Global warming has taken its toll on our planet for many years now. Although our understanding of the phenomenon has come a long way from declarations that ‘there is no such thing as global warming’, discourse surrounding global warming is still mixed and tentative: some industries may even benefit from it.

It is now generally accepted that it’s not just a fad: the last two decades of the 20th century were the warmest in the last 400 years, and 11 of the 12 years between 1995 and 2007 were recorded by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as among the hottest years since 1850.

With temperatures rising, snow and ice has been melting at an alarming rate. We’ve all heard about polar bears dying out due to the degradation of their natural habitat. But what if it wasn’t all bad? What if there was a flip-side to global warming, as insignificant in scale as it might be?

As well as in the Arctic, snow is melting in the Norwegian mountains, and snow patch surveyors have discovered various ancient artefacts in the melting ice. These discoveries are unprecedented in number, age and quality of preservation.

The artefacts, including Neolithic arrow and bow fragments thought to be around 6000 years old and a woollen tunic dating to approximately 300CE (AD), provide a missing link between the Romans and Northern Europe and give insight into an ancient civilization that we know very little about.

The tunic, found on the Lendbreen glacier in Norway, is one of only a few examples of textiles from this period of history. It is the first insight into the warm clothing worn by early Scandinavian hunters. Made from two different types of sheep’s wool, with visible signs of wear and two repair patches, this piece of material has provided us with an incredible glimpse into these mysterious ancient lives.

Martin Callanan of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has identified the bow and arrow finds as strictly unique. The ability to discover these never before seen artefacts is a clear indication that the world
is changing. While more and more ancient artefacts are being discovered in various places, the trick is to find them before they begin to degrade due to exposure.

Norway isn’t the only place where incredible artefacts have been found due to the melting snow. Oetzi is a 5,300 year old man found in the thawing Italian Alps in 1991. While
not a recent find, his discovery has allowed for unprecedented scientific research that is still continuing today.

Last year, researchers studying Oetzi’s body discovered red blood cells around his wounds. Often described as the world’s oldest murder mystery, Oetzi was found by hikers with an arrow in his back, and his incredible preservation has even extended to the blood he shed before dying. Scientists have even been able to determine what his last meal was – meat from both a wild goat and a deer, barley, cereal grain, and pollen that he would have ingested from drinking stream water.

The team working on Oetzi’s body believe that their methods in analysing his blood cells will be of use to modern forensics workers, as
it is often difficult to determine the exact age
of blood samples. This means that Oetzi is not just a cool find for historians, but he has also provided significant research tools for modern science.

Each of these finds has been made possible due to the melting snow and ice caused by global warming and climate change. If our planet’s temperature wasn’t significantly changing, the Neolithic weapons, Iron Age shirt and even Oetzi could have gone on another few thousand years under the ice without discovery, and most likely would have been just as well preserved a few millennia hence.

While these finds are incredibly exciting for historians, archaeologists and scientists, it gives one an ever-present sinking feeling at the same time: as we have climate change to thank for these discoveries, what kind of long-term price is being paid for these insights into the lives of the ancients?

As September brought spring to Melbourne with a bang, Victorians can look back on their hottest year since temperature recordings began. Our hottest summer on record was soon followed by the warmest winter we have ever experienced. With recent bushfires causing evacuations in Sydney, as we move back into summer again, I’m sure I’m not the only one dreading the Christmas weather and quietly wishing the earth’s conditions were such that ancient artefacts in Norway could remain under the snow for a few more centuries. As fascinating as they are now, nothing could influence our opinion of global warming so much as to make it a positive.


Maia Coghlan

The author Maia Coghlan

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