, outside of the traditional problems of gender bias in the sciences.

Here's why: It's easier to collect direct data from a tool (knife, spear, etc.) and infer it's function and purpose than it is to collect data from a product (the tunic) that is made by tools that are not present and discern the methods from what little tools have been found to create it.

Most tools carried by hunters have a clear purpose in their design, and are partly made of materials that will last long after any material like wood, hide, or leather has been lost over time to the elements. So there is a clear line between tool and purpose, and comparisons can be made easily between times and places. So simply by the amount of data you can gather, there will be a disproportionate amount of research covering it.

Clothing and other materials that happen to survive the ravages of time have that extra level of separation from the creator of it. We find the finished product, but not the tools that made it that would let us discover the process in which such amazing and interesting work was created. Revealing and understanding not only how it was made, but why it was made in a certain manner at the time makes the process much more complex. Simply due to the degradeable materials that those tools are made of make it so much harder to find than say, stone arrowheads, we are left with a smaller data set to work with, historically. In the last few decades, the tools we now have like electron microscopy, atomic spectroscopy, and others are giving us insight into methods of construction that were simply not available 100 years ago. That data has helped immensely in this kind of research, and with what has been discovered already with that technology, has greatly expanded the research beyond just the male hunter.

Combine that with the growing numbers of archeologists, both male and female, conducting research into discovering what the wider world of that time was really like beyond the traditional bias toward male hunter-gatherers before the last several decades, and the outlook for the future of the field seems quite positive. It certainly needs to expand and grow, and it will bring a richer, more balanced look at the past as it happens.
posted by chambers at 6:34 PM on August 30, 2013


mareli: With you 100%. Sometimes I can wear wool blends, but only if it's mostly something else. If I had to wear that tunic (or fraula's suggested all-over layer of wool) I would be either a mass of weeping red itchy sores or frozen to death because I'd taken it all off.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:29 PM on August 30, 2013






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