Quantifying Sami Settlement and Movement Patterns in Northern Sweden 1700–1900

  • Torbjörn Josefsson
  • Ingela Bergman
  • Lars Östlund
Keywords: northern Sweden, forest history, archaeology, archival sources, Sami, population changes, reindeer pastoralism, taxation lands, mountain birch, Scots pine

Abstract

The indigenous Sami people of northernmost Europe have developed unique adaptations that enable them to cope with harsh climate and subsist in low-productivity ecosystems. These adaptations have been shaped by both internal factors, such as demographic and traditional land-use systems, and external factors, such as colonization and national legislation. In this paper we interpret the quantitative impacts of land use by reindeer herders in a subarctic forest landscape in northern Sweden during the 18th and 19th centuries. We used archival sources (cameral and judicial documents and church records) together with environmental data to reconstruct past changes in population size and the spatial configuration of traditional Sami lands, which the Swedish state accepted and recognized as taxation units for several centuries up to the 19th century. The taxation lands encompassed several hundred square kilometres and featured distinct proportions of different vegetation types. We propose that these taxation lands were originally established so that each provided sufficient resources to support the subsistence of a Sami family, incorporating pastures for small-scale reindeer herding and opportunities for hunting and fishing within its borders. However, there were substantial differences in the resources they provided. Estimates of population density indicate that they may have been able to support 0.04–0.06 persons per km2. Unlike many other indigenous groups around the globe, the Sami interacted with the state and claimed their rights in court proceedings and were thus able to maintain strong recognition of their land tenure by the Swedish state until the late 19th century.

Key words: northern Sweden, forest history, archaeology, archival sources, Sami, population changes, reindeer pastoralism, taxation lands, mountain birch, Scots pine
Published
2010-06-16