Ancient tribe Sámi people
The Saami are probably the oldest inhabitants of Scandinavia and have no Germanic roots. They live in the north from Norway to Sweden, but also in northern Finland and northwestern Russia. The Saami were once nomadic herdsmen, occasionally hunters, whose survival was very dependent on their reindeer herds. Their religion was shamanistic: they imagined supernatural powers in the rocks and mountains. The Scandinavians discriminated against them and called them "Lapps," a term of contempt.
Modern humans already lived as hunters, gatherers, and fishermen in large portions of Scandinavia during the New Stone Age. Evidence for this can be found in the 10,000 year-old campfire sites and the 6,000 year-old arrowheads found in Alta in northern Norway. The settled area stretched from the north to far south in Scandinavia and to the White Sea in Russia.
Archeologists have found asbestos ceramics from the period between 1500 B.C. and 300 A.D., and this craft has been interpreted as being characteristic for Saami culture. They have also found pit traps. Systems of pit traps were used to catch elk and reindeer. The Greek historian Prokopios in 555 A.D. mentioned a people, whom he called the Skrithfinoi who had this practice. It is clear that they were the Saami.
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In the Middle Ages, the Vikings appear on the scene. At this time, the Saami inhabited three quarters of Scandinavia. Saami tales lead us to the inference, that there must have been a long-enduring conflict between the Vikings and the Saami. Later, the Saami traded with the Vikings. They exchanged animal skins, pelts and salt, precious metals for use in jewelry, and metal blades. Later still, the Saami began to trade with travelers from the European continent, which brought about cultural progress in Saami society. The stone-aged people developed into a society with their own system of currency, the "tjoervie."
The subjugation of the Saami by the larger, neighboring nations began already during the Middle Ages, as well. In the fourteenth century, there arose conflicts between the Norwegians and the inhabitants of Novgorod concerning the taxation of the Saami. In 1326, the authority to tax them was set by treaty. Nevertheless, the Saami often had to pay both taxes. Likewise, the Bikarle, fur traders from Bottenvik, the northernmost outpost on the Bay of Bottnia, demanded taxes from the Saami. The Birkale were in turn liable for taxes to Sweden. When Novgorod was annexed by Russia in 1478, the Saami taxes were then paid to the great princes of Moscow.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, there were three major groups of Saami:
- The Saami farmers in the southern regions of Norway, who primarily lived on agriculture,
- The Saami of the lakes, who lived north and east of the Saami farmers, were settled and lived from fishing and hunting, and
- The nomadic Saami who lived in the mountains and in Finnmarksvidda. They were a typical herding people. The large-scale reindeer herding came later, likely during the 40's of the sixteenth century.
For the Saami, there was no period of Enlightenment and progress at the end of the Middle Ages, as there was for people in many parts of Europe, but the systematic conquest of Saami territories by neighboring nations.
Though the Saami often have the same customs as other Arctic dwellers, they are genetically different from them. Some researchers speculate, that they originally came from the Alps, while others are of the opinion that they came from Siberia. In any case, they came to northern Europe thousands of years ago, following the reindeer herds after the retreat of the polar ice. These people speak a language related to Finno-Ugric, but the Finns cannot understand them. The Saami language consists more precisely of three major dialects, which likely arose due to the isolation of different groups in the remote and difficult to access regions of northern Scandinavia.
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