University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Ecological and social space in the high mountains in South Norway 8500 – 2000 BP
Espen Uleberg, Ellen Anne Pedersen

Last modified: 2011-12-18


Spatial analysis of artefacts and raw material types found in the high mountains and the neighbouring valleys indicate movement and exploitation of the landscape through time. This study will analyse the sites in time and space in relation to the fluctuating forest/tree line and the shift from a pure hunting/gatherer economy to pastoralism. It will explore how the allocation of the sites in the valleys in combination with the high-mountain sites reflects a shift in economy, responds to shifting climatic conditions and the construction of social space.

The first sites in the Norwegian high mountains appear shortly after the glaciers had melted; in the Lærdal mountains and Hardangervidda around 8500 BP. A pine forest was established as high as 1250 m a.s.l. around 8700-8500 BP, but the existence of a birch forest belt above the pine forest is debated. The major environmental factor in the mountains is the changing forest / tree line. The height of the tree line determines whether the high mountain sites have been in a totally different landscape or in a continuation of the forest in the valleys below. There are two conflicting models of the tree line. One is that there have been fluctuations, the other that the tree line was rather constant from the maximum until the climate deterioration at the beginning of the Iron Age.

The knowledge of the prehistory of the high mountain regions is based mainly on investigations in connection with dam constructions for hydro electrical power, but also on surveys made in connection with national plans for environmental protection of river basins. The prehistory of the forest regions surrounding the mountains is less known. There are two main  reasons for this. Firstly the river basins are not exploited in the same way as in the mountain regions, and secondly that woodland sites are not as exposed and therefore more difficult to find.

The use of stone tools, both flint and especially local quartz/quartzites, continues through the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age. The main subsistence pattern throughout this period is the hunting of large cervids. Because of small changes in tools and subsistence, the term has been coined the Stone Using Period or the Long Stone Age. Many of the sites have no stratigraphy, no charcoal and no type specific artefacts. They can therefore not be dated more precisely than within the Long Stone Age, but each of them contributes to the understanding of the pattern of movement, activities and construction of social space.

There are indications of shieling in the high mountains as early as the Late Neolithic. This coincides with a shift in subsistence in the lowlands. The introduction of shieling is also reflected in the allocations of sites. The Late Neolithic site distribution correlates with sites from Iron Age and later. This indicates that the perception of the landscape and what constitutes a good site has changed.


Spatial analysis; Stone Age; High Mountains; Norway