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.