1st Edition

Northern Archaeology and Cosmology A Relational View

By Vesa-Pekka Herva, Antti Lahelma Copyright 2020
    212 Pages 44 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    212 Pages 44 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In its analysis of the archaeologies and histories of the northern fringe of Europe, this book provides a focus on animistic–shamanistic cosmologies and the associated human–environment relations from the Neolithic to modern times. The North has fascinated Europeans throughout history, as an enchanted world of natural and supernatural marvels: a land of light and dark, of northern lights and the midnight sun, of witches and magic and of riches ranging from amber to oil. Northern lands conflate fantasies and realities.

    Rich archaeological, historical, ethnographic and folkloric materials combine in this book with cutting-edge theoretical perspectives drawn from relational ontologies and epistemologies, producing a fresh approach to the prehistory and history of a region that is pivotal to understanding Europe-wide processes, such as Neolithization and modernization. This book examines the mythical and actual northern worlds, with northern relational modes of perceiving and engaging with the world on the one hand and the ‘place’ of the North in European culture on the other.

    This book is an indispensable read for scholars of archaeology, anthropology, cultural studies and folklore in northern Europe, as well as researchers interested in how the North is intertwined with developments in the broader European and Eurasian world. It provides a deep-time understanding of globally topical issues and conflicting interests, as expressed by debates and controversies around Arctic resources, nature preservation and indigenous rights.

    Chapter 1: Introduction: Northern Exposure

    The North and the world

    Relationality, spirituality and the richness of reality

    Spirituality and magic in the northern world

    Knowing the world

    Relationality and the northern world

    Time, temporality and the longue durée

    Defining the North

    A brief outline of the Fennoscandian past

    The structure of the book


    Chapter 2: Stone-worlds

    A race to the Arctic

    The world inside the rock

    Crystal cavities and other marvels of the Underworld

    Cavities and recent folklore in the North

    Early modern northern mining as dreamwork

    Disciplining and ordering of the North

    Mining and magic

    Dreams of Lapland’s gold

    The enduring allure of minerals and the Underworld

    Chapter 3: Houses, Land and Soil

    Dwellings, people and the cosmos in the North

    The introduction of the house

    Pottery, semi-subterranean houses and cultural transformation

    Early pottery, cultivation and place making

    Houses and the changing relationship with the underworld

    Clay work as a means of restructuring human-environment relations

    Living in an inspirited world

    The inspirited house

    Chapter 4: Forests and Hunting

    The forest in northern landscapes and mindscapes

    Engaging with trees

    Humans and animals in the north

    Seducing the prey

    Elk-headed staffs – symbols of Stone Age clans?

    Sceptres of the shaman?

    The Bear – the ‘Golden King of the Forest’


    Chapter 5: Coastal landscapes and the sea

    Living with the sea

    The two mediterraneans

    Engaging with changing coastal environments

    The temporality of Baltic coastal landscapes

    Cairns in northern coastal landscapes

    Otherworldly islands

    Coastal mazes in the North

    Chapter 6: Boats and waterways

    The mystery object from a Lapland bog

    Water and the Otherworld in a northern context

    Travelling as a spirit fish

    Blue elks and flying boats

    Solar boats in razors and rock art

    Boats for the dead

    Chapter 7: River mouths and central places

    The real and mythical rivers

    River mouths as liminal spaces and central places

    Mythical kingdoms in later prehistory

    The ‘trader kingdom’ of the birkarls

    Market places


    Chapter 8: Birds and cosmology

    Migratory birds and changing seasons

    Birds as persons

    Birds as guides and soul-birds

    Cranes and dwarfs

    Devil’s swans

    Solar swans?

    Chapter 9: The sun, light and fire

    People of the Sun

    Amber and Apollo

    Worshipping the northern sun

    The marriage of fire and earth

    Fire and the hearth in northern cultures

    Fire and transformation

    Strange lights in the Northern Sky

    Chapter 10: Epilogue

    A world full of life

    The North and the South


    Vesa-Pekka Herva is a professor of archaeology at the University of Oulu, Finland. He has studied various aspects of material culture, human–environment relations, cosmology and heritage in north-eastern Europe from the Neolithic to modern times.

    Antti Lahelma is a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Helsinki, Finland. His core expertise lies in the study of prehistoric identity, cultural production and worldview, particularly in the northern circumpolar area.

    Herva and Lahelma take us on a magical tour through the North; along the way, we meet rock crystals, forest bears, clay figurines, sunken boats and migratory birds among a host of other beings. This is no textbook on the prehistory of Fennoscandia, rather an account of how specific relational ontologies in the far north of Europe are manifest in the material world during the 11,000 years of human settlement in the area. Drawing on archaeology, folklore, history and ethnography, the authors let us see this history through a perspective that ‘takes animism seriously’, approaching this world through three cosmological realms of land, sea and sky. It is a highly original approach and one that deals with a region that is paradoxically both marginal and yet central to our understandings of the European past and present. If we have never been modern, this is emphatically true of the far north as this book makes clear, where the divisions between rationality and spirituality, humans and nature have never made sense. Not 11,000 years ago and not now.

    Gavin Lucas, University of Iceland, Iceland


    This is a deeply original work from two noted experts on the complex spiritualities of the North, bringing their long experience of Finnish anthropology to a wider audience and in a broader geographical context. With its innovative focus on land, sea and sky, issues of environmental interaction take centre stage, but always set against the relational Northern thought-worlds of humans and animals. Here we meet blue elks and spirit fish, the Devil’s swans, and the marriage of fire and earth, alongside a host of others in what the authors rightly call ‘a world full of life’. The extensive subject matter is always rigorously controlled, the case studies sensitive and well chosen, and all combined in a thrilling combination of landscape, metaphysics, communication and subsistence that presents a genuinely new perspective on the ecology of the Northern peoples. This is must for anyone interested in Northern anthropologies, circumpolar belief and shamanism, and arctic archaeologies.

    Neil Price, Uppsala University, Sweden

    "This book is packed full of detail presented in a readable way, whilst simultaneously highlighting the various areas of research that require further study. It is not only crucial reading for those interested in Fennoscandia, but also important for archaeologists, ethnographers and folklorists of Europe and the Arctic, across all chronological periods."

    Tina Paphitis, Time & Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture