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!

Posted by: martespangen | July 29, 2013

Mysteries and disappointments

Artist Sissel M Bergh joined me for the survey on Tarva to photograph my fieldwork for use in her ongoing art project "Dalvedh", which explores the hidden or forgotten Sámi heritage of the Trøndelag coastal areas.

Artist Sissel M. Bergh joined me for the survey on Tarva to photograph my fieldwork for use in her ongoing art project “Dalvedh“, which explores the hidden or forgotten Sámi heritage of the Trøndelag coastal areas.

For the last few weeks I have been on several field trips in Troms, Nordland, and Sør-Trøndelag. These excursions conclude the planned surveys in the Sámi areas of Norway, as I have now visited relevant sites from Hedmark county in the south to Finnmark in the north.

“Relevant sites” also include stone circles and similar features that have not previously been registered as circular offering sites, but which from the descriptions sound like possible equivalents.

One such structure may be found on the island of Tarva in Sør-Trøndelag. It consists of a large overgrown circular stone and turf wall situated close to a collection of small stone cairns and long curved mounds. The site has previously been registered as a burial field, but in a 1950s report it has also been suggested that the remains could stem from coastal Sami activity.

The circular wall is mysterious, it resembles a turf houseground, but it is very large, almost 10 m in diameter. Another suggestion has been that it is a robbed grave cairn, but the wall looks too orderly to be the accidental result of just digging a hole in a cairn. I could not draw any certain conclusions form the visible remains, but await the original report from the museum archive in Trondheim to see why just this site has been thought to be related to the Sami presence on the Trøndelag coast.

The stone circle-free area south of Nordre Bjellåvatn.

The stone circle-free area south of Nordre Bjellåvatn.

Another field trip went to Saltdal, Nordland, where I was pretty sure I would get to see something very relevant and groundbreaking: In 1889, Axel Hagemann describes a circular stone wall on a moraine hill to the south of lake Bjellåvatn (later specified to be Nordre Bjellåvatn). He says that this must surely be an old Sámi offering site, though it was not in use in his time.

Given the scarcity in Nordland of circular offering sites similar to those in Finnmark, I was very interested in seeing this site for myself. The area south of the lake has not been systematically registered by archaeologists, so I did not have an exact position for it, but I figured that a stone circle of the dimensions described by Hagemann, 1 m high and 5 m in diameter, should still be reasonably easy to find in the low vegetation and stony landscape around Bjellåvatn, even if the stone wall could have collapsed and become overgrown after all this time.

After 11 hours of searching through the area I stand corrected – and disappointed. There was no trace of such a structure on the hillsides around Bjellåvatn that I could see. In the evening I spoke to a reindeer herder who said he had never seen anything like what Hagemann described in the area. A local hiker however thought it could be a structure he had seen in a valley further to the southwest, and promised to send me a picture of this. Still, from his description, I suspect this is more likely a so-called Stallo houseground, with a low circular turf wall of about 5 m in diameter around a depression in the ground.

It remains to be seen, but unless the hiker is right, the mystery remains: Where did Hagemann´s monumental stone circle go?

Posted by: martespangen | June 27, 2013

Permission granted!


The Storfjord site

The Karasjok site

The Karasjok site

Exciting news! I just received a letter from the Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage (Riksantikvaren), confirming that I get to do further investigations in two stone circles/circular offering sites this autumn. I am very happy that permission was granted, as I think these excavations will give a significant contribution to the project.

The sites in question are located in Karasjok, Finnmark, and Storfjord, Troms, respectively, and have some similar ”classic” characteristics, yet also conspicuous differences when it comes to how they are built, in what sort of terrain, etc. The question is if they represent the same phenomenon, and if so, which similar aspects of them are key to understanding their purpose and use.

The investigations will include small scale excavations and soil sampling. The aim is to get more exact information about the original shape, function, use, and dating of these structures. The areas around them will also be more thoroughly surveyed to establish their cultural context.

I really look forward to this field work – and its progress will of course be reported here on the blog!

Posted by: martespangen | June 9, 2013

Nordland continued

The Leivset site is very overgrown and hard to photograph, but this picture shows one of the larg rocks and part of the stone "wall"

The Leivset site is very overgrown and hard to photograph, but this picture shows one of the large rocks and part of the stone “wall”

The Dragsbukta site

The Dragsbukta site

This year´s first field trip came to an end on Thursday, after a final survey of the offering site on Leivset, Fauske, which was also mentioned in the comments to my last post (“Death of a theory?“).

The legendary Tromsø Museum archaeologist Povl Simonsen describes this site in his nice little guidebook to archaeological sites in the north, “Fortidsminner nord for Polarsirkelen” (1970).  In the book he compares it with another monument in Dragsbukta, Hamarøy municipality, which I visited on Wednesday.

Both sites are described by Simonsen as consisting of a drywall around respectively two and one large rock, a construction that is easy to see in Dragsbukta. The Leivset site, however, is very overgrown, making it harder to get a grip of the shape of the monument.

According to Simonsen it has previously been a marked oval drywall of about 6×10 m around two large rocks, but the wall had fallen down when he visited it. I have to say I found it difficult to see the wall he describes; partly it is very low and undefined, partly the structure looks more like a cairn stretching out so that the monument has a total diameter of ca. 14 m.

In any case, these two sites differ from the ones I have seen before in that they include large rocks. The circular offering sites otherwise often have a small cairn or a mound in the middle of the stone circle.  These have been suggested to have served as foundations for now removed offering stones or wooden figures (so-called “sieidi” in northern Sámi), or as an “alter” where the offering was placed.

It could be that the Leivset and Dragsbukta sites are expressions of the same concept, where the rocks were the sieidi or “alter”, but I think the difference in shape gives reason to look for alternative explanations. Could for example the Dragsbukta monument be related to the fact that it is placed in the middle of a boat-hauling fairway on an isthmus (no.: drag)? The Leivset site is also placed close to an isthmus, but much higher up from the sea.

In general I think there is a great variation among the stone structures that have been registered as circular offering sites. A systematic analysis of these variations in order to decide what structures may be defined as (Sámi circular) offering sites is an important part of this project, and the reason why I have spent so much time travelling to see them myself.

The Leivset site was the 73rd stone circle I have visited since I started surveying them in 2010. So far I have seen stone circle sites in the counties of Hedmark, Oppland, Sør-Trøndelag, Nord-Trøndelag, Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark in Norway, as well as a couple of sites in Jämtland and Dalarna in Sweden. However, there are still more sites I would like to see, so I will probably be back on the road again soon…

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