The Search for a Past: The Prehistory of the Indigenous Saami in Northern Coastal Sweden
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introduction page

map of Sweden showing study area and Saami dialect areas

Study area highlighted in green with map of Saami Dialect Areas. Map shows Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.

One of the most debated issues in Nordic research is the origin of the Saami (Lappish) people, their culture, language and place in prehistory.The Saami people are historically known as nomadic reindeer herders inhabiting northwest Russia and northernmost Norway, Sweden and Finland (Lapland and Finnmark). This characterization has nevertheless limited our understanding of Saami society for much of its prehistory. Saami settlement was actually much more widespread and their economy more diversified than historical sources imply. The goal of this project is to evaluate Saami prehistory on the coast of northern Sweden where there is a 7000 year archaeological record of human settlement. Place–names and recent archaelogical results, for example the dating of a ritual bear grave to the Viking Period, witness a former Saami presence in this area. It is hypothesized that the Saami were displaced from this coastal region as a result of the expansion of Scandinavian settlers in the Late Iron Age–Medieval Period (AD 800–1500). This period also corresponds in time to the widespread transformation of Saami hunting and fishing society into the nomadic culture we recognize today. Archaeology offers the only means for recovering the deep Saami past and providing a framework for understanding the diversity of Saami culture throughout the Nordic region. This three year project will build on previous results, new field investigations, and the testing of settlement models based on ethnographic, historical, linguistic, place–name and osteological data.

This project is being supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Award Number OPP-0352249) through the Department of Anthropology/Arctic Studies Center at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution.

This site and all materials are copyrighted and not to be used without written permission by the Principal Investigator. Photos and text by Noel Broadbent.

The design of the website is based on colors and symbols used in traditional Saami culture. The gold icons at the top of the page are inspired by figures painted on Saami drums which were used by shamans for healing and communication with the spirit world. Each button links to a page in the site.

This website was designed by Elaine Reiter, interning at the Smithsonian Institution Arctic Studies Center.

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Research Team

PI Dr. Noel Broadbent

Principal Investigator
Dr. Noel D. Broadbent

Smithsonian Institution
Department of Anthropology/
Arctic Studies
National Museum of Natural History
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Archaeozoologist Dr. Jan Stora

Dr. Jan Storå

Dr. Jan Storå of Stockholm University, Archaeozoology Laboratory, is an expert on animal osteology, especially seals.

PhD candidate Britta Wennstedt-Edvinger

PhD Candidate
Britta Wennstedt Edvinger

Britta is studying Saami prehistory within the framework of the NSF project. She is co-owner of the consulting firm Arkeologicentrum.
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 Katherine Rusk, D. Phil.

Katherine Rusk, D. Phil.
Smithsonian Institution Katherine is responsible for GIS mapping of sites analyzed within the project.
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©2004 Smithsonian Institution