Oldest Pair of Skis Unearthed in Norwegian Ice

Fate of the owner is still unknown.

Article is from SCIENCE, OCT 5, 2021 10:20 AM BY ANDREW CURRY

In 2014, Norwegian archaeologists found a lone wooden ski on a mountaintop, where it had been trapped in ice for 1300 years. The ski was well preserved, down to an intact binding made from birch rope and leather straps. Because skis come in pairs, archaeologists monitored the ice patch for summertime thaws that might reveal the other one. Seven years later, their patience has paid off: In late September, a team found the second ski (pictured), 187 centimeters long and 17 centimeters wide, partially embedded in melting ice just 5 meters away from the first find spot.

The find makes this the best preserved prehistoric pair of skis on record, the scientists announced today. Ski fragments and rock art depicting skis have been found dating as far back as 6000 B.C.E., but never with intact bindings that show how the skis were used.

The skis, which would have been used as wintertime transportation tools, were extensively repaired, a sign they were too valuable to easily replace. They’re not identical, suggesting a set cobbled together from other pairs. And although researchers once thought the skis might have been lined with fur on the bottom for grip going uphill, a wide groove running down the center of the newly recovered ski would have no purpose if it was covered—suggesting fur wasn’t part of the design.

The find leaves one big question: What happened to their owner? Perhaps, the long-ago skier took them off to hunt and lost them in the snow, the researchers speculate. Or maybe an early skiing accident left the hunter too injured to descend to safety from the frozen heights. In that case, the ice might hold yet more surprises.