|Reindeer have been hunted in the mountains of South Norway since shortly after the last ice age. In that time they have served as a meeting place for groups from East and West Norway. In the Neolithic, ca. 4000–2350 BC, South Scandinavia was characterized by a multitude of large, partly contemporary, cultural networks. These networks were also present in South Norway but their influence has varied on eastern and western Norwegian groups. This includes the degree to which agriculture was implemented into existing social structures, which did not become a major economic and social factor until the end of the Late Neolithic after 2350 BC.
The mountain areas of Hardangervidda and Nordfjella are centrally placed between East and West Norway and have been seasonally used for hunting and social interaction by groups from both regions. This is reflected in the variation of the archaeological material found at the many settlement sites that can be traced to different groups living at the coast and inland in both regions. The overall theme of this thesis is to explore how social traditions arise and change, and how the variation we see can be explained. Did the different social and cultural changes have any impact on the utilization of the mountain areas? Did the varying degree of social interaction and transfer of knowledge between East and West Norway influence processes of change? These questions have received little attention in the last 40 years, especially in relation to these central mountain areas in the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age. In order to discuss processes of change in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age two main themes are explored; cultural variation and the significance of mountain areas in Neolithic societies.
Cultural variation is here defined as differences and variation in social and cultural structures expressed in contemporary material cultures in eastern and mid-western Norway (Hordaland County). This includes archaeological material from settlements situated at the coast, inland and mountain regions. The themes that will be explored are twofold. One theme will focus on how material culture from settlement sites and their connection to landscape can illuminate processes behind establishing social traditions in the Neolithic and how continuity and change can be explained. The mountain areas of Hardangervidda and Nordfjella provides a suitable starting point for discussions concerning interregional contact and its impact on social and cultural change.
The second theme concerns if and how the economic importance of hunting and trapping might have fluctuated during the Neolithic with varying agricultural practices. Hunting for reindeer was the primary motivational cause for activity on the mountains and can be used as an indicator of what importance big game hunting played in these semi-agrarian societies. An important question is if the transition to a more farm based society in the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age might have affected the activity in alpine areas in South Norway?
The basis for this study is a re-examination of previous archaeological material found on mountain settlement sites. There has been an exponential growth in source material the last 20 years from excavations along the coast and inland in both eastern and western Norway. These have vastly expanded our understanding of the Stone Age in these regions. They form a basis for new and updated chronological and typological frameworks that can be used to contextualize data from older excavations. A total of 81 sites from Hardangervidda and Nordfjella have been included in the analysis, of which 61 are excavated and 20 surveyed. The sites are a mix of multi and single phased settlements with activity dating from the Late Mesolithic and throughout the Pre Roman Iron Age.
A key premise of this thesis has been the understanding of human action as fundamentally relational and socially motivated. Archaeological finds are part of a society’s material culture and their patterns can be interpreted as a reflection of social traditions. An important question is how variation in material culture can be explained, what are the factors that help shape a cultural tradition and why is there variation in South Norway between East and West? To address this I have used Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practise to interpret the material culture in the mountains as a reflection of social groups every day practise, and how this can give us insights into stable social structures and also processes of change. Through transfer of knowledge, social structures are passed on within groups and families between generations, and this also incorporates a certain local or native aspect of social traditions. This perspective implies that knowledge, tradition and habitus are influenced by living in specific landscapes over time. Aspects such as subsistence practise, settlement patterns and identity can contribute to variations between areas such as eastern and western Norway. This would have affected reactions to internal and external cultural impulses, and understanding the basis for change is important for discussing the dynamics between cultural and environmental influences for variations in material culture. Can fluctuations in contact between eastern and western groups explain differences in the degree of integration into South Scandinavian cultural networks? How was the significance of hunting in the mountain areas impacted by different societal changes during the Neolithic? Did this lead to greater or less activity? Relational aspects within and between social groups can be used analytically to connect supraregional cultural impulses with more local social structures. Were new impulses integrated into existing structures or did they lead to societal and cultural upheaval?
The results from the study show that the activity in the mountain areas did fluctuate throughout the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age and this was caused by various factors. Climate change led to lower temperatures and a lowering of the forest line in the Middle Neolithic, increasing the reindeer herds and subsequently the activity by groups from both eastern and western Norway. This also led to more contact and cultural exchange, increasingly integrating the western population into South Scandinavian networks. There is also strong indications of a decline in activity in the first part of the Late Neolithic, most likely caused by a general population decline and societal upheaval linked to the transition to farm based economy. This change in activity has not been evenly distributed across the study area. Continuity can be seen in northern parts of Hardangervidda and in Nordfjella. Other areas, such as the southern parts of Hardangervidda, shows less evidence of activity in the transition between the Middle and Late Neolithic. These variations indicate that the transition to agriculture along the coast and inland was not a homogenous one.
A general understanding has been that by the start of the Late Neolithic ca. 2350 BC there was already a farm based society where agricultural practises dominated economically. Through this thesis I want to show a way to analyse cultural change and that the processes leading to an agrarian based society in South Norway can be understood in terms of the dynamics between semi-local social structures and interregional information networks. This also means that even though cultural traits spread rapidly along the coastal South-Norway around 2350 BC, the shift was not uniform or happened simultaneously in the whole of South Norway. It also implies that local landscape relations lead to variations in subsistence economy and that the society was perhaps not as homogenous as previously thought.