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The mussel shell arrowheads have been found together with shafts and lashings. The scale in the lower edge of the image is millimeters.	Source: Cultural History Museum

Curious Mussel Shell Arrowheads in Norway’s Mountains Confound Archaeologists


It’s not the first time archaeologists in Norway have discovered ancient arrows melting out of mountainsides. But it is the first time arrows made from mussel shells have been found.

Another Treasure Melting from the Ice

Jotunheimen (home of the giants) is a mountainous region situated in central Norway that boasts of a rich archaeological history dating back to the Stone Age. Over the centuries, the region has been home to various tribes and communities who all left settlements, burial sites, and artifacts that provide significant insights into the people’s Nordic lifestyles.

One of the most remarkable archaeological finds in Jotunheimen is the Lendbreen glacier, which has been melting, and exposing a treasure trove of ancient tools and weapons. However, archaeologists in Jotunheimen were surprised to find three “unique” arrowheads made of freshwater pearl mussels that melted out of the ice in the mountains.

A Unique Discovery In World Archaeology

Professor Lars Pilø, an archaeologist in Innlandet County Municipality, described the find as “breaking news.” He said the “unique arrowheads” were crafted from mussel shells, representing a technology that was “completely unknown in Norway before the melting started, and they have not been found anywhere else in the world.”

According to a report in Science Norway, the shell weapons date back to the Early Bronze Age, around 3,700 to 3,500 years ago. Curiously, however, the arrowheads were only in use for a couple of hundred years.

Pilø said “Folks at the time did have access to stone which can be used to make arrowheads, and they also used bone and antlers.” However, nobody is quite sure why the technology was developed and abandoned in such a short period of time.

A Giant Freezer Holding Ancient Organic Components

When several thousands of years old ice melts, archaeologists in Norway find incredibly well-preserved hunting weapons and survival tools. Some of the items include clothing, textiles, tools, and hunting equipment such as arrows and bows. The items have been discovered as part of the Secrets of the Ice program, which studies the artifacts and other finds that emerge from melting glaciers and ice patches in the Norwegian mountains.

The projectile end of an Iron Age arrow previously found lodged between stones on the lower edges of Norway’s Langfonne ice path. (Secrets of the Ice)

The projectile end of an Iron Age arrow previously found lodged between stones on the lower edges of Norway’s Langfonne ice path. (Secrets of the Ice)

In this instance, the team discovered the three shell arrowheads in a relatively small area. They noted that the freshwater pearl mussels probably did not exist in the areas where the arrowheads were found, “so hunters must have brought them up in the mountains.”

Archaeologist Christopher Prescott at the University of Oslo said “the frozen conditions have trapped “organic components” from the Stone Age. Prescott said he has himself found artifacts made from mother of pearl which were about 4,000 years old, but this is “the first time that such arrowheads made from shells have been found”.

Reverse Engineering Ancient Tech

How exactly ancient hunters created and used mussel shell arrow heads will only become clear after several years of experimental archaeology. However, speculating, Pilø says, “For the hunter, this was about needing the arrowhead to penetrate the animal and create a proper wound. I would imagine that sharp mussels are quite well suited to do so”.

In conclusion, the discovery of unique arrowheads made of freshwater pearl mussels in the Norwegian mountains will create a lot of work for archaeologists. Not only will the researchers try to figure out why these arrowheads were used for only a short time period, but they will attempt to answer why they haven't been found anywhere else in the world. Experimental archaeology might one day answer “why” the hunters chose to use shells, instead of stone and bone like most other hunters around the world. But it will probably never be known if this particular type of shell was imbued with some kind of magical or spiritual significance.

Top image: The mussel shell arrowheads have been found together with shafts and lashings. The scale in the lower edge of the image is millimeters.            Source: Cultural History Museum

By Ashley Cowie



Pete Wagner's picture

We don’t know who’s the fool and who’s the one who fools, but we DO know that the age of whatever they find deep in what were once bigger glaciers is no later than 20k years ago, and probably much older.  Because since mid or late Ice Age, the glaciers have been melting and retreating.  But if the objects were found in recently exposed sediment, pre-Ice Age would be my bet.  Prior to the Ice Age, there was NO ICE, not even at the poles!

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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