Bone Ice Skates Invented by Ancient Finns, Study Says

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
January 4, 2008

Ice-skating—the oldest human-powered means of transportation—was invented in Finland not for fun but for survival, according to a new study.

Skates made from animal bones have been found throughout Scandinavia and Russia, including some that date back to around 3000 B.C.

The wide dispersal of the ancient artifacts has made it difficult for archaeologists to pin down exactly when and where ice-skating first developed.

Now scientists from Italy and the United Kingdom have calculated that people living in what is now southern Finland would have benefited the most from skating on the crude blades.

The researchers showed that people traveling across the region's frozen lakes reduced their physical energy cost by 10 percent.

By contrast, skaters in other northern European countries would have had only a one percent energy reduction (see a map of Europe).

"People developed this ingenious locomotion tool in order to travel more quickly and by using not as much energy as if they had walked around all the lakes," said study co-author Federico Formenti of the University of Oxford in England.

The study appears in this month's issue of the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London.

Leather Straps

Southern Finland has more lakes within 40 square miles (about 100 square kilometers) than any other region in the world.

"I think ice-skating happened in [this] area because of the several long and thin lakes that people had to cross in order to get around, hunting for food or for any daily activity," Formenti said.

"Those lakes froze during the long winters, when sunlight was there only for a few hours per day."

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