Glacier archaeologists surveying a mountain pass emerging from the Lendbreen ice patch in Norway’s Jotunheim Mountains have discovered an extremely well-preserved sealed wooden box containing the remnants of a beeswax candle. The find offers new insight into the equipment used in late medieval travel.
As part of the project ‘Secrets of the Ice’, the Innlandet County-based Glacier Archaeology Programme (GAP) have been conducting surveys at Lendbreen since 2011, when the ice began melting away and exposing remarkable finds dating from the Roman Iron Age to the late medieval period.
In 2019, a wooden box was found lying on the surface of the ice, its excellent state of preservation indicating it had only recently melted out of the glacier.
According to GAP co-director Lars Holger Pilø: ‘The lid was still on, but we could peek inside at one end and see that the contents were preserved. When the lid was removed, we initially thought that the contents were bits of wood for making a fire – so a tinderbox.’
Recent analysis at Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History revealed the box was crafted from pine and, instead of wood, it contained the crumbled remains of a beeswax candle. The materials were radiocarbon dated to between AD 1417 and 1635.
‘Such candle boxes are known from recent times here in Norway. They were used for transporting candles between the main farms and the summer farms. Now we know that such candle boxes were used way back in time’, the GAP said in a statement.
The team has so far unearthed hundreds of artefacts left behind in the Lendbreen mountain pass by farmers and travellers on their way to summer pastures, trading posts, and beyond. Radiocarbon analysis of the finds, published in Antiquity in 2020, revealed the route was used from around AD 300 to 1500.
Other spectacular discoveries at Lendbreen include a complete 4th-century Iron Age tunic, an 11th-century walking stick bearing a runic inscription of the name ‘Joar’, sleds and tent pegs, and the skeletal remains of pack horses.