Posted by: martespangen | August 17, 2014

Back in the field

For the last 10 months or so I have been contemplating some new theories about the initial meaning and function of the stone structures I study. Considering new hypotheses usually means paying attention to slightly different aspects of, and features in, the material you work with, so even if I have seen about 80-90 sites so far, I am now on a new tour in Troms and Finnmark to see additional sites, as well as some familiar sites, with new eyes.

Try find… well, anything, in this kind of woods - it is almost impossible...

Try to find… well, anything, in these woods – it is almost impossible…

Among the localities I visited this week, was a stone structure suggested to be an offering site by Migan on Reinøya, an island north of Tromsø. The site had not been mapped before and I was uncertain where to find it, so I contacted historian Håvard Dahl Bratrein. He told me that he and an archaeologist from Tromsø Museum had first discovered the site from their car down on the road by the sea in the 1970s – back then this was an open landscape. Now, however, the island is less inhabited and few farms are left. The terrain is no longer used for grazing and it has become completely overgrown. Cultural remains are certainly not visible from a distance, or even close up, so it was very helpful that Håvard joined me for a day´s fieldwork. Apart from sharing some of his detailed knowledge about the history and archaeology of the area, he actually managed to find the structure again, despite the dense shrubbery that has grown up during the last 35 years or so. 

Håvard Dahl Bratrein found the site again after 35 years despite the changed landscape.

Håvard Dahl Bratrein found the site again after 35 years, despite the changed landscape.

Having seen the site, I do not think it has the same characteristics as the “typical” circular offering sites in Finnmark, which for instance have quite pronounced stone walls, but it was definitely an intriguing place, featuring a split boulder and a cleared area between this and two cairns, all placed on a distinct elevation in the terrain. Being so overgrown, it would take deturfing of the whole area to get a clear idea of the shape and purpose of the site. This is not within my time frame, economic frame or current permissions, but maybe it could be a project for the future?

After visiting a few more sites in Troms, I am now heading for the stone structures in Varanger – more reports to follow!

Posted by: martespangen | May 29, 2014

The legacy of Ernst Manker

The records of the Sami archive at the Nordiska Museet are topographically sorted

The records of the Sami archive at the Nordiska Museet are topographically sorted

The past week has offered more archive work, this time at the Nordiska Museet here in Stockholm and more specifically in the so-called Sami archive. This archive was first organized by, and contains a large number of records collected by, the ethnographer Ernst Manker (1893-1972), who dedicated most of his academic life to study Sami culture and history.

Among the many scientific works Manker published is the comprehensive book Lapparnas heliga ställen (“The holy places of the Sami”, 1957), which lists several hundred Sami offering sites in Sweden, but also includes some localities in Norway. In a short description of the varying morphology of the offering sites he mentions the circular offering sites in northern Norway and suggests that the presence of stone circles at 6-8 different sites in Sweden could indicate that the same phenomenon occurred here.

Manker had been to see at least one of the large “classical” circular offering sites in Finnmark, but the stone circles he describes in the Swedish sites are not very similar; they are mostly much smaller and consist of a single row of stones or just single stones in a circular pattern. The exception is his mention of a large stone circle by Bjellåvatn in Saltdal, Norway, known from an 1889 written source, but as the eager reader will know, I have not been able to confirm this information despite searching for the stone cirle in the given area last summer.

One purpose of my work in the Sami archive is to see if there is any additional information about the offering sites with stone circles in Sweden. Another more generally interesting aspect of the work is that Manker had a long-lasting and close cooperation with the Tromsø ethnographer Ørnulv Vorren, who´s field notes and collected finds I have depended heavily on in the present project. Vorren was highly inspired by the efforts of Manker, for instance he modeled the exhibition Samekulturen (“The Sami Culture”) at Tromsø Museum on the exhibition of Sami culture Manker had curated for the Nordiska Museet.

Hence the work of Manker is relevant to understand the research Vorren did as well. I was very happy to learn that curator dr. Eva Silvén at the Nordiska Museet, who was so kind as to take the time to introduce me to the Sami archive last week, is currently finalizing an immensely interesting research project exactly about the archive and collection work of Manker. Eva especially focuses on how the contemporary concepts of racial biology, the exploitation of natural resources in northern Sweden and the growing Sami liberation movement affected the work Manker did, as well as how this has affected the presentation of the Sami in the Nordiska Museet, and, in turn, the impact this has had on the public view on the Sami in Sweden. Her resulting book will be published later this year: Friktion. Ernst Manker, Nordiska museet och det samiska kulturarvet (“Friction. Ernst Manker, the Nordic Museum and the Sami cultural heritage”). I am really looking forward to reading it!

Posted by: martespangen | May 7, 2014


The course in Rome included a daytrip to see the traditional transhumance roads in Lazio, here almost visible as a ford in the middle of the picture...

The course in Rome included a daytrip to see the traditional transhumance roads in Lazio, here (almost) visible as a ford in the middle of the picture…

As we entered May and the spring season, I also entered the last half of my time as a PhD student here at Stockholm University. Perhaps symptomatically, there has not been much time for blogging during the last five months or so. Instead I have written and submitted an article concerning my new theories about the “circular offering sites” that will hopefully be published within the year. I have also been involved in organizing the XIV Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting here in Stockholm, a conference running over five days, 22-25 April, with about 200 participants and 19 sessions. I would like to extend a somewhat belated thank you to all the participants in the session I arranged together with Tiina Äikäs and Anna-Kaisa Salmi on the topic of «Sámi archaeology and postcolonial theory». The aim was to discuss and rethink the use of this theoretical complex in Sami archaeology. With eight interesting papers and a total of about three hours of debate, I think we can call it a success.

In addition I have been busy covering some of the 60 study points (one year of full-time studies) PhD students in archaeology here at Stockholm University are expected to complete during our four years of project employment. This goal is partly achieved through PhD courses offered by the Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology: “Dialogues with the Past”. Hence I spent last week at the Swedish Institute in Rome, discussing “Outland use and upland landscapes”, with 16 other PhD students and five lecturers from various European countries. A big thank you to all of them for a very interesting and inspiring course.

My half-time milestone will be celebrated in about two weeks with the mandatory half-time seminar where I will present my results so far and what I plan to do in the second half of the project to the rest of the department. My plans include, among other things, a short additional survey in Varanger this summer, some more archive studies, place name studies, more GIS analyses, writing some articles and not least writing the monograph that will be the final result of this project. It’s a lot, but I am still optimistic, and, perhaps more importantly for the chance of completing the project sometime during 2016, I still think doing this work is great fun. In short, I look forward to the next half!

The first peer reviewed article related to this project is now out in the latest issue of Fennoscandia Archaeologica (2013). The article sums up the reasons why I have started to doubt that the so-called Sámi circular offering sites were originally built and used as offering sites at all. The reasons for this doubt include a lack of older written and ethnographic sources, certain features relating to the stone structures themselves and their distribution, and that the few local traditions recorded may very well be of a younger date and possibly inspired by a scolarly hypothesis from the mid-19th century.

For copyright reasons I am not allowed to make the full-length article available online for another year, but Fennoscandia Archaeologica can be bought here:, or, presumably, borrowed at a library close to you. Feedback will be much appreciated!

Posted by: martespangen | December 23, 2013

Call for papers to session at EAA in Istanbul 2014

Together with four fellow organizers I would like to invite you all to submit paper abstracts to our session “Sacred nature: site biographies, research, ethics” at the EAA conference (European Association of Archaeologists 20th meeting) in Istanbul September 10-14 2014. The session concerns the following issues:

Throughout history natural and manmade spaces have been used as religious sites in various contexts. Some of these sites have been (re)used in different religious, cultural and political frameworks, both in the past and today, while others show a very short-term utilization period. This session aims at discussing the use of sacred places and their biographies in both contemporary and past societies. The specific questions of interest include defining, using, studying and protecting sacred places. What makes a place sacred? To what extent is the sacredness of a place related to natural topographical features or created through use and reuse of the site? What is the perception of natural sacred places in contemporary and past society, and how do these perceptions change in time? What kind of sources and methods can be employed for studying sacred places? How can we approach the dynamics of sacred sites through archaeological material? Are there specific ethical issues that should be considered in the studies of sacred places? We welcome both theoretical and methodological contributions throughout the world.

For more information, see also session T06S016 here:

Paper abstracts are to be sent in via a submission form that you can find here: Questions about our session may be directed to our session leader Ester Oras:

If you find this interesting I hope you will submit your paper abstract before the deadline January 27 2014. In the meantime I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

The next Nordic TAG (Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group) will be held at Stockholm University! The sessions have now been announced and the deadline for entering papers is Dec 15. The theme for the conference this time is “Archaeology as a source of theory”.

Tiina Äikäs, Anna-Kaisa Salmi and I have proposed a session on “Sámi archaeology and postcolonial theory”. We hope for many interesting contribution discussing the use and value of postcolonial theory in Sámi archaeology and how Sámi archaeology may contribute to developing theory. Send your abstract to For more information and complete session abstract, see:

Welcome to Stockholm in April 2014!

Posted by: martespangen | October 20, 2013

Workshop week ahead

Doing Sámi archaeology includes relating to a variety of ethical issues concerning inter alia the historical repression of the Sámi and Sámi culture, and their current rights to govern their own cultural heritage.

These are complex matters that need to be constantly considered and discussed, which is really best done in dialogue with others. Consequently I was very happy to learn that the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University will host an international workshop on Oct 24-26 called “Archaeologies of “Us and “Them” – debating the ethics and politics of ethnicity and indigeneity in archaeology and heritage discourse“.

Due to a cancellation, I have now been asked to step in on Friday Oct 25 and present a paper about the current debate on Sámi archaeology and the concept of indegeneity in Norway. I look forward to this opportunity to present the issues I am concerned with to a broad international panel of participants, and not least to learn more about the current debates in other parts of the world.

As a “warm-up” I have been lucky enough to get to participate in another highly interesting international workshop on Wednesday Oct 23: “Heritage and Critical Postcolonialism“, hosted by the Swedish History Museum. In other words, I have a good week ahead with lots of possibilities to discuss politics, ethics, and theories in Sámi archaeology!

Posted by: martespangen | September 8, 2013

The wall – digging by Gálggojávri

Deep concentration in the trench by Gálggojávri. From left: Camilla Olofsson, Anna-Kaisa Salmi, and Anni-Helena Routsala. Photo: Ingvild Larsen

Deep concentration in the trench by Gálggojávri. From left: Camilla Olofsson, Anna-Kaisa Salmi, and Anni-Helena Routsala. Photo: Ingvild Larsen

I had planned two investigations this year, and the second took place in Storfjord, Troms, this week. We had permission to excavate a small area in a Sámi circular offering site that Ørnulv Vorren has described, but apparently not excavated, considering his notes. However, referring to a hole in the mound in the middle of the stone structure, he did note that the site had been disturbed before he came to see it.

Perhaps the disturbance left Vorren no hope of finding anything, but drawing on the experience from Karasjok last week, my team arrived at the site with high expectations.

Unfortunately the finds were limited to very recent objects that gave little insight into the original function of the structure, although they were interesting enough in terms of how it has been used in later times. On the other hand, the investigation of the wall and the mound inside it gave important information about both their constructions and possible functions.

After an intense week of lifting stones, digging, and documenting a trench through the southern part of the stone wall, the first conclusion is that whoever built it had a pretty good idea of what they were doing. Little seems left to coincidence. There was a foundation of sand and smaller stones, layers of stones in various sizes, and obviously a thought-through lay-out of the structure and a clear idea of how such a wall should be built and supported.

I think both the monumental size of the structure and the elaborate building technique indicate a very specific purpose. The question is which… Theories flew high among my enthusiastic crew members, archaeologists Anni-Helena Routsala, Anna-Kaisa Salmi, Ingvild Larsen, and Camilla Olofsson, and some of the thoughts that came along may just be of great importance – to the extent that I hesitate to reveal them until I have had a chance to investigate them further.

Again I have to thank all my amazing helpers for their hard work, good ideas and excellent company! I could not have done it without you!

Photopole shoot of the amazing crew, from left Anni-Helena Routsala, Ingvild Larsen, Camilla Olofsson, Marte Spangen, and Anna-Kaisa Salmi

Photo pole shoot of the amazing crew, from left Anni-Helena Routsala, Ingvild Larsen, Camilla Olofsson, myself, and Anna-Kaisa Salmi


Posted by: martespangen | August 31, 2013

With a little help from my friends – digging by Geaimmejávri

The crew well into the dig in the area previously investigated by Vorren. From left: Siiri Tolonen, Anni-Helena Routsala, and Synnøve Thingnæs

The team well into excavating an area previously investigated by Vorren. From left: Siiri Tolonen, Anni-Helena Routsala, and Synnøve Thingnæs

The first week of my excavations has now come to an end, and I am happy to report that it went rather well. This first investigation took place in the stone structure by lake Geaimmejávri in the mountain area of Karasjok, Finnmark.

The excavation was very limited and mainly concentrated on areas previously opened by Ørnulv Vorren in the 1970s. However, with new efficient methods and approaches we were able to uncover and document more finds, as well as get a better picture of the lay out of the circle and the stone features inside it.

Synnøve and Siiri carefully retrieves a mass of humus soil and bones

Synnøve and Siiri carefully retrieves a mass of humus soil and bones

Among the finds were a range of animal bones of very diverse origin, various pieces of wood, and somewhat surprisingly a very small lead bullet. The last object fits badly with the previous dating of a piece of wood from this site to the High Middle Ages, but in this rocky terrain, several of the finds may very well have fallen down in between the stones a long time after the site was constructed. The bullet may also have been moved from the surface and further down into the ground during the 1970s investigation.

On the other hand, it could indicate a younger date for the use of this site than previously assumed, and perhaps varying use over time. To establish a time frame, a selection of the other finds from different layers and places within the stone structure will have to be C14 dated. The bullet will also be analyzed to date it and specify its origin and function. All in all the excavation is likely to give very interesting results.

I have to take this opportunity to praise my fantastic crew on this dig, archaeologists Anni-Helena Routsala, Siiri Tolonen, and Synnøve Thingnæs. Their contribution to everything from actual lifting of stones to technical problem solving and fruitful discussions was indispensable. Thank you so much, guys!

Happy diggers in front of the accommodation and transportation provided by the very helpful hosts at the Ravnastua mountain cabin. Photographer: O. Eriksen

Happy diggers in front of the accommodation and means of transportation provided by the very helpful hosts at the Ravnastua mountain cabin. From left: Synnøve Thingnæs, Anni-Helena Routsala, Siiri Tolonen, and Marte Spangen. Photographer: O. Eriksen

Posted by: martespangen | August 25, 2013

In the wake of Vorren

Ready to go up river Karasjohka

Ready to go up river Karasjohka

Far up in the woods along river Karasjohka there is a circular offering site that is best reached by boat. Last year I was too late in the autumn to get a boatride, people had already stored their boats for the winter. This year I was better prepared and had hired Klemet Turi to guide and transport me up the river. Incidentally, he is the son of the man who once showed this site to the late Ørnulv Vorren and he was actually with them when Vorren investigated the site many years ago. This proved to be important, as he could supplement my knowledge about what they found back then.

It also proved imperative to have a local guide; you have to know the shallow rapids like the back of your hand to navigate through them. Luckily, Klemet could tell me he had driven the same riverboat for 29 years, and it lasted this time of crisscrossing up and down the river too.

In his notes and some articles, Vorren describes finds of wooden remains in this structure consistent with a notched wall of up to three layers on top of the stone wall. Two pieces of the notched wall is kept in Tromsø Museum and are among the finds I was allowed to sample for dating in January. I am waiting (anxiously!) for the results. Most of the remains in the stone circle were, however, just traces of decayed wood that Vorren registrered when deturfing it.

The Karasjohka circular offering site

The Karasjohka stone circle

The next day offered a much shorter boat trip, just crossing the river Iešjohka to see another site with both a circular offering site, cache structures and an elaborate shooting blind. Transportation was kindly provided by the owner of Jergul Astu.  The site was also visited by Vorren years ago, and he says he found bones and antlers there, which is of course highly interesting. An earlier visitor even describes finding remains of burnt wood and a wolverine scull, though uncertain in what context. Even today there are pieces of burnt and unburnt wood on the surface within the stone circle and on the stone walls, but of course, without further investigations it is a somewhat difficult to decide if these are part of the construction, remains from the use it was first meant for, or if they stem from some later activity at the site.

The Beajalgŋai circular offering site

The Beajalgŋai stone circle

These are exactly the questions I hope to answer about the wooden remains in the stone circle by lake Geaimmejávri, which my team and I will start investigating tomorrow. I am very curious of what we will find. Wish me luck!

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