Finland may be birthplace of ice-skating

New research from Oxford University suggests that ice-skating may have been introduced in southern Finland 5,000 years ago, according to

Researchers Federico Formenti and Alberto Minetti pointed to this region with the highest concentration of lakes in the world as being a likely spot to spur the invention of this ‘human-powered’ mode of transportation. The report, published in the January issue of the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London, suggested that humans had begun ice-skating during the second millennium BC.

The oldest ice skates that have been found were constructed from cow and horse bones attached to the foot with leather straps. A stick was then used to give momentum by pushing backward between the legs. These artifacts have been discovered throughout Scandinavia.

The researchers wrote: “In this geographical region characterised by a harsh climate, especially in winter, our ancestors had to face the dilemma of walking around several frozen lakes — an energetically demanding option — or crossing them, which could prove to be more convenient in terms of distance traveled, metabolic cost, and/or speed.”

The researchers conducted a study in which exact replicas of these original ice skates were tested out by five retired professional ice skaters. The skaters went to an ice rink in the Italian Alps where their speed, oxygen intake and heart rates were measured to provide data for a computer simulation. The simulation then calculated how much energy the ice skates would have saved for those traveling in Northern Europe.

The research revealed that 10% of people’s energy would have been saved by skating across lakes in Finland, while only 3% and 1% or less would have been saved in Norway and Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, respectively.

Fomenti said the results did not provide a definitive answer to the birthplace of ice-skating, but they were promising.