Posted by: Marte Spangen | April 17, 2015

Museum as third space

Greetings from Paris! I have spent this week in the metropolis with the Nordic research school in archaeology, Dialogues with the past, to participate in the very interesting course “Museum as third space”. The course focused on a rethinking of the museum and how it can position itself as a cutting-edge research institution based on the specific advantages of housing a range of disciplines, collections, and material installations and of having a direct relation to an audience.

Museology is not my primary field of interest in the PhD, but the thematics is very relevant for the study I have done of the exhibition of Sami pasts in the Swedish National History Museum (see older blogpost), and the theories that we discussed during this week are ideas about the world, society, and research that can be applied to a range of archaeological practices and other subjects.

Holly, Chris and Sanne discussing the storyboard for our app

Holly, Chris and Sanne discussing the storyboard for our app

The week started with an interesting and fun app production workshop with Sara Perry, and continued with lectures by and discussions with the organizers Brita Brenna and Peter Bjerregaard, key speakers Rane Willerslev and Irit Rogoff, and not least all the participating PhD students from different parts of the Nordic countries and Germany. Both lecturers and students represented a variety of disciplines where museum studies are performed. This multidisciplinary input was very rewarding, in part because it showed how much we have in common across such borders and in part because it constituted what I understand as third space; the meeting between and negotiation of different agendas and views.

I have not yet had time to digest the massive amount of information and impressions, but the week has certainly given food for thought. New topics and theorists are now lining up on my reading list and the discussions have given insight into new research areas and possible tracks of exploration in my own research. Many thanks to the organizers and all the participants for making the course such a motivating experience!

Posted by: Marte Spangen | January 12, 2015

Article available online


Happy new year! The first article relating to this project, “It could be one thing or another” – on the construction of an archaeological category, where I outline the history of the concept of Sámi circular offering sites and some reasons why I think this term and interpretation is in need of a critical review, is now available online here on the blog or through The article was first printed in Fennoscandia Archaeologica in 2013, but it has so far only been available in print due to copyright issues. I hope it will now find a wider audience. Feedback will be much appreciated!

Posted by: Marte Spangen | December 22, 2014

In exchange

This year´s Christmas greeting goes out from my hometown Løten in southern Norway, which is known, among other things, for its many Iron Age grave mounds.

This year´s Christmas greetings goes out from my hometown Løten in southern Norway, which is known, among other things, for its many Iron Age grave mounds.

The end of the year is approaching, and I would like to thank everyone who has followed the blog through the last 12 busy months of writing, conferences, courses, fieldwork, archive digging and a lot of traveling. I very much appreciate all the comments, questions and input I have had concerning the project and related issues, both here and in other contexts.

Hopefully this will continue in 2015, and as a meassure to achieve that, I will be trying out a new context after new-year: from 5 January you will find me at the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History (IAKH) at the University of Oslo, where I will stay for six months as an Erasmus exchange student.

While Oslo is not unknown territory for me, I have never studied or worked at IAKH, so I look forward to be included in this interdisciplinary research environment and to be able to draw on all the knowledge my colleagues there have about archaeology and history in Norway. In addition, a lot of source material will be more readily available when I am based in Oslo. All in all, there will be no more excuses for not getting that monography done…

Before that, however, there will be time for a few days off in winter wonderland. With the photo above I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Posted by: Marte Spangen | November 23, 2014

Scandinavia: one, three, or many?

Visitors at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm studying the showcase with objects from the Unna Saiva offering site in northern Sweden

Visitors at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm studying objects from the Unna Saiva offering site in northern Sweden, displayed in the “Vikings” exhibition. Photo: M. Spangen ©

Next week I am off to Oslo to participate in an interesting conference about Viking Age identities in Scandinavia, Skandinavia: en, tre, eller mange? (“Scandinavia: one, three, or many?”), on the 3rd to the 5th of December.

The organizers are the Viking Age researchers´ group at the Museum of Cultural History, and the conference is the second of three events that explore various aspects of Viking Age research. This time the main question is how homogenous Scandinavia was by the end of the first milennium AD, and how different it was from neighbouring areas. Was there a common Scandinavian culture and societal structure or were there more regional differences than today, depending on various contacts and networks within and reaching outside of Scandinavia? In what way have the national and patriotic attitudes of the last two centuries affected our perception of a common “viking culture” as opposed to regional variations? And are the perceived differences in the Viking Age in the three Scandinavian countries really a result of different research traditions in these countries?

I have been invited to talk in the session Etnisitet: Vi, dere, og dem? (“Ethnicity: we, you, and them?”), and will give a paper called Samiske offerplasser eller “offer i de djupa skogarna”. Vikingtidens samiske identiteter i Norge og i Sverige (“Sami offering sites or “offerings in the deep forests”. Viking Age Sami identities in Norway and in Sweden.”). Here I will discuss some real and some perceived differences in Sami offering sites in Norway and Sweden, including how and why the discussion about ethnicity and identity in relation to this topic differs between the two countries.

The conference will be held in the Scandiavian languages, but hopefully the contributions will be made available as articles in English sometime in the near future. Read more about the conference and download the full program here (in Norwegian).

Posted by: Marte Spangen | September 7, 2014

EAA coming up!

Runepinne Offerholmen

In a couple of days I am off to Istanbul, Turkey, to attend EAA, or more specifically; the 20th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists.

Together with Ester Oras, Tõnno Jonuks, Martti Veldi and Tiina Äikäs, I am hosting the session “T06S016 Sacred Nature: Site Biographies, Research, Ethics” on Thursday 11 Sep, chairing part of the session. We are really pleased to have a full-day program of interesting lectures with a wide chronological and geographical scope.

I will also be presenting a paper on behalf of Tiina Äikäs and myself, “New users and changing traditions – (re)defining Sami offering sites”. In the paper we explore what factors impact the creation and redefinition of Sami offering sites through time, and how we as archaeologists handle new users and uses when trying to define such sites. See complete abstract below. The full program for the conference can be downloaded here.

Abstract: “New users and changing traditions – (re)defining Sami offering sites”
Tiina Äikäs and Marte Spangen
Thursday 11 Sep 2014, 17.00-17.20

Some Sámi offering sites have been used for over a thousand years. During this time the offering traditions have changed and new people have started using the places. Contemporary archaeological finds give evidence of both continuing traditions and new meanings attached to these sites, as well as to sites that were probably not originally used for rituals in the Sámi ethnic religion. In some cases the authenticty of the place seems to lie in the stories and current beliefs more than in a historical continuity or any specifically sacred aspects of the topography or nature it is situated in. Today´s new users include e.g. local (Sámi) people, tourists, and neo-pagans. This paper discusses what informs these users both about what places are offering sites and about how they should relate to them. What roles do scholarly tradition, heritage tourism, and internal cultural have in (re)defining Sámi offering sites and similarly what roles do “appropriate” rituals have in ascribing meaning to particular places? How do we mediate wishes for multivocality with our professional opinions when it comes to defining sacredness?

Posted by: Marte Spangen | September 3, 2014

The very last fieldwork

There is always more to see and more to do in archaeology, but in a project with deadlines and limited funding, the fieldwork part has to come to an end sometime. For this project it ended last week after a one and a half week tour of Varanger and of 31 sites of various kinds, some new and some familiar. Some were localities I did not have time to see when I was last here in 2012, while some were stone structures I chose to revisit to double check the information I had recorded before, especially concerning the areas and other cultural monuments around the structures themselves.

In addition I visited some monuments that have been interpreted as traps, meat caches and falcon catching sites, to compare the features of these with the circular offering sites I study. In the search for alternative explanations, these functions have been some of the possibilities I have explored. Now it remains to evaluate the data more systematically before drawing any conclusions.

Honna Havas, museum leader of the East Sámi Museum in Neiden, joined me for the survey of an alleged trap in Munkefjord.

Honna Havas, museum leader of the East Sámi Museum in Neiden, joined me for the survey of an alleged trap structure in Munkefjord.

As I have hinted at in previous posts, there is quite a lot of variation within the category labelled “Sámi circular offering sites”. One particularly interesting feature in some structures is that they are not really circular at all; rather they have an angular inner shape, usually forming a pentagon or hexagon. Hence, one main objective this year was to take aerial photos with a photo pole in order to document the frequency of this particular feature in various structures.

Photos were taken with a telescope photo pole, rented from Photo: H. Havas.

Photos were taken with a telescope photo pole, rented from Photo: H. Havas.

The photos will be processed in a photogrammetry program, which automatically pieces them together to give an overview, and which can also produce 3D models showing heights and the sloping of the terrain, etc. This is an incredibly timesaving and accurate practical and analytical tool that can replace old-fashioned drawing and measuring.

A lot of people have been involved this year too, both in the actual fieldwork and helping me out with housing, transport, information, technical equipment and more, which I really appreciate. And, of course, good company makes the fieldwork and travelling all the more enjoyable, so a big thank you to Honna, Turid, Nils, Mia, Paul, Synnøve, Tom and Are, and all the rest of you!

Paul Smuk helped locate and investigate a structure I had not previously seen by Biekkanoaivi, Nesseby. A few finds of wood and iron pieces are possibly remains from quite recent use of the structure for storing hay.

Paul Smuk helped locate and investigate a structure I had not previously seen by Biekkanoaivi, Nesseby. A few finds of wood and iron pieces are possibly remains from quite recent use of the structure for storing hay.

Posted by: Marte Spangen | August 17, 2014

Back in the field

For the last 10 months or so I have been contemplating some new theories about the initial meaning and function of the stone structures I study. Considering new hypotheses usually means paying attention to slightly different aspects of, and features in, the material you work with, so even if I have seen about 80-90 sites so far, I am now on a new tour in Troms and Finnmark to see additional sites, as well as some familiar sites, with new eyes.

Try find… well, anything, in this kind of woods - it is almost impossible...

Try to find… well, anything, in these woods – it is almost impossible…

Among the localities I visited this week, was a stone structure suggested to be an offering site by Migan on Reinøya, an island north of Tromsø. The site had not been mapped before and I was uncertain where to find it, so I contacted historian Håvard Dahl Bratrein. He told me that he and an archaeologist from Tromsø Museum had first discovered the site from their car down on the road by the sea in the 1970s – back then this was an open landscape. Now, however, the island is less inhabited and few farms are left. The terrain is no longer used for grazing and it has become completely overgrown. Cultural remains are certainly not visible from a distance, or even close up, so it was very helpful that Håvard joined me for a day´s fieldwork. Apart from sharing some of his detailed knowledge about the history and archaeology of the area, he actually managed to find the structure again, despite the dense shrubbery that has grown up during the last 35 years or so. 

Håvard Dahl Bratrein found the site again after 35 years despite the changed landscape.

Håvard Dahl Bratrein found the site again after 35 years, despite the changed landscape.

Having seen the site, I do not think it has the same characteristics as the “typical” circular offering sites in Finnmark, which for instance have quite pronounced stone walls, but it was definitely an intriguing place, featuring a split boulder and a cleared area between this and two cairns, all placed on a distinct elevation in the terrain. Being so overgrown, it would take deturfing of the whole area to get a clear idea of the shape and purpose of the site. This is not within my time frame, economic frame or current permissions, but maybe it could be a project for the future?

After visiting a few more sites in Troms, I am now heading for the stone structures in Varanger – more reports to follow!

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!

Posted by: Marte Spangen | May 7, 2014


The course in Rome included a daytrip to see the traditional transhumance roads in Lazio, here almost visible as a ford in the middle of the picture...

The course in Rome included a daytrip to see the traditional transhumance roads in Lazio, here (almost) visible as a ford in the middle of the picture…

As we entered May and the spring season, I also entered the last half of my time as a PhD student here at Stockholm University. Perhaps symptomatically, there has not been much time for blogging during the last five months or so. Instead I have written and submitted an article concerning my new theories about the “circular offering sites” that will hopefully be published within the year. I have also been involved in organizing the XIV Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting here in Stockholm, a conference running over five days, 22-25 April, with about 200 participants and 19 sessions. I would like to extend a somewhat belated thank you to all the participants in the session I arranged together with Tiina Äikäs and Anna-Kaisa Salmi on the topic of «Sámi archaeology and postcolonial theory». The aim was to discuss and rethink the use of this theoretical complex in Sami archaeology. With eight interesting papers and a total of about three hours of debate, I think we can call it a success.

In addition I have been busy covering some of the 60 study points (one year of full-time studies) PhD students in archaeology here at Stockholm University are expected to complete during our four years of project employment. This goal is partly achieved through PhD courses offered by the Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology: “Dialogues with the Past”. Hence I spent last week at the Swedish Institute in Rome, discussing “Outland use and upland landscapes”, with 16 other PhD students and five lecturers from various European countries. A big thank you to all of them for a very interesting and inspiring course.

My half-time milestone will be celebrated in about two weeks with the mandatory half-time seminar where I will present my results so far and what I plan to do in the second half of the project to the rest of the department. My plans include, among other things, a short additional survey in Varanger this summer, some more archive studies, place name studies, more GIS analyses, writing some articles and not least writing the monograph that will be the final result of this project. It’s a lot, but I am still optimistic, and, perhaps more importantly for the chance of completing the project sometime during 2016, I still think doing this work is great fun. In short, I look forward to the next half!

The first peer reviewed article related to this project is now out in the latest issue of Fennoscandia Archaeologica (2013). The article sums up the reasons why I have started to doubt that the so-called Sámi circular offering sites were originally built and used as offering sites at all. The reasons for this doubt include a lack of older written and ethnographic sources, certain features relating to the stone structures themselves and their distribution, and that the few local traditions recorded may very well be of a younger date and possibly inspired by a scolarly hypothesis from the mid-19th century.

For copyright reasons I am not allowed to make the full-length article available online for another year, but Fennoscandia Archaeologica can be bought here:, or, presumably, borrowed at a library close to you. Feedback will be much appreciated!

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