Posted by: Marte Spangen | 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!



  1. I had the opportunity to talk to Ørnulv Vorren some decades back. And it is correct that the stone circles he did show me some examples of were somewhat larger than those I have found in Västerbotten. (Verboberget near Sorsele and in the vicinity of Vilhelmina).
    None of the type have been encountered in Jämtland despite the fact that I have worked with biological field work in that area for several years now.
    What I noted as most significant is that he did not know their function in the Sami spiritual world.
    At about the same time we speculated that some of the larger stones of the circle might mark the rising and setting of the sun and moon at certain time of the year, but that remain one unproven hypothesis until someone make exact measurements.

    • Thank you for your interesting comment, Aanta. If I may, I will be in touch with you on your email for some more details on the context of your conversations and the sites you visited. I am sorry I never got the chance to discuss this material with Vorren himself, and it is quite valuable to get to know a little more about his thoughts beyond what he presents in his publications. As for the sun/moon idea, I think it seems unlikely for most of the structures I have seen, especially the ones in Finnmark that consist of dry masoned walls, or at least several layers of stones, rather than singular stones in a circle. Nevertheless, changing seasons are of course an important factor to consider however one wants to interpret these structures.

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