Steel Making Hunter-Gatherers in Ancient Arctic Europe

Sammanfattning: Based on findings made by Norrbotten County Museum around 2010 in the vicinity of Sangis in Arctic Sweden of advanced iron and steel production in a hunter-gatherer setting dated to the pre-Roman Iron Age (c. 200-50 BC), the aim of the present thesis is twofold. First, with a focus on know-how/established process stages, it investigates the possible wider geographical distribution of such production in the Arctic European area. The analysis is based on archaeometallurgical methods applied to materials from previously conducted and new surveys/excavations. Second, the aim is also to analyze the probable social/organizational conditions for the adaptation of iron and steel production among the ancient Arctic hunter-gatherer groups. The results are of breakthrough character, revealing an extensive spatial distribution of advanced iron and steel production at more than 40 sites in present-day northernmost Finland, Sweden, and Norway more than 2000 years ago (i.e., contemporary, and even partly prior to the Romans). The geographical spread of advanced and early iron technology which emerges through the results fundamentally challenges traditional perceptions of the emergence of ferrous metallurgy, especially when societies traditionally considered as less complex/highly mobile are addressed. Hence, iron- and steel production necessitated long-term organization/balancing with other subsistence activities in the collected rhythm of activities in the strongly seasonally influenced (climate-wise) landscape of the ancient Arctic hunter-gatherer communities. In addition to advanced knowledge, the new metal-related activities required significant supplies of raw materials (including their extraction, transportation, preparation, and storage) and thus (related) manpower. Overall, the results imply we ought to significantly broaden the perspectives of the ancient Arctic hunter-gatherer communities in terms of specialization and complex organization far beyond the traditional interpretative paradigm labeling prehistoric iron technology in the European Arctic as small-scale, dependent on imports, and underdeveloped or archaic. Also, because some parts of the process, like the necessary production of charcoal, required multi-year planning, the adaptation and investment of iron technology in the rhythm of activities in the landscape logistically bound the communities to specific locations in the landscape, thus implying reduced residential mobility, i.e.,  a higher degree of sedentism than previously recognized for these groups. The research process forming the basis of this thesis (conducted by a small group of archaeologists, archaeometallurgists, and historians of technology) was strongly characterized by the fact the results are completely at odds with both the larger international and Arctic European literature, implying both weak support for the interpretation of our results and perceived need for pin-pointing hidden assumptions in earlier research in order to “make room” for our results. In addition, the process was characterized by the fact that it took place in (and the ancient findings were made within) a region strongly marked by ethnopolitical forces and groups striving for identity building, where history (and particularly ancient findings) often gets to play a central role.

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