During a peaceful hike in Norway, a hiker stumbled upon an extraordinary find that took him back in time. Observing the shoreline of a serene lake, he noticed a series of wooden poles protruding from the now-dry lakebed. His accidental discovery unveiled the presence of 7,000-year-old fishing traps. Reidar Marstein, an avid mountaineer and amateur archaeologist, came across these ancient traps at Tesse Lake last summer when the receding waters temporarily exposed them.
The Cultural History Museum released a statement in September, indicating that archaeologists conducted a preliminary survey of the site and were able to date one of the trap’s wooden logs back to 5000 B.C. These ruins represent the oldest fish traps in Norway and the oldest of their kind in northern Europe.
The fish traps were constructed by inserting sharpened wooden poles deep into the lakebed. Positioned in shallow water, they likely had a distinctive lollipop-like shape. The traps featured a wooden fence that directed the fish into a central circular chamber, where ancient fishermen could easily retrieve their catch either by wading into the cold water or using a boat. Illustrations offer a glimpse into what these traps may have looked like. Unfortunately, rising water levels in the lake submerged the Stone Age traps before they could be fully excavated last summer.
Tesse Lake, located approximately 180 miles northwest of Oslo, experiences seasonal fluctuations in water levels, as explained by the Cultural History Museum in a Facebook post on June 4. The lake contracts during early summer for power generation purposes and then refills when the surrounding snow melts in warmer weather.
Undeterred by the temporary submersion, archaeologists patiently awaited the lake’s shrinking period. The first excavations of the fish traps commenced on June 4 and continued as long as the low water levels permitted, as revealed in a museum update on June 21. The team successfully identified four fish traps and fully excavated one of them, unearthing more than 50 remarkably well-preserved wooden poles. The poles, showcased in photographs, displayed signs of being skillfully chopped, sharpened, and firmly anchored into the lakebed.
“The poles are pointed at the end and were clearly driven into the seabed with quite a bit of force,” explained Axel Mjærum, the archaeologist overseeing the excavation, in an interview with Science in Norway. “The pointed ends are slightly damaged at the tip.” Further excavations revealed the presence of materials situated between the poles, which formed a tight chamber within the trap, preventing fish from escaping, as stated by the museum.
“We were quite sure that we were dealing with fish traps here, but now we are absolutely certain,” shared Mjærum with Science in Norway. “It’s a find that brings us very close to the Stone Age people,” he added. The ancient hunters who constructed and utilized these fish traps likely followed reindeer into the mountains, according to the museum’s release.
While previous excavations around Tesse Lake had already uncovered remnants of Stone Age settlements, the submerged fishing traps present a valuable opportunity for further study. Archaeologists intend to analyze the wooden poles extensively, aiming to determine the traps’ construction timelines and patterns of usage. Despite being submerged once again, these ancient artifacts provide a fascinating window into the lives and practices of the Stone Age inhabitants who relied on fishing as a crucial component of their existence.