The Search For a Past: The Prehistory of the Indigenous Saami in Northern Coastal Sweden
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Ritual Sites Page



Ritual Bear Grave Illustration, Elgstrom 1930
Image Gallery
default image Bear Grave illustration by Elgstrom 1930 Bear Grave Illustration
Elgström 1930
show map of Bear Grave at Grundskatan Map of Bear Grave at Grundskatan
show Bear Bones at Grundskatan Bear Bones at Grundskatan
show map of Bear Graves Map of Bear Graves
show brown bear Bear Grave at Silver Museum


Bear ceremonialism is a circumpolar phenomenon. Over 30 bear graves and bear bone deposits have been found in northern Norway and Sweden. Some date as late as the 18th Century. The oldest find in Sweden is from Karats on the Arctic Circle, where a bear skeleton was buried on an island near dwellings. The grave was radiocarbon dated to the Viking Period. The bear burial from Grundskatan on the coast was found under a cairn in a seal hunter’s hut. Both the hearth in the hut and the bear bones were radiocarbon dated to the Viking Period. This remarkable find helps establish the identity of the sealers and validates comparisons with the Stalo hunting huts in the mountains. Both complexes are interpreted as seasonal hunting sites used by siidas, Saami family groups. These hunting systems collapsed in the 14th century. The bear was a powerful figure in Saami shamanism. The Grundskatan bear grave was a manifestation of Saami identity during times of intense interaction with the outside world.


Circular feature and seite on Stora Fjaderagg island
Image Gallery
 default image circular feature and seite on Stora Fjaderagg island
Circular feature and seite on Stora Fjäderägg island.
 show circular feature on Lappsandberget mountain
Circular feature on Lappsandberget mountain
 show circular feature at Gagsmark
Circular feature at Gagsmark
 show mapping a feature in a moraine field
Mapping a feature in a moraine field
 Illustration of Saami ritual site with seite, 
                    Schefferus 1673
Illustration of Saami ritual site with seite,
Schefferus 1673

Circular sacrificial sites are known from northern Norway and Swedish Lapland. The project is investigating these features on the North Swedish coast. One site, situated near Bjuröklubb on Lappsandberget (Lapp Sand Mountain), was excavated and analyzed for chemical residues. Other features of this kind were documented on the Island of Stora Fjäderägg some 10 kms offshore. More sites have been investigated in Hälsingland, 550 kms further south. All these sites are near hut complexes dating to the Viking Period and at elevations consistent with the Viking shoreline. Other sites are recorded on moraine fields in the coastal zone, such as at Gagsmark near Byske. It is expected that many more sites will be found that will help document a Saami ritual landscape in the coastal zone.

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