I got an inspiring question from Z at Enkla bloggen.
“Who made the rock carvings, hällristningar? Was it the Saami people?
Is this a sensitive matter? I’ve already asked several archaeologists but they haven’t answered me.”
Archaeology is fundamentally incapable of answering the question “who did this?” without the aid of written history. This is because everything we put into that question when we pose it is non-material, and the archaeological record is entirely material. This also holds when it comes to questions about peoples, questions of ethnicity, possibly nationalistic questions. Bear with me for a moment while I explain a few things.
In the American vernacular, “ethnicity” is just a polite way of saying “race”. In academe, “ethnicity” means something else which is taken to reside entirely in people’s heads. My ethnicity is Swedish. I’m also a white atheist whose mother tongue is Germanic. I could be a black Christian whose mother tongue was Fenno-Ugric, and still be Swedish. But the only way to know about my ethnicity is to talk to me or read something I wrote. Whack me hard in the head with a flint axe, and my ethnicity, religion and mother tongue disappear, leaving only my phenotype, my “race”.
Ethnicities are mutable, inconstant and fluid: they’re renegotiated and redefined every day. When I say that I’m Swedish, then this does not mean exactly what it meant when my great grandmother said she was Swedish. And it hardly has any connection to what someone meant in AD 1007 when they said they were Swedish. The words remain, but the content changes. There are no timeless nationalities. All culture is continually bastardised and mutated.
Now for the rock carvings. Swedish rock carvings come in two flavours. The country is shaped like a ski orientated N-S. In the northern two thirds of Sweden, the rock carvings are mainly from the Neolithic and tend to depict elks. In the southern third, they are mainly from the Bronze Age and tend to depict boats.
Sweden’s earliest known inhabitants documented in written sources spoke languages belonging to two different language groups and were ethnically divided into innumerable tribes. The country’s northern two thirds were home to hunter-gatherer-fishers who spoke Fenno-Ugric and had a very low population density. The southern third was home to farmers who spoke Germanic and had a higher population density. This was in the 1st Millennium AD, and from the earliest references on the farmers encroached upon the area of the hunter-gatherer-fishers until they had settled all the fertile land and Christianised the hunter-gatherer-fishers. Attempts were made into the 20th century to wipe out their language too.
So, who made the rock carvings? Impossible to tell. Centuries passed between the last boat rock-carving (about 300 BC?) and the first written mention of languages and tribes in Sweden (about AD 100), millennia between the last elk rock-carving (about 2000 BC?) and that date. There is no data, there can never be any data, on languages or ethnicities in Scandinavia around 2000 BC. Archaeologists can’t answer that question, and neither can anyone else. Because the answer isn’t hidden in the bones of those people, it isn’t hidden in their pottery or lithics or meal remains. The data were in their minds, and those are forever lost.
This is not a controversial issue among archaeologists. But it may be among nationalists without archaeological training. Because they
- a) believe in national essences that stay constant over long periods of time,
- b) believe that such a nation may have the right to land,
- c) believe that archaeologists produce the same kind of knowledge as historians do.
All these three beliefs are in my opinion false.
So if a Saami nationalist and a Swedish nationalist stop arguing long enough to ask me who carved the elks at Nämforsen, then I’ll reply, “Guys, those elks were made long before the first Swede and Saami had even been born”.
Here’s something about my view on the rights of indigenous people.