Posted by: Marte Spangen | October 20, 2016

The End


Ready for the defense! Photo: Hanne Aannestad

This Saturday, 15 October 2016, I defended my thesis and had it accepted for the doctoral degree in archaeology. The PhD is thus completed and I can call myself a doctor! Even after spending a few days digesting the event, it seems a bit unreal, but it was definitely a good experience.

The defense was public and gathered an audience of about 50-60 people, many of whom were friends, family and colleagues who had travelled to Stockholm for this occation from different parts of Scandinavia. I would like to thank them all (again!) for being there and showing such enthusiastic support. Also, I have to thank the committee members for spending time reading, preparing and travelling for this occation and for all their positive feedback.

My opponent, Aleks Pluskowski, did a great job presenting the thesis (as is customary here in Sweden), and over a couple of hours we discussed a wide range of aspects relevant to the content, such as the methodology, the chronology, the reason for the initial and particular build and use of the structures, their role in defining identities in a ethnically hybrid area in the Middle Ages, the definitions of rituals versus religious rituals, if my concepts and interpretations can be useful to a wider debate about conversion in other areas, whether wolf hunting can be a ritual, how the Sami have related to the wolf, the potential influence of my work on today’s heated political debates about the wolf population in Scandinavia – and much more.

The committee members Torun Zachrisson, Eva Svensson and Asgeir Svestad, as well as the alternate Gert Magnusson and one other ex auditorio, added several thought-provoking questions about distribution, place names, chronology and subsistence context that underline that the discussion about the circular offering sites, or, as I have argued, wolf traps, of northern Norway is not over yet, rather it has just been reopened with a series of new potential perspectives. I certainly hope to have more chances to discuss the content of my thesis and other relevant insights in the months and years to come.

This blog, however, will end with this finale. After a suitably long-lasting and cheerful celebration Saturday night, and after starting a new life yesterday as a (short-term) post. doc. at Stockholm University, it is time for me to move on to new adventures. I will still update the “Publications” page with articles and reports that are directly related to this project as soon as they are made available, while a complete list of my publications will be kept updated at The final book is available as a full-text pdf here, and printed copies can be ordered from me ( or directly from the printer’s.

Thank you all for following the project and the blog! I hope you have enjoyed these little glimpses into a PhD project and life, and that you will continue to follow my work in the future.

All the best,

Posted by: Marte Spangen | September 21, 2016

The book is here!

My thesis Circling Concepts has arrived from the printer's and is available online from today!

My thesis Circling Concepts has arrived from the printer’s and is available online from today!

After more than four years of intense work and studies, it is a slightly absurd feeling to have met the deadline, handed in a manuscript, and here it is – the book! Circling Concepts sums up the project and my quite surprising conclusions. It also discusses the socio-political aspects of archaeological categorisations in general and the concept of “circular offering sites” in particular. The back matter reads as follows:

“‘Sami circular offering sites’ is an established category of cultural heritage in northern Norway, but details of their origin, time of use, function and significance in contemporary society have been little explored. This study aims to establish some basic facts about these stone enclosures, but a surprising conclusion is that the very offering site interpretation is uncertain. Substantial evidence rather suggests that the large structures were initially built for an entirely different purpose, while some have apparently later been reused and reconceptualised as offering sites. The question also arises if a range of structures with diverging characteristics that have recently been added to the same category can in fact be defined as the same phenomenon. The exploration of the genesis and distribution of the offering site interpretation for stone circles leads to a discussion of the socio-political implications of archaeological categorisation in general, and the preference for ritual explanations in Sami contexts in particular. It is maintained that while the materiality of the archaeological remains constitutes useful corrections and limitations to these narratives, any archaeological interpretations, including the present one, cannot escape the embeddedness in certain discourses and relations of power.”

If you want to get some (suggested) answers to the mysteries, the full version of the thesis, with summaries in English, Swedish and North Sami, is available online from today. The printed version is available on request.

Now all that remains in the project is the defense, which is public and will be held at Stockholm University 15 October this year, with Aleks Pluskowksi as the opponent and Eva Svensson, Asgeir Svestad and Torun Zachrisson, as well as Gert Magnusson as substitute, in the grading comitee. If it goes well, the thesis is officially accepted for the doctoral degree. Wish me luck!

Posted by: Marte Spangen | July 22, 2016

Who are you?

As this project is drawing to an end, I would like to know a little more about you who have followed my project blog – and you who have just dropped in for this particular post. I may write a little about the blog and its impact in the thesis because I discuss knowledge production and circulation of concepts and information. It is relevant to discuss how my own blogging may have affected general opinions about the circular offering sites (if at all…). I hope you will be willing to answer this quite simple and anonymous  questionnaire, whether you are a frequent or a one-time reader.  (Only answers entered before Aug 1 2016 will be considered for the thesis or any statistics.)

Prosjektet mitt nærmer seg slutten og jeg vil gjerne vite litt mer om dere som har fulgt bloggen – og om deg som bare tilfeldigvis leser dette ene innlegget. Jeg vurderer å skrive litt om bloggen og dens gjennomslagskraft i avhandlingen min, siden jeg diskuterer kunnskapsproduksjon og hvordan konsepter og informasjon sirkulerer i samfunnet. Det er relevant å diskutere hvordan bloggingen min kan ha påvirket generelle oppfatninger om offerringene (hvis det har hatt noen påvirkning…). Jeg håper du vil svare på denne enkle og anonyme spørreundersøkelsen , enten du er stamgjest eller engangsgjest. (Statistikk eller omtale i avhandlingen vil bare inkludere svar som kommer inn før 1. aug. 2016.)

Please answer all the question. Thank you!

Vennligst velg et svaralternativ på alle spørsmålene. På forhånd takk!

Update 20 October 2016: Thank you to everyone who answered this poll! In the end it didn’t quite fit into the argument in my thesis, but it is not unlikely that I will find a different way to use this or similar questionnaires in future studies. It was certainly interesting to get an impression of who have been following the blog. The results as of 1 August are now added under the questions below. Please note that the poll is closed and that there will be no further update of the answering percentages.

Yes, once/Ja, en gang 15 %
Yes, several times/Ja, flere ganger 31 %
No/Nei 54 %
Yes/Ja 6 %
No, but I have a Sámi family connection/Nei, men jeg har samisk familietilknytning 17 %
No 77 %
I prefer not to answer/Jeg foretrekker å ikke svare 0 %
Yes/Ja 65 %
No, but I work with archaeology, museums or cultural heritage/Nei, men jeg jobber med arkeologi, museum eller kulturarv 16 %
No/Nei 19 %
We have never met/Vi har aldri møttes 45 %
We have met/Vi har møttes 21 %
We are family, friends or colleagues/Vi er i familie, venner eller kolleger 34 %
Just now/Bare nå 48 %
Once or twice/En eller to ganger 23 %
At least five times/Ihvertfall fem ganger 10 %
More than ten times/Mer enn ti ganger 9 %
All or almost all blogposts/Alle eller nesten alle innlegg (total: 43 posts) 10 %



Posted by: Marte Spangen | April 8, 2016

Final seminar: check

Final seminar

Listening carefully to the valuable input provided by the reviewer dr. Carl-Gösta Ojala at my final seminar. Photo: A. Sörman

On Wednesday the project reached another intermediate goal, as my final seminar was successfully completed. Yay!

The final seminars are part of the PhD project supervision and quality control at the Department of archaeology and classical studies at Stockholm University. To secure that the students are on the right track and able to finish their theses within a set time, large parts of the final manuscript are presented to an external reviewer within a year before it is due to be completed. In my case the four main chapters of my monograph, concerning research history, investigations, results and new theories, were handed over for examination.

At the seminar, the reviewer provides his or her input and points of discussion, not unlike the final defense. However, this is particularly necessary in Sweden, because the PhD theses are actually printed and published before the defense. The final seminar is therefore a valuable opportunity to have input that can actually be used to adjust the thesis.

My external reviewer was dr. Carl-Gösta Ojala from Uppsala University, who did a fantastic job with constructive feedback on both the larger perspectives and some more detailed issues. In addition, my colleagues at the department were present and contributed some interesting questions in a general discussion after Carl-Gösta had concluded his remarks.

I found the seminar very rewarding, both in the sense that I got to discuss and clarify some issues of the thesis, and because of the general positive feedback and resulting sense of being on the right track. Thanks to everyone who participated and made it such a good experience!

Posted by: Marte Spangen | March 10, 2016

Special issue of Arctic Anthropology

Front matter AA 52 2

In spring 2014, Anna-Kaisa Salmi, Tiina Äikäs and I held a session at the XIV Nordic TAG about “Sámi archaeology and postcolonial theory”. Following the session we were very happy to be allowed to guest edit a special issue of Arctic Anthropology with contributions related to the presentations and discussions in the session. The special issue is now available online from the Arctic Anthropology website. Our introduction to the issue is available here and on

The articles in the issue discuss a range of approaches related to postcolonial theory in Sami archaeology, as well as more specific aspects of colonial encounters in northern Fennoscandia:

Jonas Nordin and Carl-Gösta Ojala emphasise the importance of understanding the long historical roots of the colonialist activity in northern Sweden in order to tackle current controversies about mining enterprises in Sámi areas.

Veli-Pekka Lehtola discusses the subtle implementation of colonial pressure on Sámi culture, language and land use in Finland.

Bryan C. Hood outlines an eclectic theoretical framework for studying the details of how the Early Modern colonial encounter played out between the Sámi and other parties in the north.

Ingela Bergman and Greger Hörnberg demonstrate how the stereotyping of the Sámi has made researchers ignore early evidence of cereal cultivation in Sámi contexts.

David Loeffler presents historical, ethnographic, etymological and archaeological data that may indicate a Sámi presence in the woodlands of the southern parts of the county of Västernorrland in the Middle Ages.

Our session discussant Anna Källén sums up her encounter with Sami archaeology and discuss the contributions in the issue in a wider context of postcolonial theory and critique.

Many thanks to the contributors and the chief editors of Arctic Anthropology for making this issue possible! It is great to see that what I, at least, found an inspirational session has resulted in such intersting and thought-provoking contributions to debates concerning Sami archaeology and postcolonial theory. Hopefully many fruitful discussions will follow.

Posted by: Marte Spangen | October 27, 2015

Without a trace?

Sámi culture in the Viking Age as presented at the Swedish History Museum

Sámi culture in the Viking Age as presented at the Swedish History Museum

My most recent article “Without a trace? The Sámi in the Swedish History Museum” is just being published in very good company in a special issue of Nordic Museology devoted to “Rethinking Sámi cultures in museums”. The article is a reworked and extended version of my presentation at the Viking conference “Skandinavia: En, tre, eller mange?” in Oslo last December. It features the following abstract:

“Around 2005, the Swedish History Museum (SHM) in Stockholm reworked their Vikings exhibition, aiming to question simplistic and erroneous understandings of past group identities. In the process, all references to the Sámi were removed from the exhibition texts. This decision has been criticised by experts on Sámi pasts. In this article, it is argued that we can talk about a Sámi ethnic identity from the Early Iron Age onwards. The removal of references to the Sámi in the exhibition texts is discussed accordingly, as well as the implicit misrepresentations, stereotypes and majority attitudes that are conveyed through spatial distribution, choice of illustrations, lighting, colour schemes and the exhibition texts. Finally, some socio-political reasons for the avoidance of Sámi issues in Sweden are suggested, including an enduring colonialist relation to this minority.”

You can download the article here, and you can order the whole issue on the Nordic Museology webpage. Comments are, as always, very welcome.

I would like to thank all the readers of this blog for following me through another eventful year – with only half a year to go before my thesis has to be done, I hope 2016 will be similarly productive!

In the meantime; Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!


Posted by: Marte Spangen | October 7, 2015

The very, very last final fieldwork

Local historian Ragnvald Christenson showed me to this highly interesting stone circle at Haukelifjell and told me about the use of and ancient travel routes in this high mountain area in Telemark county

Local historian Ragnvald Christenson showed me to this highly interesting stone circle at Haukelifjell and told me about the use of and ancient travel routes in this high mountain area in Telemark county

Ok, I know I said last years campaign was “the very last fieldwork”, but four highly interesting observations in Telemark county lured me back onto the road last week.

One of the structures, the so-called “Munkekjerka” in Eidanger, proved difficult to find with the description I had available. In the high mountain area of Haukelifjell I had better luck, as I did not only find the stone circles reported on but an additional two structures of interest. These were located close to the main road over the mountain and in immediate vicinity of a shieling, on dry spots in a bog area. I suspect they have to do with hay stacking and shepherding. This is an explanation I think is likely for some of the structures I have looked at in northern Norway too.

However, for another structure further up in the mountain this is an unlikely explanation. According to my guide, local historian Ragnvald Christenson, the grass on the bog beside the circle would not be suitable for harvesting. Besides, the structure is rather massive with a wall of about 11 m in diameter, including some large boulders and enclosing an uneven inner surface with large differences in height. It is situated in steeply sloping terrain at the bottom of a hill beside the mentioned bog, just beside the famous Ålmannvegen, which crosses the bog. This travel route has been used for ages and is also known as a pilgrimage road in the Middle Ages.

The similarities of this structure with northern Norwegian circular offering sites have been spotted before and some have argued that the stone circles at Haukelifjell could also be Sami. Telemark county is usually not considered a Sami area but Sami reindeer herding was performed in these mountains in the 19th century. Some have wondered if there may have been a Sami population here in older times too.

I would, however, rather focus on reasons for building this sort of structure, than the ethnic origin of the builders. Not because the latter aspect is not relevant and interesting, but because I have some doubt about the offering site explanation for stone circles like this. Whoever built them, I would like to find a plausible explanation for the rather consistent size, placement in the terrain and general construction of such structures from Finnmark in the north to (at least) Telemark in the south.

It has been suggested it could be a shooting blind but the topography is not particularly convenient for hunting, and why would anyone put so much effort into building a large stone circle when what is usually needed is a small stone wall? Another suggestion has been that such stone circles could be temporary dwelling places for travelers but again the size is peculiar and unnecessary, the wall is too rough and irregular to be the foundation for a larger construction, and the interior seems to uneven and steep to be suitable for dwelling. The connection to the thoroughfare could still be significant, and perhaps is the quite consistent placement of such structures at the bottom of hills or hillocks a clue. Or is the relation to the bog here important?

These questions will probably give me a headache over the next few months, so it will be nice to think back to a lovely autumn day in the mountains, doing the very, very last fieldwork of the project.

Posted by: Marte Spangen | September 13, 2015

Ruralia XI in Clervaux, Luxembourg

Some of the Ruralia XI participants by the well of St. Willibrord in Rindschleiden, Luxembourg, a source allegedly "brought out with his miraculous stick". Outdoor sermons are still held here once a year, and the park around it has recently been redesigned with a designated area for spreading ashes.

Some of the Ruralia XI participants by the well of St. Willibrord in Rindschleiden, Luxembourg. The source was allegedly “brought out with his miraculous stick”. Outdoor sermons are still held here once a year, and the park around it has recently been redesigned with i.a. a designated area for spreading ashes.

The academic autumn season of conferences has started and I spent last week in Luxembourg to attend the 11th conference of the rural archaeology network Ruralia. About 60 researchers from all over Europe met to discuss various aspects of “Religious places, cults and rituals in medieval rural environment”. I presented my project in a paper called “Sami circular offering sites – medieval religious anomalies or a modern myth?” and received many useful questions and comments, as well as some very good tips about similar structures other places in Europe and researchers I should contact about these.

Fantastic frescoes from the first half of the 15th century inside the church of Rindschleiden. The photo does not do them justice!

Fantastic frescoes from the first half of the 15th century inside the church of Rindschleiden. The photo does not do them justice!

The other conference papers covered a wide range of topics from rock-cut graves in Portugal to pilgrim churches for parents with deceased children in Swtitzerland, offering caves in Latvia, hermitages in the UK, and many other interesting localities and approaches to the main subject of religion, cult, and rituals at the outskirts in Europe. In addition we got to see some of Luxembourg and its sites of religious significance during several excursions. Unfortunately I could not stay for the whole program, but I am very happy I got the chance to participate in this highly interesting and enjoyable event. Many thanks to the organizers for a great week in Clervaux!

Posted by: Marte Spangen | June 6, 2015

Two new articles out

Recent coins found in a circular offering site in Storfjord, Troms. They were redeposited after the investigation.

Recent coins found in a circular offering site in Storfjord, Troms. They were redeposited after the investigation.

Research and article writing are time consuming and sometimes frustratingly slow and meticulous processes, so it is always satisfying to finally see something as a finished product. This week has been rewarding in that sense, as two articles I have co-written over the last year have been published online:

New Users and Changing Traditions – (Re)Defining Sami Offering Sites was co-written with Tiina Äikäs as a further development of our joint effort to explore the thematics in a conference paper for EAA in September (see older blogpost). The full text of the article is so far only available online for subscribers, but it will be printed in the forthcoming issue of European Journal of Archaeology.

The article deals with the reuse and re(defining) of Sámi offering sites by a range of different stakeholders, including local Sámi and non-Sámi, academics, tourist entrepeneurs, neo-pagans, etc. We discuss how archaeologists can mediate the stories of the Sámi pasts these actors promote with the archaeological narrative about the offering sites. The article includes two case studies that relate to the Sámi circular offering sites, as well as four case studies concerning Sámi offering sites in Finland.

Animal offerings at the Sámi offering site of Unna Saiva – Changing religious practices and human–animal relationships is the result of a cooperation with Tiina, Anna-Kaisa Salmi, and Markus Fjellström, the last two whom have performed osteological and isotope analyses respectively on the bone assemblage from the offering site Unna Saiva.

The bones were collected during an excavation in the early 20th century, together with around 600 metal objects including jewelry, coins, arrowheads, etc. In later research, the artefacts have been given most attention, and the bone assemblage has never been systematically investigated before. Hence, our study provides very interesting new information about the offering practices at this site, concerning its earliest dates, the species involved, the choice of individuals in terms of sex and age, what body parts were deposited, and whether the animals were fed. Based on these aspects we discuss changes in the offering traditions as related to the transition from hunting to reindeer herding in the area. The article is published in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology and is available online for free until 23 July 2015 (and for subscribers after this date).

Posted by: Marte Spangen | June 4, 2015

Cultural Heritage and Identity

Slightly random illustration photo from a Copenhagen café; it is always good to have a fork at hand when the lights are (too) low...

Slightly random illustration photo from a Copenhagen café; it is always good to have a fork at hand when the lights are (too) low…

I just got back from Copenhagen where I made a brief visit at the university yesterday to participate in the PhD course Cultural Heritage and Identity. It was led by dr. Marie Louise Stig Sørensen from the University of Cambridge, who also gave a keynote lecture. The discussions afterwards, with participants from nine different subject areas and various countries, revolved around complex heritage issues concerning definition, value, destruction, conflict, and other current topics in heritage studies. The position of heritage and identity between materialty and discourse was one main turning point of the debates.

Materiality is a hot topic in the social sciences right now, including in archaeology, though archaeologists have obviously always been concerned with things, such as objects, monuments, find contexts, landscapes, etc. Archaeologists have, however, also been following the same theoretical trend as the humanities in general over the last 30 years or so by focusing on language and text as methaphors for various aspects of (material) culture. This has now turned to a concern with the very specific ways we relate to things (see e.g. B. Olsen 2010: In Defense of Things). In a heritage context “the material turn” entails more focus on the physical and sensory qualities of the monuments, places, and objects of cultural heritage, and how these affect the actions and thoughts of the people around them.

These are not exactly questions that are “solved” in a short afternoon, but yesterday´s course certainly inspired further thinking and writing, both on the materiality aspects of the sites I am studying, and how they are defined, by whom, and why.

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