Digging in Norway

Ann Hills on excavations in the Arctic and displays in the Tromso Museum.

'This was a Stone Age settlement. Here are the flat hearth stones: these indentations may be homes...' Knut Helskog, senior curator in the Department of Archaeology, University of Tromso, explains an archaeological dig deep in the Arctic Circle, north of Tromso. Small groups of families lived here as hunters and fishermen nine thousand years ago, he believes; only one or two thousand years after the ice had receded. Helskog and his team of about ten were using the long summer days to dig beneath the turf and berries, working under the auspices of the Tromso Museum.

This particular site at Hamneidef, halfway between Tromso and Alta, is the oldest to be excavated in the Tromso region (Troms), adding to the array of communities that seem to have existed here. During the first days of the dig, in August, a series of flints and crystal scrapers appeared. The microblades with parallel edges, perhaps used as insets with harpoons, indicate a high degree of specialism to enable survival. They were made by striking, not polishing.

According to Helskog, the use of slate here is controversial, although it has been found in Finland and Sweden Hinting at possible ancient travel in these northern lands, Helskog thinks we may have to change our views as result of these discoveries. The findings, pooled with a fast growing amount of data, confirm the existence of a larger variation in prehistoric tools, and more settlements with compact scattered populations than was previously believed. North Norway has now yielded more remains of Stone Age houses than any other part of Scandinavia, with the numbers into the thousands, and up to eighty in close proximity – although not necessarily occupied concurrently, since dating confirms a range, in some cases, of a thousand years.

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