International Scientific Conference "Archeology of the Arctic"
November 19-23, 2017

Sea mammals hunting in the archaeology of the Northern Fennoscandia.

E.M. Kolpakov

Institute of Material Culture RAS, Saint Petersburg





A vast majority of archaeological sites of Northern Fennoscandia were associated with the ancient ocean coast along which the territory was initially colonized during the Mesolithic. There is no doubt that the maritime resource use was the most important component of life of the ancient populations. The source of our knowledge about the ancient methods of maritime resource base development are the excavation materials and the rock art images.

In the faunistic remains of settlements seal bones were definitely dominating (particularly the Greenland seal - up to 90% of all definable sea mammals bones). The remains of walrus and whales (normally the white whale) were not numerous. Fish bones were represented almost exclusively by codfish and anacanthe. These data referred to the late Neolithic and the Early Metal Age, 2-3 millennium BC, and were obtained from 9 archaeological sites (Bergeby, Karlebotn, Advik, Gressbakken, Kalkillebukta, Hoybukt, Mayak 2, Ust-Drozdovka 3, Zavalishina5).

In the rock art images a completely different picture was observed: harpoon whale hunt from boats and fishing for halibut or flat-fish. It should be noted that numerous boat whaling scenes were present only in Kanozero and Vyga. Three such whaling scenes were registered in Alta, and two on Onega lake, while in Nämforsen - only one, and an extremely unimpressive one at that. In petroglyphs there were only a few small figures which could be interpreted as seal images, and several walrus images in Besovy Sledki. Fishing was represented only with a series of images in Alta, where it was boat fishing, and only one fishing scene for pike without a boat in Kanozero. There were several images of the spiked harpoons themselves.

In the movable artifacts group there were bone harpoons, both spiked and toggling. There were also the composite ones, where the flint point was inserted into a socket at the end of a bone cup with spikes. Occasionally large bone fishing hooks have been found, as well as the relatively small composite bone hooks with a stone dart. Quite common were the corner shale polished knives, or the flint ones with two-sided retouch which, most likely, were used for cutting fish and sea mammals.

With the exception of the Onega lake petroglyphs all large rock art sites were located on the ancient sea coast (Kanozero 16 km away). In all of them, except Vingen, there were numerous images of large boats with teams up to 60 people (normally up to 10). In the excavated sites of Northern Fennoscandia the remains of boats dated as the Iron Age period were found only in the Kola Oleneostrovsky burial site. They were the funeral sarcophagus-boats-kerezhki and could not be interpreted as boats used for maritime hunting. At the same time they had all the necessary shipbuilding elements: the boat hull made from planks, the keel plate and transverse ribs, caulking. Apparently the boats were propelled by paddle-oars as shown in the Novaya Zalavruga petroglyphs in Vyga. The oar lock appeared in Scandinavia in the Iron Age, in the 1st millennium AD.

A striking mismatch between the rock art images and the settlements materials consisted in the fact that in the rock art there were almost exclusively whaling scenes, while at the settlements almost exclusively seal bones were found. On the one hand this demonstrated the importance of whaling for the ancient population. On the other hand this could be explained by quite prosaic reasons related to the difficulties associated with the whales transportation. A Greenland seal weighed up to 164 kg with the length of the body up to 205 cm; white whale weighed up to 2 tons and was about 6 m long. The killed seals were loaded into boats and carried to the settlement intact, while the white whales were, most likely, cut on the nearest beach and only parts of the bodies were delivered to the settlements. It stands to reason that seal bones were represented in the settlements with all parts of the skeleton, while the white whales - only with some bones. At the same time one killed white whale in terms of the meat and fat quantity was equivalent to 10-20 seals. Apparently the whales had at least the same dietary value as the seals.

In this way two different categories of archaeological sources complemented each other. The Neolithic and the Early Metal Age settlements were located in the bays of the Norwegian and the Barents Seas very close to the ancient shoreline. Main food of the population were seals (Greenland seals) and toothed whale (White whales). For whaling they used big wooden boats and harpoons of various types. The killed seals were brought to the settlements and cut there. While the whales were cut outside of the settlements.

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