“Sámi circular offering sites – a comparative archaeological analysis” is a PhD project in archaeology by Marte Spangen, Stockholm University. The project runs from 2012 to 2016, and will establish basic knowledge about the structures known as Sámi circular offering sites, concerning their chronological and geographical distribution, what activities were performed in relation to them, and their social relevance and context. The project will also study morphological variations, and whether certain less typical structures are in fact expressions of the same cultural phenomenon.
Certain types of circular stone structures in Northern Norway have been labelled Sámi circular offering sites, but despite some previous investigations, their time of use, the activities related to them, as well as their geographical and chronological variation, and their social significance, remain uncertain. The limited former investigations suggest the structures were in use ca. 1400-1600 AD, but more evidence is needed to establish a timeframe. It also remains a question whether a range of resembling structures do in fact represent the same phenomenon. In later years a number of such structures have been registered as offering sites in Southern Norway, Sweden and Russia, as well as in Northern Norway. This project will focus on the registrations made in Norway and Sweden.
Sámi pre-Christian religion and rituals
The Sámi maintained their traditional religion for much longer than the non-Sámi population in todays Norway and Sweden. Only in the 17th and 18th centuries the Swedish and Danish/Norwegian authorities directed more attention to the Cristianization of the Sámi. Our knowledge of Sámi faith and rituals is to a large extent based on the written sources compiled by priests and missionaries at this time. They describe a religion where gods and spirits are present all around in nature and in the dwellings. Rituals and offerings were part of everyday life, when eating, fishing and hunting, but were also an important aspect of specific situations related to crises and life transitions.
The pre-Christian religious traditions of the Sámi have varied chronologically and geographically, but offerings of animals or parts of animals on specific sites in the landscape is a common trait. These sites may be related to conspicuous landscape formations, but are also found in what appear to be otherwise unnotable places. The offerings were often made to some sort of sieidi (in North Sámi), i.e. a holy stone or cliff of peculiar shape, or to a simply shaped wooden figure (also called luohtemuorra etc.). Many of these were destroyed or collected during the Christianization. The circular offering sites are an unusual feature in the sense that they represent a preserved manmade monument at the original offering sites.
Even though the sources of the 17th and 18th centuries may be used retrospectively to some extent, there are many uncertainties related to the practices of earlier times. There are some earlier historical sources, but in general the written sources are limited to certain areas, and often describe a normative. The archaeological investigation proposed in this project will give important new knowledge on actual practices and their chronological and geographical variation.
Read more about Sámi faith and mythology at saivu.com.
The project will investigate relevant structures in Norway and Sweden through methods of archaeology, natural science, historical and ethnographical sources, and local traditional knowledge to answer general questions concerning the Sámi circular offering sites period of use, form of use and social significance. The main focus of the discussion will be on why such monuments where initiated and used in a limited period of time in Sámi societies. In addition the project will aim to establish more accurate criteria for what kind of structures which should be included in the category of “circular offering sites”.
Methods will include literature and archive studies, GIS mapping, surveys and control registrations for a broad comparative analysis. Landscapes, topography and cultural environment will be evaluated. The project proposal also includes soil sampling for studies of micromorphology, analysis of phosphate content, magnetic susceptibility, and organic content, sampling of material for dating, and possible limited excavations.
The project includes a deliberation on the ethical aspects of research on holy places in general and the Sámi offering sites in particular. Any archaeological investigations should be performed in agreement with the Sámi parliament and other affected parties.
Results will be presented in both popular and academic papers and articles, as well as in a final thesis.