Silver Lining in the Ice

One of the most pressing issues in the world today is climate change. According to NASA (2019), temperatures will rise more than they already have, leading to changes in precipitation patterns, more droughts and heat waves, and eventually, the arctic possibly becoming ice free. But climate change might in fact be helping the development of a new discipline of archaeology that makes the location of sites and features much easier to find: Glacial archaeology.

Glacial archaeology has developed due to the melting of mountain ice that has been brought on by climate change. Many of the finds would have decomposed in other environments but have remained preserved in the ice. Yukon, Canada and Oppland, Norway are currently the only two places in the world that have permanent glacial archaeology programs, and the Oppland Glacial Archaeology Program received permanent funding from the Norwegian State in 2011. In Oppland alone, there have been close to 3,000 archaeological finds from 52 different sites, including skis, tunics, and an arrow (Figure 1) (Mukherjee 2019).

Figure 1. A Viking arrowhead recovered from the Glacier Archaeology Program in Norway. Photograph credit to

It all started in 1991 when a German couple were hiking in the Alps and discovered a human body that had been frozen there for about 5,000 years. The body later was given the name “Ötzi the Iceman” (Figure 2). He was the first instance of glacial archaeology, and certainly not the last if temperatures continue to rise around the world due to climate change. Scientists are confident that the temperatures will continue to rise largely due to greenhouse gasses produced by human activities (NASA 2019).

Figure 2. Ötzi the Iceman. Photograph credit to Discover Magazine/Kalmbach Media.

Fieldwork in glacial archaeology is much different than other disciplines of archaeology. It involves little to no digging, but it’s not just waiting around for the ice to melt. While some objects only melt out of the ice once, other times objects found have been in and out of the ice multiple times. The degree to which an artifact has been thawed or exposed can affect to what degree is can be rescued or preserved (Mukherjee 2019).

This is not a post saying climate change is a good thing. Continuing to treat the planet like we do can only have catastrophic consequences in the future. But we should take advantage of the things we can learn that we didn’t have access to before. Hopefully humanity can work together to preserve our home but until then is it so bad to look for the upsides?

Further Readings:

Dixon, E. J., William F. Manley, and Craig M. Lee

2005 The Emerging Archaeology of Glaciers and Ice Patches: Examples from Alaska’s      Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. American Antiquity 70:129+.

Van, de N.

2011 Conceptualising Climate Change Archaeology. Antiquity 85:1039+.


Draxler, Breanna

2013 Living Relatives of Ötzi the Iceman Mummy Found in          Austria. ed. Vol. 2019, Kalmbach Media,

Lan, Yao

2019 Climate Change-Linked Melting Ice Contributes to finds of Archaeology Team. ed. Vol. 2019,, China.

Mukherjee, Ritoban

2019 Climate Change is Bad for the Planet, but Groundbreaking for Archaeology. ed. Vol. 2019, Quartz,


2019 The Effects of Climate Change. ed. Vol. 2019, NASA, California.

One thought on “Silver Lining in the Ice

  1. This is a really cool post! I haven’t heard of glacial archaeology. How else do you think climate change could impact archaeology? What responsibility, if any, do we as archaeologists have for preserving sites? What do we risk in trying to preserve sites and artifacts?

Leave a Reply