Some time near AD750, someone left a Viking sword along a mountain plateau in southern Norway. On a late October day more than 1,250 years later, a hiker named Goran Olsen picked it up.
The Hordaland County council announced this week that the hiker had discovered the sword in surprisingly pristine condition among the rocks of an old road in Haukeli, as he stopped to rest along an old road through the region's mountains and valleys.
"It's quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking age that are so well-preserved," county conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd told CNN. "It might be used today if you sharpened the edge," he added.
The 30-inch, wrought iron sword has been dated to about AD750, and although it has rusted during its centuries of rest in frost, snows and springs, Ekerhovd called it a "quite extraordinary" find.
"We are really happy that this person found the sword and gave it to us," he said. "It will shed light on our early history. It's a very [important] example of the Viking age."
Wrought-iron arms and armor were expensive, and the sword's owner was probably wealthier or more influential than the average Viking, Professor Alexandra Sanmark, a Viking expert at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, said.
"Generally if you had a sword, that tends to be a very high-status item," she said.
"The common idea about Vikings was that they wore big, metal helmets, but they probably wore leather helmets. The metal would've gone into making these fabulous weapons, which have more like steel, it's really high quality."
She added that only one Viking helmet of iron has so far been found.
Sanmark said that the Norwegian archaeologists' initial theories rang true: the sword may have been part of a burial for someone of high status.
Haukeli's mountains are buried in frost and snow for half the year, but artifacts have increasingly turned up along such paths in recent years. Wealthy individuals may have been buried with hundreds of objects, from their precious weapons to their riding gear and the horses themselves, Sanmark said.
Climate change has led to the discovery of more and more artifacts, as glaciers retreat and reveal more clues about the variety of Viking life and death. Vikings held a number of different funeral practices, she said, from the fiery bier cast off to the sea, well rehearsed in popular culture, to more generic cremations. Others were placed under barrow mounds – two women were buried with an entire Viking ship in Oseberg – while slaves were dumped in ditches.
"You can kind of tease out these hierarchies of Viking life," Sanmark said. "But for the poorest people, we don't know much."
Hordaland archaeologist Jostein Aksdal told the English site the Local that he planned to search the site of the sword's discovery in spring. "If we find several objects, or a tomb, perhaps we can find the story behind the sword," he said.
"This was a common sword in western Norway. But it was a costly weapon, and the owner must have used it to show power," he added.
The sword will go to the the University Museum of Bergen for conservation and study.
Recent discoveries from Viking-age graves have changed the modern perception of Vikings. In March, researchers in Sweden reported that an engraved ring found in a ninth-century woman's grave has an Arabic inscription. The glass ring, whose inscription reads "for Allah" or "to Allah", is some of the only evidence of interaction between the booming Islamic civilizations of the time and the expansive network of Viking traders and warriors.