What Does a Glacier Archaeologist Do? Interview With Lars Pilo

Today we have a very special guest. Lars Pilo is a Glacier Archaeologist and is here to tell us all about his “cool” career.

Check it out!

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself

A. My name is Lars Pilø. Growing up, I always wanted to be an archaeologist, and wasnorway-location-map lucky to become one. What I like most about being an archaeologist is being outdoors and finding artifacts, left behind by humans thousands of years ago.

For the last twelve years, I have worked as a glacier archaeologist in Norway.

Q. What is a “Glacier Archaeologist?”

A. A glacier archaeologist is an archaeologist who tries to find and rescue artifacts as they emerge from melting glaciers. It is a new field in archaeology, brought on by climate change. So far, there are glacier archaeologists working in North America, the Alps, and Norway.

Q. What type of education/training do you have?

A. I studied archaeology at the university for nearly ten years, while at the same time working on archaeological excavations. In this way, I got to know archaeology both from books and from one end of a shovel. I got a scholarship and did my PhD, but decided to leave university and return to archaeological fieldwork – that is where my heart is!

Q. Did you always have an interest in glaciers?

A. I grew up in Denmark with is a flat, low-lying country, so except for summer holidays in Switzerland, I had not seen many glaciers before coming to Norway. I found them fascinating, but I had no idea that I would end up doing archaeology at such places.

Q. Why is Glacier Archaeology so important?

A. The ice works like a time machine, sometimes preserving the artifacts like in a prehistoric deep-freezer, as if they were lost yesterday – even when they are thousands of years old. Now climate change is melting the ice. Once the artifacts melt out of the ice, the clock starts ticking and they begin to break down. We have to be there and rescue the artifacts before they are lost forever,

We can learn a lot from the beautifully preserved artifacts, for instance how hunters in the past made their arrows and how they hunted reindeer on the glaciers. We also know a lot more now about when and why humans travelled through the high mountains, from belongings they left behind in the ice.

Q. What are some of the things you have found in the ice?

A. We have found thousands of artifacts in the ice – hunting tools, clothing items and Iron Age Tunicremains from transport. Among the finds I particularly like is a 1700-year old tunic (a kind of long shirt), a 3300-year-old shoe and a 1300-year old ski. We have also found nearly 200 arrows that still have the wooden arrow shaft preserved.

We would very much like to find an ice mummy like Ötzi the iceman. We have a special mummy kit ready, in case we should be so lucky.

Q. What is a typical day at work like for you?

A. When we are in the field, we normally get up at dawn in our campsite, which is normally quite close to the melting ice. We have breakfast in our mess tent, and head out to look for artifacts.

We spend the whole day searching except for lunch and coffee breaks. When we discover a find, we take photos of it, measure where it was found using GPS, and carefully pack the find. When evening comes, we return to the camp. We cook our dinner in the mess tent, and talk about was has happened during the day.

Q. Do you have any advice for our young readers that want to be a Glacier Archaeologist?

A. If you would like to become a glacial archaeologist, you have to study archaeology and get a degree. Maybe you can find an archaeology program in a place close to where glacial archaeology is done? It is also a good idea to get used to being outdoors in the mountains.

Q. Anything else you would like to add?

A. Being a glacial archaeologist is a fantastic job, but it is also quite tough. Most of pictures you can find of glacial archaeology on the internet shows great finds and sunshine. However, the weather in the high mountains is often bad, with rain, sleet or snow and strong wind and we do not make great discoveries every day. Still, we get to be outdoors with our friends in beautiful nature, and that can be a reward in itself.

Thank you, Lars, for sharing your awesome career with us. Now let’s check out some of the cool finds that have been discovered in the melting ice.

Want to read a cool book about ice-finds? Check out Out of the Ice. Read our review here.

Categories: Careers, Interviews

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