It might be a controversial statement, but despite the havoc that global warming and climate change are wreaking on the world’s ice cover, there is one community of people benefiting from this – historians! Norwegian archaeological group, Secrets of the Ice , which has been busy at work in the mountains of Norway to rescue artifacts and archaeological finds revealed by melting glaciers and ice patches have added another find to their ever-growing kitty – a pair of Roman era sandals buried deep in the snow in the middle of a dangerous mountain pass, reports Arkeonews.
The Horse ice patch in Norway, part of the Lendbreen ice patch, where the Roman era sandal was recently found. (Espen Finstad / Secrets of the Ice )
Lendbreen Ice Patch Gifts: Roman Era Sandals, Oldest Ski
The glacial archaeologists, under the tutelage of Espen Finstad, have been at it for 15 years, realizing the immense potential the combination of melting ice and the preservation of objects in snow present together. In Norway’s Jotunheim Mountains lies the Lendbreen ice patch , 200 miles (322 kilometers) northwest of Oslo, once a vital pass for Viking Age traffic, long before the era of roads. The pass was extensively utilized by Vikings and medieval travelers , between 300 and 1500 AD.
Its height is also no joke: over 2,000 meters (6,600 feet)! Since 2011, the year of the “great melt” when the famously hidden pass itself was discovered, Lendbreen has been a historical treasure trove, providing the most archaeological finds of any ice patch in the world, including hundreds of pre-historic cairns , a beeswax candle box, a 1,300-year-old ski , an iron horseshoe, an early medieval era tunic and a lost Viking settlement. The settlement peaked with the wave of the most historical traffic in the pass between 750 and 1150 AD.
A reconstruction of the Norwegian ice pass Roman era sandal made by conservator Vegard Vike at the Museum of Cultural History, Oslo. ( Museum of Cultural History, Oslo )
A Questionable Fashion Choice: A Sandal for the Ages
The shoe in question was peculiar for the simple reason that it was not at all snow friendly. It was more like a sandal, with holes and gaps all over it. “I do a lot of hiking in the mountains, and you know, I find myself thinking, why would you wear that shoe up here… it’s just very, open. Full of patterns and holes. But it was there. We found it on the ice,” said Finstad. “It looks almost like a sandal. It’s pretty astonishing, we’re up here at almost 2000 metres, and we find a shoe with fashion elements, similar to those found on the continent at the time,” he added.
He suggests Googling Roman era sandals for images of similar footwear. The shoe found in the Norwegian mountains is dated to 200-500 AD, so it roughly coincides with the end of the Roman Empire, as quoted by Science in Norway . He does add that it was unlikely that such a shoe was worn without the aid of a fabric or animal hide of some sort, perhaps scraps of other cloth-like material, that would function as a version of socks.
PhD glacial archaeologist at Innlandet County, Lars Pilo, part of the Secrets of the Ice team, stated that the shoe was not lost in the snow, but rather, worn out and “thrown away as rubbish,” as quoted in this Twitter post . These “sandals” are one of many that have been found since 2011 in the Lendbreen ice pass, including shoes that cover the entire foot.
Archaeological conservator Vegard Vike studied the shoe that is now kept in the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, and then provided a reconstruction (pictured above), before it was reshaped in preparation for freeze drying.
A systematic survey along the upper edge of the Lendbreen ice patch in 2011, where numerous medieval artifacts have been exposed to archaeologists and historians as the ice melts more and more. (Johan Wildhagen / Palookaville / Secrets of the Ice )
What Do These Finds Mean?
The importance of these incredible finds cannot be understated, particularly because contemporaneously the entire landscape looks a vast wilderness, with no traces of human beings. They also help connect missing pieces of a puzzle, revealing the true nature of these mountain passes , their habitation, and the number of people visiting or utilizing them.
“They connect the landscape in the inlands of Norway to the coast. This is cultural heritage, it gives this landscape an entirely new story, another context than just an item you found in the ice. It’s easy to joke about a Roman tourist who didn’t quite understand much about the country he was visiting”, Finstad concluded.
Top image: The remains of the ancient Roman sandal found on the “thawing” Lendbreen ice patch, which has yielded numerous unusual artifacts, including the world’s oldest ski, over the last few years. Source: Arkeonews
By Sahir Pandey