Faunal Finds from Alpine Ice

Natural or Archaeological Depositions?


  • Jørgen Rosvold NTNU University Museum




alpine, birds, butchery, glacial melting, gnaw marks, holocene, ice, mammals, taphonomy


Inland ice covers large areas of the world’s surface, but the ecology of the ice itself is poorly studied and largely unknown. A large variety of melted out faunal finds from glaciers and ice patches around the world have been discovered for more than 150 years. These finds hold a unique and largely untapped information potential for archaeology, faunal history and glacial ecology. In order to retrieve information from this frozen databank we need a better understanding of how the material were deposited. This article provides a background for glacial faunal finds worldwide and presents the relatively large Norwegian collections for the first time. The Norwegian finds are very well preserved, allowing good insights into the taphonomy of the finds. While most finds seem to be naturally deposited, many of the sites are interesting hybrids between archaeological and natural history sites. Potential implications and prospects for future management and research are further discussed.

Author Biography

Jørgen Rosvold, NTNU University Museum

Jørgen Rosvold is a biologist, but with training in both archaeology and anthropology. Research interests: Zoology (vertebrates), glacial ecology, cave biology, conservation biology, human ecology, the long-term effects of climate change and human land use on animals, and species identification of fragmentary faunal remains.

He is currently employed as a postdoc on the project "Hunting domestic reindeer - tracing an intimate relationship between humans and reindeer through space and time". This project is tied to the archaeological project SPARC, the NFR network "Forskning i fellesskap", and is partly financed by the Norwegian Environmental Agency.

At the same time, he is trying to map past and present use of alpine glaciers and ice patches by birds and mammals, and to link vertebrates with the general ecology of the ice. See more on Frozen Fauna

In addition, he has ongoing projects on exploring the archaeology and biology of caves, and is working on developing methods for identifying fragmentary faunal material (bones, hair, feathers etc.) by combining morphology and DNA.


Andrews, T. D., G. MacKay and L. Andrew. 2012. “Archaeological investigations of alpine ice patches in the Selwyn Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada.” Arctic 65 (Suppl. 1): 1–21. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic4182

Anesio, A. M., A. J. Hodson, A. Fritz, R. Psenner and B. Sattler. 2009. “High microbial activity on glaciers: importance to the global carbon cycle.” Global Change Biology 15: 955–960. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01758.x

Anesio, A. M. and J. Laybourn-Parry. 2012. “Glaciers and ice sheets as a biome.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27(4): 219–225. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2011.09.012

Beattie, O., B. Apland, E. W. Blake, J. A. Cosgrove, S. Gaunt, S. Greer, A. P. Mackie, K. E. Mackie, D. Straathof, V. Thorp and P. M. Troffe. 2000. “The Kwäday Dän Ts’ínchi discovery from a glacier in British Columbia.” Canadian Journal of Archaeology 24: 129-147.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1978. “Taphonomic and ecologic information from bone weathering.” Paleobiology 4(2): 150–162. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0094837300005820

Bennike, O. and C. Andreasen. 2005. “Radiocarbon dating of musk-oxen (Ovibos moschatus) remains from northeast Greenland.” Polar Record 41(219): 305–310. https://doi.org/10.1017/S003224740500464X

Bevanger, K. 1992. “Report on the Norwegian wolverine (Gulo gulo L.).” Small Carnivore Conservation 6:8-10.

Boeskorov, G. G., O. R. Potapova, E. N. Mashchenko, A. V. Protopopov, T. V. Kuznetsova, L. Agenbroad and A. N. Tikhonov. 2014. “Preliminary analyses of the frozen mummies of mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), bison (Bison priscus) and horse (Equus sp.) from the Yana-Indigirka Lowland, Yakutia, Russia.” Integrative Zoology 9(4): 471–480. https://doi.org/10.1111/1749-4877.12079

Cáceres, I., M. Esteban-Nadal, M. Bennàsar, Y. Fernández-Jalvo. 2011. “Was it the deer or the fox?” Journal of Archaeological Science 38(10): 2767–2774. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2011.06.020

Callanan, M. 2012. “Central Norwegian snow patch archaeology: Patterns past and present.” Arctic 65 (Suppl. 1): 178–188. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic4192

———. 2014. “Bronze Age arrows from Norwegian snow patches.” Journal of Glacial Archaeology 1: 25–49. https://doi.org/10.1558/jga.v1i1.25

Christensen, A. E. 1986. “Reinjeger og kammaker, en forhistorisk yrkeskombinasjon?” Viking 49: 113–133.

Dixon, E. J., M. E. Callanan, A. Hafner and P. G. Hare. 2014. “The emergence of glacial archaeology.” Journal of Glacial Archaeology 1(1): 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1558/jga.v1i1.1

Dixon, E. J., W. F. Manley and C. M. Lee. 2005. “The emerging archaeology of glaciers and ice patches: Examples from Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.” American Antiquity 70 (1): 129–143. https://doi.org/10.2307/40035272

Dove, C. J., P. G. Hare and M. Heacker. 2005. “Identification of ancient feather fragments found in melting alpine ice patches in Southern Yukon.” Arctic 58(1): 38–43.

Döppes, D., H. Gill-Frerking, U. Joger, W. Rosendahl and N. Stümpel. 2014. “A mountain hare mummy from the Zillertaler Alps.” Yearbook of Mummy Studies 2: 23–29.

Edwards, A. 2015. “Coming in from the cold: Potential microbial threats from the terrestrial cryosphere.” Frontiers in Earth Science 3(12): 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/feart.2015.00012

Edwards, J. S. 1987. “Arthropods of alpine aeolian ecosystems.” Annual Review of Entomology 32: 163–179. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.en.32.010187.001115

Edwards, J. S., and P. C. Banko. 1976. “Arthropod fallout and nutrient transport: a quantitative study of Alaskan snowpatches.” Arctic and Alpine Research 8(3): 237–245. https://doi.org/10.2307/1550470

Farbregd, O. 1972. “Pilefunn frå Oppdalsfjella.” DKNVS Miscellanea 5: 1–138.

Farnell, R., P. G. Hare, E. Blake, V. Bowyer, C. Schweger, S. Greer and R. Gotthardt. 2004. “Multidisciplinary investigations of alpine ice patches in southwest Yukon, Canada: paleoenvironmental and paleobiological investigations.” Arctic 57(3): 247–259. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic502

Fisher, D. C., A. N. Tikhonov, P. A. Kosintsev, A. N. Rountrey, B. Buigues and J. van der Plicht. 2012. “Anatomy, death, and preservation of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) calf, Yamal Peninsula, northwest Siberia.” Quaternary International 255: 94–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2011.05.040

Flodin, L. 1989. “Kammakeriet i Trondheim: en kvantitativ analys av horn- och benmaterialet från Folkebibliotekstomten.” Fortiden i Trondheim bygrunn: Folkebibliotekstomten. Meddelelser 14. Trondheim: Riksantikvaren, Utgravningskontoret for Trondheim.

Fujita, K., K. Hiyama, H. Iida and Y. Ageta. 2010. “Self-regulated fluctuations in the ablation of a snow patch over four decades.” Water Resources Research 46(11): W11541. https://doi.org/10.1029/2009WR008383

Guest, N. J. and G. P. Leedal. 1954. “Notes on the fauna of Kilimanjaro.” Tanganyika Notes and Records 36: 43–49.

Hardy, D. R. and S. P. Hardy. 2008. “White-winged Diuca Finch (Diuca speculifera) nesting on Quelccaya Ice Cap, Perú.” The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 120(3): 613–617. https://doi.org/10.1676/06-165.1

Hare, P. G., S. Greer, R. Gotthardt, R. Farnell, V. Bowyer, C. Schweger and D. Strand. 2004. “Ethnographic and archaeological investigations of alpine ice patches in southwest Yukon, Canada.” Arctic 57(3): 260–272. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic503

Hare, P. G., C. D. Thomas, T. N. Topper and R. M. Gotthardt. 2012. “The archaeology of Yukon ice patches: New artifacts, observations, and insights.” Arctic 65 (Suppl. 1): 118–135. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic4188

Haynes, G. 1980. “Evidence of carnivore gnawing on Pleistocene and recent mammalian bones.” Paleobiology 6(3): 341–351. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0094837300006849

Hodson, A., A. M. Anesio, M. Tranter, A. Fountain, M. Osborn, J. Priscu, J. Laybourn-Parry and B. Sattler. 2008. “Glacial ecosystems.” Ecological Monographs 78(1): 41–67. https://doi.org/10.1890/07-0187.1

Indrelid, S. and A. K. Hufthammer. 2011. “Medieval mass trapping of reindeer at the Hardangervidda mountain plateau, South Norway.” Quaternary International 238: 44–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2010.09.008

Inman, R.M., A. J. Magoun, J. Persson and J. Mattisson. 2012. “The wolverine’s niche: linking reproductive chronology, caching, competition, and climate.” Journal of Mammalogy 93(3): 634–644. https://doi.org/10.1644/11-MAMM-A-319.1

Johnson, R. E. 1968. “Temperature regulation in the white-tailed ptarmigan, Lagopus luecurus.” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 24: 1003–1014. https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-406X(68)90813-X

Kaisila, J. 1952. “Insects from arctic mountain snows.” Annales Entomologici Fennici 18(1): 8–25.

Knudsen, N. T., P. Nørnberg, J. C. Yde, B. Hasholt and J. Heinemeier. 2008. “Recent marginal changes of the Mittivakkat glacier, southeast Greenland and the discovery of remains of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), polar bear (Ursus maritimus) and peaty material.” Danish Journal of Geography 108(1): 137–142. https://doi.org/10.1080/00167223.2008.10649579

Kuhn, T. S., K. A. McFarlane, P. Groves, A. Ø. Mooers and B. Shapiro. 2010. “Modern and ancient DNA reveal recent partial replacement of caribou in the southwest Yukon.” Molecular Ecology 19(7): 1312–1323. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04565.x

Kuzyk, G. W., D. E. Russell, R. S. Farnell, R. M. Gotthardt, P. G. Hare and E. Blake. 1999. “In pursuit of prehistoric caribou on Thandlät, southern Yukon.” Arctic 52(2): 214–219. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic924

Latham, D. V. 1926. “Kilimanjaro and some observations on the physiology of high altitudes in the tropics.” The Geographical Journal 68 (6): 492–505. https://doi.org/10.2307/1782006

Lauriol, B., C. Prévost, É. Deschamps, J. Cinq-Mars and S. Labrecque. 2001. “Faunal and archaeological remains as evidence of climate change in freezing caverns, Yukon Territory, Canada.” Arctic 54(2): 135–141. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic772

Lee, C.M. 2012. “Withering snow and ice in the mid-latitudes: a new archaeological and paleobiological record for the Rocky Mountain region.” Arctic 65 (Suppl. 1):165-177. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic4191

Lee, C. M., and J. B. Benedict. 2012. “Ice bison, frozen forests, and the search for archaeology in Colorado Front Range ice patches.” Journal of Colorado Archaeology 78(1): 41–46.

Lee, C. M., J. B. Benedict and J. B. Lee. 2006. “Ice patches and remnant glaciers: paleontological discoveries and archaeological possibilities in the Colorado High Country.” Southwestern Lore 72(1): 26–43.

Letts, B., T. L. Fulton, M. Stiller, T. D. Andrews, G. MacKay, R. Popko and B. Shapiro. 2012. “Ancient DNA reveals genetic continuity in mountain woodland caribou of the Mackenzie and Selwyn Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada.” Arctic 65 (Suppl. 1): 80–94. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic4186

Lockwood, J.A., C. D. Thompson, L. D. Debrey, C. M. Love, R. A. Nunamaker and R. E. Pfadt. 1991. “Preserved grasshopper fauna of Knife Point Glacier, Fremont County, Wyoming, USA.” Arctic and Alpine Research 23(1): 108–114. https://doi.org/10.2307/1551444

Lüps, P., S. Grieder and C. Schlüchter. 2006. “Der steinbock (Capra ibex) vom Strahleggpass: biologische aussagen und glaziologische folgerungen anhand eines 900 jahre im eis gelagerten gehörns.” Contributions to Natural History 7: 1–17.

MacGregor, A. 1985. Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn: The Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman Period. London: Croom Helm.

McGowan, G. and J. Pragnell. 2006. “The significance of vivanite in archaeological settings.” Geoarchaeology 21(1): 93–111. https://doi.org/10.1002/gea.20090

Meyer, H. 1891. Across East African Glaciers: An Account of the First Ascent of Kilimanjaro. London: George Philip and Son.

Mikkelsen, E. 1994. “Fangstprodukter i vikingtidens og middelalderens økonomi. Organiseringen av massefangst av villrein i Dovre.” Universitetets Oldsaksamlings Skrifter Ny rekke 18: 1–191.

Mizuno, K. 2005. “Glacial fluctuation and vegetation succession on Tyndall Glacier, Mt Kenya.” Mountain Research and Development 25(1): 68–75. https://doi.org/10.1659/0276-4741(2005)025[0068:GFAVSO]2.0.CO;2

Moen, A. 1999. National Atlas of Norway: Vegetation. Hønefoss: Norwegian Mapping Authority.

Nesje, A., L. H. Pilø, E. Finstad, B. Solli, V. Wangen, R. S. Ødegård, K. Isaksen, E. N. Støren, D. I. Bakke and L. M. Andreassen. 2012. “The climatic significance of artefacts related to prehistoric reindeer hunting exposed at melting ice patches in southern Norway.” The Holocene 22(4): 485–496. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959683611425552

Newton, I. 2007. “Weather-related mass-mortality events in migrants.” Ibis 149: 453–467. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2007.00704.x

O’Sullivan, N. J., M. D. Teasdale, V. Mattiangeli, F. Maixner, R. Pinhasi, D. G. Bradley and A. Zink. 2016.

“A whole mitochondria analysis of the Tyrolean Iceman’s leather provides insights into the animal sources of Copper Age clothing.” Scientific Reports 6: 31279. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep31279

Olivieri, C., I. Marota, E. Rizzi, L. Ermini, L. Fusco, A. Pietrelli, G. De Bellis, F. Rollo and S. Luciani. 2014. “Positioning the red deer (Cervus elaphus) hunted by the Tyrolean Iceman into a mitochondrial DNA phylogeny.” Public Library of Science ONE 9(7): e100136. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100136

Øyen, P. A. 1913. “Mammut og moskusokse i Norge.” Naturen 37: 195–208.

Pattie, D. L. and N.A.M. Verbeek. 1967. “Alpine mammals of the Beartooth Mountains.” Northwest Science 41(3): 110–117.

Pedersen, Å. Ø., M.-A. Blanchet, M. Hörnell-Willebrand, J. U. Jepsen, M. Biuw and E. Fuglei. 2014. “Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) breeding habitat use in northern Sweden.” Journal of Ornithology 155: 195–209. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-013-1001-0

Pilloud, M. A., M. S. Megyesi, M. Truffer and D. Congram. 2016. “The taphonomy of human remains in a glacial environment.” Forensic Science International 261: 161.e1–161.e8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2016.01.027

Pokines, J. T., R. E. King, D. D. Graham, A. K. Costello, D. M. Adams, J. M. Pendray, K. Rao and D. Siwek. 2016. “The effects of experimental freeze-thaw cycles to bone as a component of subaerial weathering.” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 6: 594–602. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.03.023

Reckin, R. 2013. “Ice patch archaeology in global perspective: archaeological discoveries from alpine ice patches worldwide and their relationship with paleoclimates.” Journal of World Prehistory 26: 323–385. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-013-9068-3

Reimer, P.J., et al. 2016. “IntCal13 and Marine13 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves 0–50,000 Years cal BP.” Radiocarbon 55(4): 1869–1887. https://doi.org/10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16947

Rosvold, J. 2016. “Perennial ice and snow-covered land as important ecosystems for birds and mammals.” Journal of Biogeography 43: 3–12. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.12609

Rothe, M., A. Kleeberg and M. Hupfer. 2016. “The occurrence, identification and environmental relevance of vivianite in waterlogged soils and aquatic sediments.” Earth-Science Reviews 158: 51–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earscirev.2016.04.008

Røed, K. H., G. Bjørnstad, Ø. Flagstad, H. Haanes, A. K. Hufthammer, P. Jordhøy and J. Rosvold. 2014. “Ancient DNA reveals prehistoric habitat fragmentation and recent domestic introgression into native wild reindeer.” Conservation Genetics 15(5): 1137–1149. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-014-0606-z

Savioz, N.R. 2015. “‘Maultiere und felsenpferde’: die tierknochenreste.” In 400 jahre im gletschereis: der Theodulpass bei Zermatt und sein “söldner,” edited by S. Providoli, P. Curdy and P. Elsig, 71–79. Bern: Hier und Jetzt.

Schlüchter, C., E. Zbären and P. Lüps. 2006. “‘Strubeli,’ die Gemsmumie vom Rezligletscher im Wildstrubelgebiet.” Contributions to Natural History 8: 1–10.

Schodde, R., T.G.F. Van, C. R. Champion and G. S. Hope. 1975. “Observation of birds at glacial altitudes on the Carstensz massif, western New Guinea.” Emu 75(2): 65–72. https://doi.org/10.1071/MU9750065

Serrano, E., J. J. González-trueba, J. J. Sanjosé and L. M. Del Rio. 2011. “Ice patch origin, evolution and dynamics in a temperate high mountain environment: the Jou Negro, Picos de Europa (NW Spain).” Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography 93(2): 57–70. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0459.2011.00006.x

Smith, C. C. and O. J. Reichman. 1984. “The evolution of food caching by birds and mammals.” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 15: 329–351. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.es.15.110184.001553

Swan, L. W. 1992. “The aeolian biome: ecosystems of the earth’s extremes.” BioScience 42(4): 262–270. https://doi.org/10.2307/1311674

Turner-Walker, G. 2007. “The chemical and microbial degradation of bones and teeth.” In Advances in human palaeopathology, edited by R. Pinhasi and S. Mays, 3–29. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470724187.ch1

Tyndall, J. 1871. Hours of Exercise in the Alps. London: Longmans, Green and Co.

VanderHoek, R., J. Dixon, N. L. Jarman and R. M. Tedor. 2012. “Ice patch archaeology in Alaska: 2000–2010.” Arctic 65 (Suppl. 1): 153–164. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic4190

VanderHoek, R., R. M. Tedor and J. D. McMahan. 2007. “Cultural materials recovered from ice patches in the Denali Highway region, Central Alaska, 2003–2005.” Alaska Journal of Anthropology 5(2): 185–200.

Vaughan, D. G., J. C. Comiso, I. Allison, J. Carrasco, G. Kaser, R. Kwok, P. Mote, T. Murray, F. Paul, J. Ren, E. Rignot, O. Solomina, K. Steffen and T. Zhang. 2013. “Observations: Cryosphere.” In Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of working group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, edited by T. F. Stocker, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M.M.B. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex, and P. M. Midgley, 317–382. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weber, B., ed. 2007. Vesle Hjerkinn - Kongens gård og sælehus. Vol. 21, Norske Oldfunn. Oslo: Universitetets kulturhistoriske museer.

Weisgram, J., H. Splechtna, H. Hilgers, M. Walzl, W. Leitner and H. Seidler. 1996. “Remarks on the anatomy of a mummified cat regarding the extent of preservation.” In Human Mummies: A Global Survey of their Status and the Techniques of Conservation, edited by K. Spindler, H. Wilfing, E. Rastbichler-Zissernig, D. ZurNedden and H. Nothdurfter. 289–294. Vienna: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-7091-6565-2_29

Wika, M. 1982. “Antlers: A mineral source in Rangifer.” Acta Zoologica 63(1): 7–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1463-6395.1982.tb00752.x

Wilson, J. W. 1958. “Dirt on snow patches.” Journal of Ecology 46(1): 191–198. https://doi.org/10.2307/2256913

Young, T. P. and M. R. Evans. 1993. “Alpine vertebrates of Mount Kenya, with particular notes on the rock hyrax.” Journal of the East Africa Natural History Society and National Museum 82(202): 55–79.

Zbären, E. 1995. “Mumifizierte wachtel Coturnix coturnix auf dem Rezligletscher am Wildstrubel.”

Der Ornithologische Beobachter 92: 167–168.

Zemp, M., et al. 2008. Global Glacier Changes: Facts and Figures. Zürich: World Glacier Monitoring Service.



How to Cite

Rosvold, J. (2018). Faunal Finds from Alpine Ice: Natural or Archaeological Depositions?. Journal of Glacial Archaeology, 3, 79–108. https://doi.org/10.1558/jga.32414