Posted by: Marte Spangen | 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?



  1. […] 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. […]

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