Animal offerings at the Sami offering site of Unna Saiva: Changing religious practices and human-animal relationships

Anna-Kaisa Salmi, Tiina Äikäs, Markus Fjellstrom, Marte Spangen

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26 Citations (Scopus)


Unna Saiva is a Sámi offering site situated in Gällivare in Northern Sweden. The site was excavated in the early 20th century. It yielded a large number of finds, including objects of silver, pewter and other metals, coins, and animal bones. The metal objects and coins date mainly to the late 10th century and 11th century AD, whereas the animal bone finds date from the 6th to the 17th centuries AD. Zooarchaeological analysis, radiocarbon datings of animal bones and stable isotope analyses conducted in this study reveal new information about religious ritual, religious change, and human–animal relationships among the Sámi. We argue that there was a change in the offering tradition, intertwining with changes in the subsistence economy and especially reindeer domestication. Our results indicate that reindeer domestication, acknowledged to have had a major impact on social organization and economy, was also a major factor in the transformation of Sámi indigenous religion. However, the underlying nature of the offering tradition remained consistent although the focal species of economic and religious interest changed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-22
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Early online date3 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

We wish to thank the two anonymous referees for their comments on the earlier version of this manuscript. We are grateful for financial support to the Arctic Domus project at the University of Aberdeen, Stiftelsen Konung Gustaf VI Adolfs fond för svensk kultur, the Alfred Kordelin Foundation and the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation. We would also like to thank Leena Drenzel from Statens historiska museet in Stockholm and Jan Storå from the Osteological Research Laboratory at the Stockholm University for their generous help in accessing the Unna Saiva faunal assemblage and Eva Silvén at the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm for her cooperation and assistance with the Ernst Manker archives. Furthermore, we wish to thank Sarianna Silvonen for English proofreading.


  • Sámi archaeology
  • offering site
  • indigenous religion
  • Fennoscandia
  • Sweden
  • zooarchaeology
  • stable isotopes
  • reindeer domestication


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