Norway: Iron Age arrow still bears feather fletched

Norway: Iron Age arrow still bears feather fletched


An incredibly well-preserved Iron Age arrow (complete with its tip, tendon casings and streamlined feathers) has been found by a team of archaeologists on a mountain in Norway. Carved about 1,700 years ago, the weapon is believed to have been used to hunt reindeer in the area.

Located in the Norwegian mountains of Jotunheimen, the Lendbreen glacier has been in retreat for several years, regularly revealing a few surprises to us. In 2011, a pass once used by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago was thus freed from the ice. At the time, a team of archaeologists came across an incredibly well-preserved woolen tunic worn around 1,600 years ago.

Since then, other excavations have been regularly carried out on the site by archaeologists from the organization Secrets of the Ice. An episode of exceptional heat wiped out in the region in 2019, which further favored the melting of the glacier, then revealed new artefacts, including an incredibly well-preserved 80-centimetre-long spire.

“This is probably the best preserved spire we have found so far,” said Lars Pilø, the organization’s editor. The steering feathers are still present, as is the tendon wrapped around the front end of the shaft. Its objective was to reduce the risk of fracture during impact. The remnants of the thread and tar used to make the arrow are also preserved.

A 1,700 year old weapon

It is rare that the fletching of the arrows is preserved. These structures tend to break down quickly. However, if conditions permit, these remains can withstand the ravages of time for several thousand years. The case of Ötzi, whose last meal we know, is an example.

The mummy was discovered buried under a layer of ice in September 1991 at 3,210 meters above sea level in Val Senales, Italy. Its existence was revealed by the significant melting of the glacier. The man seems to have been pierced by an arrow fired in his back. That being said, we do know that this famous Ötzi carried a few arrows with him, some of which also retained their fletching, although their condition was not as good as that of this new arrow. Of course, they are not the same age either.

The team decided to forgo radiocarbon dating for fear of destroying part of the arrow when collecting the sample needed to test its carbon isotopes (variants of the element carbon). However, since this style of arrowhead is well known, it is quite easy to date: between 300 and 600 AD. If the spiers of Ötzi are around 5,300 years old, then this one is around 1,700 years old. At that time, hunters would have used arrows like this to shoot reindeer.

While no determination of wood species will be made (weapons of this type tend to be made of pine), the researchers would however like to continue the analyzes in order to find out which birds come from the feathers and from which animal the feathers come from. tendons.