The result of the two days visit by the national broadcasting company NRK in Varanger last summer was aired in Norway yesterday, as a short glimpse in the series “Arkeologene” (“The Archaeologists”). Unfortunately, everything I said about circular offering sites was actually cut in the end, so what remains is a very short introduction to some Sámi mythology and scree graves. Oh well, that´s TV… You can find the clip and the rest of the episode and series here:
In a couple of days I will be heading for Jokkmokk, Northern Sweden, to visit the 408th annual winter market. I will be presenting a paper at the half day seminar ”Vildmark eller kulturlandskap – samiska kulturminnen i fjällen” (“Wilderness or cultural landscape – Sámi cultural heritage in the mountains”) at Ájtte Museum on Wednesday Feb 6.
The seminar is one of many happenings during the market week, which attracts about 40.000 visitors every year. The visitors include locals, people from other parts of Sápmi, and tourists from further away. The market also attracts media attention at home and abroad, like this photo gallery run in January this year by the Guardian: Jokkmokk Sámi market in Swedish Lapland.
My paper will present my project with a focus on whether the enigmatic stone circles registered in Swedish mountains and other places in Norway and Sweden are in fact related to the same cultural traditions as the “classical” circular offering sites in Finnmark. I am hoping that the audience will also have some opinions on this so that we can have a fruitful exchange on the topic.
I look forward to visiting Jokkmokk and attending the seminar, not least as part of my preparations before going on the planned surveys in Northern Sweden this spring. And of course I look forward to experiencing the winter market! Next stop Jokkmokk!
As I mentioned in my last entry, 2013 promised to be off to a good start with my planned visit to the archives at Tromsø Museum, and I have not been disappointed. The aim was primarily to study the private archives of the late Ørnulv Vorren (1916-2007), documents that were recently included in the Sámi ethnographic archives.
A professor of ethnography, Vorren wrote most of what has previously been published about Sámi circular offering sites and he did extensive surveys and investigation of such sites from about 1950 to 1990. Not all of the material he gathered through the years was published, so some of the information is only available in his original notes, maps, and letters. For the last week and a half I have been going through these in search of information that may be relevant to my project.
Among the surprises was the amount of finds Vorren made in the circular offering sites. I went into this project with an understanding that there was a very limited number of finds in previously investigated structures, but going through Vorren´s notes I discovered the finds included animal bones, charcoal, and woodworks from several of them.
Some of this material was brought into the museum and is still in the collections, and I have been fortunate enough to get permission to sample several of the finds in order to do C14 datings. This is an important progress for the project, since the chronology of the circular offering sites has been very uncertain.
In addition, I got to sample pieces of birch bark from one certain and three possible scree graves that were found within the well-known circular offering site at Mortensnes, Nesseby, Finnmark, during investigations here in the late 1960s. The graves seem to have been embedded in the “floor” of the circle, consequently it is likely that they were built after the stone circle as such. This means the birch bark should not be older than the stone circle, and dating the pieces should give a latest possible dating for the building of the structure.
All in all, these days in Tromsø were well spent, not least thanks to the very helpful staff at Tromsø Museum. Now all I need to do is to get the samples to the lab and wait for the dates…
It has been silent on this blog for the last part of the year but not because nothing is going on, rather the opposite. An official report from this year’s field work is on its way and I will publish more results when it is ready.
Next year is off to an exciting start, with a visit to Tromsø in January where I will be searching through the private archives of the late Ørnulv Vorren. Vorren has done most of the previous research on Sámi circular offering sites, but not everything was published. Hence, his field notes, drawings, maps, etc. should be very interesting indeed.
In addition, the “Christmas present” for the project this year came from Berit Wallenbergs Stiftelse, granting SEK 82.000 for further investigations. Many thanks to the foundation for this generous contribution! It makes for an exciting field season in 2013, so I really look forward to next year.
On this note I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!
And now for the commercials: This Sunday Oct 28 at 2 pm I will be presenting my project at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, as part of the popular series of seminars “Tid för forntid” – “Time for the past”. The presentation will be in Norwegian (understandable to Swedes!). Poster with directions to be found here: http://www.archaeology.su.se/polopoly_fs/1.98947.1346245213!/menu/standard/file/20120816_Tid_for_forntid.pdf
Thursday and Friday this week I participated as chair and discussant at “Re:Mindings”, a seminar focusing on “Co-Constituting Indigenous/Academic/Artistic Knowledges and Understandings of Land-, Water-, Body-, and Lab-scapes”, also known as Uppsala Second Supradisciplinary Feminist TechnoScience Symposium.
In a variation of presentations, Sámi and non-Sámi participants highlighted a range of issues that affect indigenous life and research among indigenous groups. Having a Norwegian background, it was especially rewarding to get more insight into the Sámi issues and research on the Swedish side of the border, as well as some input on what is going on within indigenous studies in Japan, North America, Australia, and Chile. As a result of the conference I was also made aware of a network for Sámi research in Uppsala, UPPSAM, which I hope to join, even though based in Stockholm.
A big thank you to the organizers of the conference for a great initiative!
Even before leaving Finnmark in August, I was considering another trip in order to see a few more of the sites I had to pass this summer because of the tight time schedule. On my wish list were both recently registered possible circular offering sites, and sites that were visited 30-50 years ago and described briefly in publications, but never registered in any official databases.
I finally decided to take advantage of what was probably the last days of the field season in Finnmark last week, and go see some more sites before the days become too short and the sites become covered in snow.
It proved a very rewarding trip! In amazing autumn weather I got to see a range of more or less dubious structures, and I think a pattern is starting to show, where I can divide the structures registered as circular offering sites into various types.
The question is if they are all expressions of the same cultural phenomenon. So far it seems that both cache structures and shooting blinds tend to get confused with the kind of circular drywalls that were originally described as offering sites, and I suspect that there are even more categories of cultural remains hiding behind the circular offering site label.
After four days of driving and hiking, the last day in Karasjok also held a pleasant surprise: A very long hike lead me to a circular stone wall with some fallen down rocks inside – and remains of woodwork stuck between some of them!
Remains of wooden structures have previously been mentioned in a couple of descriptions of circular offering sites, whereof one account from the 19th century and one from the early 1980s. The first mentioned structure has no visible remains today, and the second is very hard to get to, so I have yet to visit it.
The one I visited this week has not been officially registered before, so the wooden remains were a complete surprise. It suggests that the circular wall may have been part of a more complex construction. This is very exciting because it could give new insight into the specific use of the structure. In addition, finds of wood is important because small samples of organic material may be used for C14-dating. A dating would relate the phenomenon to a specific historical situation, which is of course crucial for the interpretation.
I hope to get the opportunity to investigate this structure closer next summer, in order to establish what the wooden remains are exactly, and what an original structure may have looked like. In the meantime, I will return to the office and start sorting the range of registered structures more systematically, relating them to other archaeological, historical and geographical information to see what patterns show up. Let the fun begin…!
This summer has been all about travelling, and I continued almost directly from the fieldwork to this years annual meeting for the European Association of Archaeologists in Helsinki, Finland, Aug 29-Sep 2.
It has been a great four days archaeology ”festival”, with 1200 archaeologists present, and a massive amount of sessions and papers given on various archaeological subjects.
My main task here was to give a paper called ”Hunting rituals – hunting facilities, graves and Sámi circular offering sites” in the session ”Reindeer Hunting as Part of Circumpolar History against the Wider Background of Hunting in Central and Northern Europe”. In the paper I summarized my project and presented some of the questions I have been pondering this summer, like the origin of the idea that these structures are offering sites, and whether they could possibly be something else, or something more.
I think the presentation went quite well, and it was very inspiring that the other participants seemed to find it interesting, wanted to discuss the issues I brought up, and also came up to me after the session to talk about it and give me tips about various sites and information I might find useful.
Apart from being a very valuable meeting point for archaeologists who are interested in the same subjects, the EAA is of course also a social happening, and it has been great to meet both old friends and to make new ones at all the social happenings during these days.
A big thanks to the organizers of the EAA in general, and to the organizers of the “reindeer session”, David Andersson, Ingrid Sommerseth, John Olsen, and Ulrich Schmölcke, in particular!
It has been five hectic weeks of fieldwork, but last week in Troms was mostly a treat, hiking in various areas in great autumn weather, meeting great people, and getting an overview of the areas and all the various structures registered as circular offering sites.
What strikes me is the lack of circular offering sites that resembles the ones I have seen in Finnmark. I have seen mysterious cairns, semi-circular stone setting and dubious house grounds, but so far only one structure I have visited in Troms resembles the circular offering sites further north: The one by the lake Gálggujávri in Storfjord municipality.
The stone circle is hidden between the hills in an odd terrain with crisscrossing moraines. The stone wall is built with accuracy, with larger stones on the inside and covered with smaller stones on the outside. The circular offering sites often have a mound or cairn in the middle, which has been thought to have functioned as a fundament for a sieidi, i.e. a sacred stone or wooden figure, or possibly as an alter for the offering matter.
In this case the mound is unusually large and fills out most of the interior of the circle. Unfortunately someone has dug a large hole in the middle of it. This is prohibited according to Norwegian law: All Sámi cultural heritage older than 100 years is automatically protected by law, while non-Sámi heritage is protected if older than the reformation of 1537.
The hole may be older than the current law, but it is still a pity that the structure has been disturbed. The few circular offering sites that have been excavated by professionals haven´t produced many finds, which makes it all the harder to define their use. Hence, it would be very unfortunate if any finds in this ring were never to be known by researchers or the public. In addition, such a disturbance makes it more difficult to decide the original construction of the circle and mound.
While seeing many structures this week that are probably not circular offering sites, it has been a valuable experience to travel the county and see what has been thought to be such sites. When returning to Tromsø on Friday, I had another valuable input waiting for me: Thanks to curator Dikka Storm at Tromsø Museum I have obtained a transcript of the first source that mentions the stone circles as offering sites; an 1850s note by zoologist, archaeologist and tradesman A. G. Nordvi. This is the origin of the present interpretation of the stone circles, and I was keen to know where Nordvi got his information. Unfortunately his words about the circles being offering sites are not very clear to this point, and could suggest both that this is his assumption, and that he has had such information from somewhere else. Hence, the structures and their history remains a mystery for now.
Back in the city! Well, ok, at 70 000 inhabitants I suppose it should be called a town. Anyway, I took a pit stop in Tromsø last week, primarily to look through the topographical and ethnographical archives at Tromsø Museum. However, I soon realized that the archives are extensive, and that I should rather get around to see as many sites as possible during the field season. I will come back to Tromsø during the cold and snowy winter to have a closer look at reports on possible circular offering sites and other relevant information.
With a little help from my friends (thank you Eline, Randi, and Per!) I had a car for a couple days during the week, and could go out to see two sites in the Tromsø area with reported possible Sámi circular offering sites.
One of them turned out to have no structures resembling circular offering sites whatsoever, but the other site sounded intriguing. It is located on the south side of Kvaløya, just outside Tromsø, on the roadless outer side of Torsnes (“Tor´s cape”). In this place there are various remains of fishing and farming settlements, spanning from the Iron Age to the 20th century. The remains include old houses, housegrounds, and some Iron Age grave cairns ascribed to Norse habitation.
Traditionally the whole area has been considered by archaeologists to be Norse and Norwegian since the Iron Age, so the presence of a circular offering site would be very interesting. It would also add to the doubt that has been raised about the assumed Norse/Sámi cultural dichotomy in Northern Norway:
With the growing awareness of Sámi cultural remains and archaeology in Northern Norway during the last 40 years, previous registrations of Norse cultural remains have partly been questioned, and sometimes a revaluation is in order. Some structures and finds need to be reinterpreted in a Sámi perspective, while others point to a more complex cultural situation than the Sámi/Norse dichotomy that has been the usual underlying assumption within archaeological research during these years. I have previously studied the locally based “mixed” cultural expressions of the Viking and Early Medieval silver hoards in Northern Norway (see thesis here). Among other examples of such research, Inga Malene Brun has studied mixed expressions in graves (see thesis here), one of them at Austein, just north of Torsnes.
The site I went to see on Torsnes has been registered as a Norse plundered cairn, but it resembles a stone circle. Hence, it has been discussed as a possible circular offering site. In this instance, however, I am inclined to agree with the first registration. I may be speaking to soon, but my immediate impression is that more stones have been brought to the little hill where the stone “circle” lies, than what would have been needed just to build a circle. In other words, there are enough stones there to have formed a cairn, so I find it plausible that it has actually been a cairn, and that the circle shape is a later and accidental result of a plundering.
Even though I do not think this particular structure is the same as the circular offering sites I have seen so far, the trip was definitely worthwhile. The collection of data has to include these kinds of structures to be able to determine the criteria for what is, and what is not, a Sámi circular offering site.
I am now on the move again in Northern Troms, reports on the adventures here will follow!
- About the website
- Ájtte Museum
- Ørnulv Vorren
- Berit Wallenbergs Stiftelse
- C14 datings
- Circular offering sites
- Jokkmokk winter market
- Sáivu lake
- Starting project
- Tromsø Museum