Recent study pushes back the start date of Sámi offering rituals

University of Oulu researchers showed together with their Nordic colleagues that the use of Sámi offering sites began earlier than previously thought. New radiocarbon dates show that the use of these sites began more than thousand years ago.

Radiocarbon dates showed that Sámi offering sites were used for long periods, even for a millennium. The oldest animal offering dated is a bear from Unna Saiva in Sweden. It dates to the 6th to 8th centuries. Previously it was believed that offerings at these sites began ca. 800–1000 AD.

The research team dated animal bone finds from Sámi offering sites in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

The earliest reindeer offerings date to the 13th century. There was a clear peak in reindeer offerings 1400–1600 AD. This is the period when reindeer pastoralism became the main source of livelihood from the Sámi in many parts of the Sámi area. Reindeer offerings were also made in areas where reindeer pastoralism was only a part of a mixed livelihood of hunting, fishing, and gathering.

The research team noticed that there were shared characteristics in the development of the animal offering tradition in the area inhabited by the Sámi, although there was considerable variation in subsistence strategies and the adoption of reindeer pastoralism between within the area.

“Previously it was believed that the animal offerings mainly reflected the subsistence strategies within each area. Subsistence and religion are intertwined in the Sámi worldview. Offerings were made, for instance to ensure success in hunting, fishing and reindeer husbandry”, say Academy research fellow Anna-Kaisa Salmi and postdoctoral researcher Tiina Äikäs from the University of Oulu. 

“Of course the local subsistence strategies had an effect on the animal offerings. Our research shows, however, that transformations in the offering tradition happened simultaneously across the Sámi area. This indicates that there were shared cultural and religious practices.”

University of Oulu researchers studied the transformations in the Sámi animal offering rituals together with researchers from Stockholm University, University of Tromsø and Ájtte Museum.

This study was the first to combine data from Sámi offering sites in all three Nordic countries where the Sámi live. Previous research has concentrated on individual sites or sites within a single country.

Tradition and transformation in Sámi animal-offering practices was published in Antiquity.

Photo: Archaeologic studies in progress in Dierpmesvárri seita in Enontekiö 2010. Photo: Tiina Äikäs

Last updated: 4.7.2018