Posted by: Marte Spangen | August 22, 2012

Tromsø time

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!

Overview of the site on Torsnes, with the circle/cairn on the left of the two hills in the middle of the photo

The dubious cairn on Torsnes, Sør-Kvaløya, Tromsø

On the southern sloping downside of the circle/cairn there is a heap of stones that were probably thrown out of the structure during a plunder


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