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

Drivers for changing land use – a case study from a reindeer herding community in Finnmark, Northern Nortway.

S. Barlindhaug,

Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research – NIKU,Tromsø, Norway




         The project focuses on historic land use systems in a Sámi reindeer herding community in Finnmark, Northern Norway. The aim is to explore how past climatic and non-climatic drivers have been managed in an historic prospective, and what are the main risks in coming decades as perceived locally.

         Climate change has become the de facto dominant narrative across both public and academic discourse in northern high latitude regions since the release of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment in 2005. Climate change is one among the panoply of drivers that people living on the land has confronted.

            Due to Norway’s ‘nation-building’ project and its focus on a unified Norwegian history and heritage, the Sámi past was deemed of little interest to archaeology through much of the 20th century.  Even though there has been a significant increase in research on Sámi history - still, more than 80% of Finnmark County is terra incognita on the official Norwegian land use maps.  On the other side, visible cultural sites and narratives embedded in the landscape have, through a traditional livelihood with extensive land-use practices over the centuries, become an intrinsic part of people’s consciousness (even if they are not listed in any national database). This is due to that northern landscapes ‘remember’ well and archaeological sites, dating centuries back, are often visible on the surface. The sites in these landscapes represent long-term land use and their presence places both the distant and close past in people’s present. In northern areas this is likely to change: the tree line will shift, and shrub willow will gradually cover up sites that have been visible for centuries. Without the material manifestations of these sites in the landscape and their physical persistence over the years, they would not be part of the community’s common memory today. The link between the archaeological landscape, local land-use knowledge and the present landscape will become blurred with future changes in the vegetation. Knowledge held by people who have been involved in intimate and direct engagement with their land is valuable for understanding of past land use. Based on PGIS (participatory GIS) methodology and combined with archaeological ground trothing, historic land use have been mapped in a selected area as described and materialized in the landscapes.

The goal of this study is to explore how past climatic and non-climatic pressures have been managed through roughly the last century, and what the reindeer herders think about important drivers in the coming decades. Preliminary studies strongly suggest there is a need to properly account for both climatic and non-climatic drivers in historic societal transformations. Such research would help us better understand how Sámi reindeer pastoralist can adapt to coming drivers for change in the coming decades.


The work is funded by the JPI-Climate project; “Social-Ecological Transformations: HUMan-ANimal Relations Under Climate Change in NORthern Eurasia” (HUMANOR). Additional funding have been granted from the FRAM - High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment.

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