Norway is known for its spirit of friluftsliv, or "free air life," which emphasizes outdoor activities in nature like hiking and skiing. And as one hiker in southeastern Norway recently discovered, friluftsliv can be a double-edged sword — literally.
During a hike near the mountain village of Haukeli earlier this month, outdoorsman Goran Olsen had stopped for a rest when he noticed a strange object hidden under some rocks. Upon closer inspection, the object turned out to be an ancient Viking sword, which experts estimate to be roughly 1,265 years old. Aside from a little rust and a missing handle, the artifact is surprisingly well-preserved.
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The two-edged, wrought-iron sword measures about 77 centimeters (30 inches) in length, according to a statement by the Hordaland County Council. Archaeologists say it was likely made around 750 A.D., although they point out that's not an exact date. The 8th century is when many Vikings began venturing beyond their Scandinavian homelands to explore, trade and launch raids on coastal areas in Europe.
The mountains around Haukeli are often covered with snow for six months at a time. (Photo: Ingve Moss Liknes/Flickr)
The mountain plateau where this sword was found is blanketed by snow and frost half the year, and experiences little humidity during summer, which may help explain why the sword hasn't deteriorated more during the past millennium.
"It's quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking age that are so well-preserved," county conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd tells CNN, adding that the sword "might be used today if you sharpened the edge."
The plateau where Olsen was trekking is a well-known mountain path, used not just by modern hunters and hikers, but also by ancient travelers dating back to Viking days. Although the sword's origins remain unclear, Ekerhovd says it probably belonged to someone wealthy, since swords like this were considered status symbols in Viking society due to the expense of mining and refining iron.
From left, Hordaland County culture director Anna Elisa Tryti, Mayor Anne Gine Hestetun and curator Per Morten Ekerhovd pose with the newly discovered sword. (Photo: Bjarte Brask Eriksen/Hordaland County Council)
The sword may be part of a burial site, Ekerhovd adds, or it might belong to an unlucky traveler who suffered an injury or frostbite on the mountain pass 1,200 years before Olsen came along. Friluftsliv can be rejuvenating, but without enough insulation from the elements, not even an iron sword can protect you.
The sword has been handed over to the University Museum of Bergen, where researchers will study its historical relevance and work to preserve it. An expedition to the discovery site is also planned for next spring, after the winter snow melts, in hopes of finding more relics to put the sword into clearer context.
In the meantime, Ekerhovd says he's just glad that Olsen's outdoorsy adventure led him to stumble across this slice of Viking history. "We are really happy that this person found the sword and gave it to us," he says. "It will shed light on our early history. It's a very [important] example of the Viking age."
It's also an example of the less obvious benefits friluftsliv can offer. Aside from the well-known ways spending time in nature can improve a person's mental and physical health, exploring wilderness areas often feels like traveling back in time — and with a much lower risk of running into any actual Vikings.