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Indications of shifting cultivation west of the Lapland border: Multifaceted land use in northernmost Sweden since AD 800

Hörnberg, Greger, Josefsson, Torbjörn, Bergman, Ingela, Liedgren, Lars, Östlund, Lars
charcoal, historical records, land use, pollen, shifting cultivation, society, Lapland, Northern European region, Scandinavia, Sweden
Permanent cultivation is generally believed to have been established in the interior of northernmost Fennoscandia later than elsewhere in northern Europe, during or after the late 17th century. Although subtle evidence from various pollen records suggests cultivation may have occurred much earlier in this region, such indications have generally been disregarded. We hypothesized that cultivation was introduced early in the Lapland border zone where western native Sami interacted with coastal farming societies due to the high degree of contact between these communities. Therefore, we investigated historical land usage at three settlement sites in the interior of Sweden’s northernmost territories – two in the Lapland border zone and one in a more westerly traditional Sami area. Analyses of pollen, charcoal and written historical records indicated that cultivation first occurred in AD 800 (700–900) at the westernmost site and one of the border zone sites. Permanent cultivation appears to have been established in c. AD 1480 (1400–1560) and 1750 (1720–1810) in the two Lapland border zone settlements and around AD 1840 (1725–1940) in the westernmost settlement. These results suggest that small-scale shifting cultivation may have been conducted in inland regions of Northern Fennoscandia (including a traditional Sami area) since AD 800. As such, they support the hypothesis that intermittent small-scale cultivation has been going on in these regions for much longer than was previously accepted. Because there was a great mobility of people and ideas across northernmost Fennoscandia, we conclude that the current tendency to describe specific geographical regions as being solely used by ‘nomadic herders’ or ‘permanent farmers’ is inappropriate and fails to capture the complexity of historical land usage.