Subsistence Diversity in the Younger Stone Age Landscape of Varangerfjord, Northern Norway

By Hodgetts, Lisa | Antiquity, March 2010 | Go to article overview
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Subsistence Diversity in the Younger Stone Age Landscape of Varangerfjord, Northern Norway

Hodgetts, Lisa, Antiquity



The faunal record represents an incomplete, imperfectly preserved, time-averaged record of the daily practices of multiple individuals. While its nature masks individual and short-term temporal variability, comparing patterns of faunal exploitation between dwellings and sites that are roughly contemporary can reveal variations in food procurement practised by different households or at different sites, and shed light on the ways in which landscape was perceived and created. The northern Norwegian example presented here demonstrates marked differences between patterns of faunal exploitation at different sites, which are clearly linked to localised environmental conditions and suggest that people occupying each site utilised restricted hunting territories. There is far greater diversity than might be expected between communities with a shared material culture that lived in relatively close proximity around a single fjord. This variability has implications for other cases in which archaeologists assume continuity of subsistence and other practices among hunter-gatherers from a single archaeological 'culture'.

Attempts to demonstrate the presence of 'complexity' (cf. Keeley 1988) based on the presence of traits such as high population density, a high degree of sedentism, hereditary social hierarchies and defended territorial boundaries are prevalent in the archaeological literature on the late Younger Stone Age (YSA) of northern Norway (Renouf 1989; Myrvoll 1992; Olsen 1994; Schanche 1994). This reflects a persistent assumption that the traits attributed to complex hunter-gatherers always co-occur; where one is demonstrated in the archaeological record, the others can be inferred (see also Rowley-Conwy 2001: 44; Jochim 2006: 80). However, archaeologists working on the north-west coast of the Americas have begun to disentangle the concepts of storage, sedentism, population growth and social differentiation (e.g. Moss & Erlandson 1995; Cannon & Yang 2006). They recognise that these traits need not necessarily be linked, and emphasise the importance of understanding the individual developmental histories of different groups.

In light of this critique and the limitations of the available archaeological data from northern Norway's late YSA (which are drawn from dwellings that do not reflect the full range of variation), I would like to step back from the complexity debate and take a bottom-up approach to the faunal evidence as an indicator of social life, including relationships within and between sites and the social construction of landscape. Scholars increasingly recognise the emergent character of landscape, viewing it as an ongoing process of interaction between people, other animals and the land (e.g. Tilley 1994; Ashmore & Knapp 1999; Ingold 2000). This approach replaces traditional distinctions between nature and culture, humans and environment with a more encompassing concept of landscape in which 'each component enfolds within its essence the totality of its relations with each and every other' (Ingold 2000: 191). Thus, archaeological faunal remains, a direct result of interactions between (at least some of) its human and animal components, should help to elucidate the processes that bring a landscape into being.

Prehistory of northern Norway

Many archaeologists working in northern Norway have argued for a high degree of sedentism and relatively high population density around 2000 BC, which they have linked with hierarchical social organisation (Renouf 1989; Olsen 1994; Schanche 1994). Other researchers have downplayed the degree of sedentism, emphasising inter- and intra-site variation in activities, extrapolating a lower population density from the available evidence and suggesting that social organisation was fluid and lacked formal hierarchies (Engelstad 1984; Helskog 1984; Johansen 1998). Both positions assume a connection between sedentism, population density and complexity.

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Subsistence Diversity in the Younger Stone Age Landscape of Varangerfjord, Northern Norway


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