Text by:
Nils Gustav Labba

Web-edition by:
Hanjo Schlüter
Sept. 1999

We Have 'Always' Been Here!

Many historians and archaeologists have outlined the history of Härjedalen presenting us Sámi people as a late, 18th century occurrence in history. It is not irrelevant to say that Swedish archaelogical and historical research emerged during the 17th century to prove Sweden´s national greatness. But even in those days critical voices among prominent researchers were heard: ”Two obstacles stand in the way for examining the truth. One is prejudice, the pre-supposed meaning, the other is the authority of great men.”
The criticism in some way feels relevant even today. Our history is accompanied by prejudice and ”the authority of great men”. Never was this shown clearer than during the court sessions in Sveg district-court in September 1995.
The ”nationalistic ” perspective has constantly been the momentum in European archaelogy. The state´s interest in the history of the country has been clearly indiscrete. The supreme power of the national state needed justifying, not only from God but also from history.

Biased Historicism

Inger Zakrisson, senior lecturer in archaelogy at Historiska Museet, with a long experience of Swedish research culture, hands out hard criticism. In her book ”Möten i gränsland”, (Historiska museet, 1998), about Sámi and Germanics in middle Scandinavia she writes: ”There are attitudes within archaelogy in Sweden that can be characterised as ethnocentric, nationalistic and chauvinistic. The reason is to be found partly in the social and cultural climate where archaelogy has developed, partly in the paradigmatic settings of the subject and its social-darwinistic view on cultural and social development. The ethnic diversity existing in Sweden is put aside in favour of an almost one-sided high-lighting of ”Swedish” pre-history.”
Inger Zakrisson lists a number of examples on historical works with a bias towards Swedish identity. This goes for not only older historical works but also for contemporary works offending Sámi culture by hardly touching on it. The northern parts of Sweden are as a rule considered less interesting or of lesser value than the southern parts.

Lack of Sámi History

The conditions in Norway have been the same. The new thing that has happened is that younger well-educated archaeologists have begun making their voices heard. This development is probably a part of the pro-Sámi political climate in Norway, where Sámi and Sámi culture have become widely accepted as an important part of Norwegian contemporary as well as pre-history.
Björnar Olsen, professor in north Scandinavian archaelogy at the university of Tromsö has written the following analysis worth considering about Sámi lack of history: ”In spite of the fact that the historical situation in Norway is tied to the presence of two ethnic groups, the Norwegian and the Sámi, only the former has been honored with a History. The Sámi have vanished into the domains of ethnography and become a people without History. In Norway we therefore have one Norwegian history and one Sámi ethnography.”
According to Björnar Olsen archaeologists do not carry out their research in a political and social vacuum, but are instead part of a contemporary complex of socio-political efforts.
”To refuse political stands is in itself a political stand serving the interests of the major forces.”


Björnar Olsen and his team of researchers have made themselves known for the courage to claim Sámi ethnicity in archaelogical findings close to 10.000 years old. Rather than single findings, it is by showing the continuity of the culture at the archaeological site, leading from the hunter gatherer people at the time until today´s Sami culture that provide support for Sámi ethnicity. 
The conclusion is simple enough in itself. There is simply no other living culture in the area today, apart from the Sámi culture. With the help of archaelogical findings and linguistic and historical research the unbroken tradition of the Sámi culture can be traced back.

Three Approaches

To know about the background of archaeological and historical research in the state´s service is important for us Sámi when we tell our own history. Not until the last two decades have researchers started to question the Swedish approach to archaeology and history research. What earlier was labelled ”the un-debated scientific approach” is far from obvious today. When it comes to our history in the southern Sámi area, in middle Scandinavia, there are today three approaches to the historical process taking place during the Iron Ages to the Middle Ages (500 B.C.- 1.500 A.D.)
  1. Set cultural border between north and south
    This approach goes back to 19th century archaeology and has its foremost supporter in the oracle among archaeology, professor Evert Baudou. He builds his theory on the supposed existance of a two or three thousand year old ”ethnical, socially and socially conditioned ” border between Sámi and Germanics through northern Jämtland and northern Ångermanland. According to Baudou it is not out of the questions that there have been ”temporary” Sámi settlings in south Jämtland and Härjedalen during a shorter period of time depending on the migration from the large Sámi area in northern Norrland.
    Baudou was consulted by the land owners as a specialist to challenge the history of the Sámi in Härjedalen and Dalarna to be as long-termed as we claim ourselves.
  2. Two cultures: Hunting culture and farming culture with continuity.
    This approach is fairly new. It was put forward in the beginning of the 1970´s and is based only on archaelogical findings. It practically does not discuss questions of ethnic origin and identity. 
    More than anyelse it is the archaeologist Klas-Göran Selinge who has supported the theory. He claims that a comparison between ancient relics from hunting grounds and farmed land respectively show clear differences between a mobile hunting culture in the inland, on one hand, and a culture based on farming by the coast, on the other hand. 
    According to Selinge this difference can be traced back to the Middle Age in Jämtland and Härjedalen. The Viking Age and older Middle Age emerge as a distinct transit period for Jämtland and Härjedalen. In those days the hunting culture fell back as an independent cultural form. A similar approach has been put forward for the south Sámi area in Norway.
  3. An interdisciplinary approach. Sámi culture sprung from so called hunting culture.
    This approach is a further development of the approach supporting the existance of two cultures, where the aspect of ethnicity is taken into consideration and the internal development is focussed. The approach is put forward mostly by linguists, historians and genetic researchers but is also favoured by prominent archaeologists, Inger Zakrisson being one of them. Zakrisson is consulted by the Sámi communities as an expert, to prove that the Sámi have ”always lived” in Härjedalen.

Always There

To us Sámi this approach is natural and logical. The north Sámi writer Johan Tuuri in the beginning of the 20th century wrote that ”us Sámi come from nowhere. We have always been here.” Today prominent Swedish researchers like Åke Hyenstrand, Björn Ambrosiani and Gert Magnusson have started to interpret southern archaeological sites in Värmland, Dalarna, Gästrikland and Härjedalen as relics from a hunting population existing in the area for thousands of years and show continuity leading to today´s Sámi culture.
This brings us back to the same uncomplicated conclusion that started this survey: 
-There is simply no other now living culture in Härjedalen and Dalarna than the Sámi one, which can be traced back to the oldest archaeological findings, and which throughout history can show an internal development towards what today characterises south Sámi culture.
This simple and uncomplicated could our history be if it had not been written by scientists with prejudice and pre-supposed nationalistic concepts.

Politics and Archaeology

But the last bet has not yet been made on Sámi history. The academic world has started a self-examination, although admittedly on a small scale, re-interpreting formerly uncontroversial scientific stands. Norwegian authorities on north Scandinavian archaeology today say that the Sámi have ”always been here”. One talks about Sámi ethnicity developing during the last millenium before Christ. This goes so far only for northern Norway.
For the south Sámi area the same conditions as in Härjedalen and Dalarna apply. Escalating opposition between farmers and reindeer herding Sámi have lead to a number of legal processes where the Sámi right to reindeer grazing is challenged. In court-room after court-room and with all available scientific sophistication the theory of the Sámi having immigrated from north and east and not until th 18th century have reached their present southern regions in Norway and Sweden, is put forward. The main arguments have been and still are that there are no Sámi place names, graves or places of sacrifice in the southern regions. Archaeology and politics join hands in the interests of the nation, disregarding their better judgment.

Interesting Puzzle

Nowadays things are not as self-evident anymore. Linguists, historians, genetic researchers and archaeologist have begun to put the pieces of an interesting puzzle together. The archaeological sites are there, right in the middle of the areas that land-owners, lawyers and experts claim to be genuinely Swedish.
  • Rock paintings at Flatruet, more than 6.000 year old, points towards an early hunting culture.
  • Early settlings and hunting pits connected to hunting culture, as far down as in southern Värmland and Dalarna.
  • Cemetaries by lakes in Dalarna, Gästrikland and Härjedalen, from the Iron Age.
  • Iron Age cemetary ”Krankmårtenhögarna” by the Storsjön, from 200 BC to 200 AD is interpreted as ”Sámi”, by the authority Björn Ambrosiani.
  • Settling and graves at Vivallen, five kilometres north-west of Funäsdalen, from the beginning of 1.000 AD.
Not even the greatest authority on north Scandinavian archaeology, Evert Baudou, questions the Sámi origin of the findings. His ”nationalistic” counter-argument claims that Vivallen are the remnants of a temporary Sámi emigration from the northern Sámi area, temporary to the extent that it did not affect the spread of the Sámi people on the whole.
The settling was abandoned, in other words, and the Swedish order was re-installed. These new findings together with new language history and genetic research form a total picture indicating the over-turning of the current scientific approach. It is only a question of money and resources.
But who wants to write about Sámi history and what institution will raise the money and necessary resources?
We Sámi have not even today got a History.