Ancient Pre-Viking Skis Discovered in Norway

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2021

A pair of 1300-year-old skis has been discovered in an ice field in Norway. They are believed to be the best-preserved ancient skis ever found — even the bindings are mostly intact. The first of the pair was found back in 2014 and its mate was recently retrieved, an expedition you can witness in the video above.

It has been seven years since the discovery of the first ski at the Digervarden ice patch. We have patiently monitored the melt of the ice patch, in case the second ski of the pair should melt out. We were back in 2016 for a general survey of the ice patch, but the ice had not retreated much then. This year, we could see on satellite imagery that the ice patch had retreated compared to 2014. We decided to send out an archaeologist to check it.

One of the things they were hoping to find is how the skier was able to maintain forward motion with the skis, especially uphill. Modern cross-country skis rely on a texture (or wax) on the bottom of the ski to grip the snow while downhill skiers can apply skins to their skis to climb uphill. More than a thousand years ago, the choice was texture or animal fur:

One of the questions raised by the ski found in 2014 was if it originally had fur on the underside. This has major implications for the use of the ski. There were no nail holes along the sides of the 2014 ski which would have been a clear sign of the fastening of the fur. However, fur can also be glued to the underside, so we could not rule it out.

A furrow on the underside along the length of the ski, as you find on other prehistoric skis (and on modern cross-country skis), would solve the question. Such a furrow would have no function with an underside covered by fur. The 2014 ski did not show a furrow, but the new and better preserved ski does! So, probably no fur-lining.

(thx, meg)