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Archaeology and National Identity: The Norwegian Example

Author(s): Barbara G. Scott

Source: Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Summer 1996), pp. 321-342
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the Society for the Advancement
of Scandinavian Study
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Archaeology and
National Identity
The Norwegian Example

Barbara G. Scott
Ripon College

A discipline, archaeology has a relatively short history,

but it has regularly been influenced by contemporary social
conditions and values. The Scandinavian countries were pio-
neers in archaeology, however, and therefore have a comparatively long
tradition in the discipline with especially great strides made in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The development of archaeo-
logy was particularly important in Norway, given its political situation
at that time and the attempts to create a specifically Norwegian identity.
As with the history of archaeology in other countries, the research
questions addressed and the interpretations offered have often been
influenced, however indirectly or unconsciously, by contemporary po-
litical conditions, and it is important to see the research and debates
within the discipline in their historical context: archaeologists have
realized in the last decade that their discipline is not isolated from
contemporary events and issues. Here I will touch briefly on several
examples of the influence of a growing national feeling and of political
events, both internal and external, on the development of archaeology
in Norway, from the first Norwegian laws protecting ancient monu-
ments up to the current problems in dealing with a multiethnic past in
northern Norway.

TkE History of Scandinavian Archaeology

Before turning to the specific developments in Norway, however, it is

useful to get some idea of the climate for archaeology in Scandinavia as

This essay is an expanded version of a paper presented at the annual meeting of the
Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study in Austin, Texas in April 1993. I
would like to thank Bettina Arnold, Bjornar Olsen, and Ingrid Urberg for their clarifica-
tions and translation help. All errors remain my responsibility.

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322 Scandinavian Studies

a whole during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and of the
contributions made by some of the early Scandinavian archaeologists.
Certain kinds of remains were protected by law in Denmark as early as
the late seventeenth century under King Christian V ( Voss 1985 150) and
this protection extended to material in Norway. Throughout the eigh-
teenth and nineteenth centuries the existing protections were slowly
extended. In addition, there was early interest in archaeology as a
discipline in Scandinavia. As early as 1806 Professor Rasmus Nyerup
published a report in which he recommended that a National Danish
Museum of Antiquities be formed, and in 1807 the Danish government
set up a Royal Committee for the Preservation and Collection of Na-
tional Antiquities with Nyerup as Secretary (Daniel 1981:56). Two Danes,
C. J. Thomsen and J. J. A. Worsaae, first devised a classification system to
organize the material which was being collected. This system, the three-
age system of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, is still used today,
albeit with modifications. It was first explained in a museum guidebook
for the Danish National Museum in 1848. Worsaae then applied this
system to Danish prehistory in a work entitled Danmarks Oldtid oplyst
ved Oldsager og Gravhoje (1843) [The Primeval Antiquities of Denmark
(1848)] and showed through an examination of field monuments that
this sequence was in fact correct (Daniel 1981:60). Oscar Montelius, a
Swede, also contributed to archaeological classification. In fact, he may
be considered the "founder of prehistoric taxonomy5' (Daniel 1981 : 105) :
he greatly refined Worsaae's notion of typology and succeeded in devel-
oping a relative chronology for Scandinavian artifacts.
Thus, the Scandinavians were among the first to protect antiquities
by law and to investigate them methodically, in part because of the
interest and support of various members of the Scandinavian royal
families from the sixteenth century on. However, in Norway the situa-
tion was somewhat different since Norway did not have a native ruling
family. Kristian Kristiansen (1992) has discussed the importance of
archaeology in Denmark in constructing a unifying national identity
after several humiliations including Denmark's defeat in the Napole-
onic Wars, the bombardment of Copenhagen, and the announcement
of state bankruptcy in 1813. But in Norway's case, Denmark was part of
the problem: Norway had been subordinate to Denmark for several
centuries until the end of the Napoleonic Wars when Norway was
transferred to Sweden against her will and in spite of her desire for

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Archaeology and National Identity 323

independence. In the nineteenth century, many Norwegians saw a need

to break the bonds of Danish cultural hegemony and Swedish political
domination. As a result, archaeology began to flower during the second
half of the nineteenth century as demands for independence from
Sweden became more and more insistent. In fact, as with other young
countries, one might argue that in its struggle for independence and a
separate national identity Norway needed to draw on cultural rein-
forcements provided by the rise of national romanticism in numerous
quarters including academic disciplines like archaeology. In 1905 the
Storting passed a law protecting prehistoric and medieval antiquities
which since then has been strengthened and modified. As in Denmark,
archaeology is still better supported in Norway than in many countries
and archaeological sites are better protected. Although the direction of
Norwegian archaeology has shifted over the years, the connection with
contemporary political and social realities has not.

Politics in Archaeology

The fact that politics has played an important role in Norwegian archae-
ology is not unusual. Denmark also drew on archaeology during the
nineteenth century to establish a distinct Danish identity in response to
her decisive defeat in the Napoleonic Wars and the ever-present threat
from its much larger neighbor to the south, Germany. In eastern Eu-
rope the importance of the past for constructing ethnic identities and in
pressing land claims is obvious even today. The Republic of Macedonia,
for example, has experienced difficulties with Greece over its name and
its flag: it has not been permitted to fly its flag- the sixteen-ray sun or
Star of Vergina- at the United Nations because Greece claims this
symbol was an emblem of the ancient Greek Macedonia rendering it,
therefore, a fundamentally Greek symbol (Danforth 1994:41). The late
Priit Ligi, an Estonian archaeologist, recently discussed the role of
ethnogenetic studies and national romanticism in the archaeology of
the former Soviet Union and in the now independent republics where
archaeology is "already being misused in the press in connection with
political disputes33 (1993 : 32). Ligi also suggests the possibility of a resur-
gence of ethnic archaeology in Europe in a struggle against the European
Community (1993:31-2).

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324 Scandinavian Studies

During the last decade, many archaeologists have begun to question

certain basic assumptions about their discipline. They now realize that
the value-neutral science promised by positivism and adopted enthusi-
astically by the Anglo-American New Archaeology of the 1960s and
1970s is an impossibility. Archaeologists cannot conduct research in a
vacuum completely divorced from and unaffected by current political
realities and social values. In fact, many would claim that archaeology is
itself a political endeavor. So while the New or Processual Archaeolo-
gists claimed to be engaged in a purely scientific and unbiased analysis
of past cultural change and a search for basic laws analogous to those in
the natural sciences, it is no surprise given the technological advances of
the time that, this New Archaeology also began to focus on prehistoric
environmental degradation in the 1970s and the 1980s when modern
environmental issues came to the fore of the political debate in the
West.1 Questions about religion and ideology-what people in the past
might have been thinking-were seen as impossible to answer, although
certain implicit assumptions were made about things such as the sexual
division of labor in the past (which coincidentally mirrored the modern
sexual division of labor). In contrast, many archaeologists now believe
that such areas of research are legitimate and that although the archaeo-
logical evidence does limit our interpretations of the past there are
many possible interpretations : no single explanation is the "truth." This
leaves room for minorities and the less powerful to assert their right to
a past by following a different research agenda, as we shall see in
connection with the Saami. However, the nature of archaeological
evidence also makes it vulnerable to political manipulations.

Nineteenth-Century Norway

In the case of nineteenth-century Norway, archaeology- especially

relating to the Viking Age- could provide a historical illustration that
Norway was a kingdom independent of either Sweden or Denmark
with a more impressive past and, thus, help to build a distinct Norwe-
gian identity. In light of this connection between archaeological finds
and the development of a national identity, the great importance of the

1 On the connection between modern economic cycles and archaeological interpretation,

see Trigger (1989 :&$&)-

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Archaeology and National Identity 325

discovery of the Viking ships at Gokstad and Oseberg in the late nine-
teenth and early twentieth centuries is obvious : both were far "superior"
to any contemporary finds in Denmark or Sweden, both of which
lacked such impressive physical evidence of Viking craftsmanship at a
time when the need to foster a new sense of identity was so great.2 The
Oseberg excavation in particular was of immense importance coming
as it did in 1904, the year before Norway finally gained its indepen-

ikE Oseberg Find and its Legal Consequences

While the find of the Oseberg ship and the rich accompaniment of grave
goods has been discussed in innumerable scholarly and popular ac-
counts of the Viking period, the actual circumstances and political
context of the discovery and its aftermath are not as well known outside
of Norwegian archaeology. The events surrounding this discovery are
important as they shed considerable light on legal developments con-
cerning archaeology in Norway. The find was reported on August 8,
1903 to Professor Gustafson at the Oldsaksamling in Oslo (for details
see Brogger 1917: 3-16, 84-7). Two days later he visited the site and
understood immediately that the mound contained a ship with a grave
chamber. Rather than undertake immediate excavations, as the land-
owner insisted, Gustafson chose to wait until the following summer so
that the excavation could be properly prepared. At that time no effective
legal protection saw to the public's interest in such finds, so Gustafson
had to negotiate a contract with the landowner which would allow the
find to be excavated properly and turned over to the State. These
negotiations did not go smoothly. Problems in reaching an agreement
with the landowner put the excavation in jeopardy since the State
would not pay for the work until the ownership of the finds had been
decided. Gustafson, in turn, received a private guarantee for the excava-
tion costs from a certain Fritz Treschow. Still, Gustafson had hoped to
begin digging on May 25, 1904, but he did not manage to get the
landowner's signature on the contract until June 12.

2 The Roskilde ships in Denmark were not excavated until the late 1950s and early '60s
and do not display the same level of artistic mastery as the contents of the famous
Norwegian boat burials, especially the Oseberg find.

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326 Scandinavian Studies

In the final contract, the landowner turned over the excavation and
preservation of the entire find to Gustafson and the excavation was
expected to be finished in the fall of 1904. When the excavation was far
enough along, Gustafson and Karl Rygh from Trondheim were to
estimate the total worth of the finds and the State would then have the
right to come forward with a bid to take over the entire find and to
match any other bids. Stipulations also specified how much of the
excavation costs the landowner would be responsible for under various
In the official publication of the find in 1917 Brogger (1917: 5) wrote
aDe forhold som raadet ved avfattelsen av en saadan kontrakt, vil med
rette vaekke vor forundring. Juridisk var kontrakt visselig i sin fiilde
orden, men den gir ogsaa et levende indtryk av at den som med lov i
haand hadde kraevet en avtale som denne, maate vsere besjaelet av et
minimum av samfundsaand" [The circumstances which led to the draw-
ing up of such a contract will rightfully awaken astonishment. The
contract was legally in order, but it also gives the lively impression that
someone who could demand such a contract even with the law behind
him had to be inspired by a minimum of civic spirit]. In fact, the events
surrounding the Oseberg excavation led directly to the change in the
law concerning antiquities.
The first legal consequence of the find was a law passed by the
Storting in May 1904 which forbade the export of antiquities (Bragger
1917:5). Even at the time the law was understood as a stopgap measure
to prevent the possible sale of the Oseberg find abroad. A comprehen-
sive law protecting prehistoric and medieval antiquities, both
monuments and artifacts, was also inspired by the treasures in the
Oseberg find and was passed by the Storting in the summer of 1905 . 3 But
the difficulties over the contract with the landowner were probably not
the only reasons for this quick action on the part of the Storting. As it
happened, the landowner refused to negotiate with the government
over its offering price for the find, even though this was the only offer on
the table after die museum in Tonsberg withdrew from the bidding. In

3 The Norwegian government declared on June 7, 1905 that since King Oscar could not
form a new Norwegian government, the union with Sweden was no longer in force. A
plebiscite on the dissolution of the Union was held in August of that year and resulted in
368,208 in favor and 184 opposed (Jensen 1971:206). So this action on antiquities was
taken in the midst of the actual dissolution of the Union.

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Archaeology and National Identity 327

the end the Norwegians had to depend in a round-about way on

Swedish assistance to complete the transaction. In the winter of 1903-
04 Prince Gustav Adolph was studying in Oslo and heard Gustafson's
archaeology lectures at the University. He took part in some of the
preparations for the new Viking ship and communicated his interest to
his friend in Uppsala, Lieutenant Fritz Treschow, who immediately
contacted Gustafson and offered financial assistance in addition to
those funds already guaranteed by him for excavation of the mound.4
The sale contract was signed on November 5, 1904 with the entire
find costing 12,000 crowns; the State then accepted the gift from
Treschow on November 28 (Brogger 1917:85). One can imagine that
even this level of dependence on the good offices of the Swedish crown
to ensure the excavation of this symbol of a great Norwegian past was
rather unwelcome at a time when the union between the two countries
was quickly unraveling.
Given this historical context it is not surprising that Norway was
quick to pass its own law protecting antiquities. As Schanche and Olsen
(1985: 88) have noted, a young nation has an even greater need than
others to legitimate its independence and, in Norway^ case, to raise its
national cultural heritage after the dansketid and svensketid. Archaeo-
logy, history, and the sagas were drawn into this endeavor. But it was
also important to demonstrate that even with its distinctive past Nor-
way was part of a common European culture, not a primitive nation on
the periphery of the civilized West.
The two most important Norwegian archaeologists and historians
of the first part of the twentieth century were just beginning their
careers when Norway gained its independence- Anton Brogger and
Haakon Shetelig. Both were involved for most of their lives in work on
the Oseberg finds which had so quickly become a symbol of something
distinctively Norwegian. Brogger even questioned where Norway as a
nation would be without the find. In his other writings and activities,
Brogger expressed his more general conviction that a separate Norwe-
gian identity should be fostered through archaeological research.

4 The previous owner of Fritsohus, Kammerherre Treschow, had generously supported

the excavations of the Gokstad ship in 1880 (Bregger 1917:85).

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328 Scandinavian Studies


In the late 1920s and '30s Brogger published several articles and books
about Norwegian expansion and colonization during the Viking Age,
e.g. Gamle Emigranter: Den norske bosetning pa Shetland qg Orkneyene
(published in English in 1929 as Ancient Emigrants). In this work,
Brogger explicitly compared the Viking migrations of the late first
millennium ad to the massive Norwegian emigration to America in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thus turning to a heroic past
for parallels to what for many was a difficult present. Bragger also
turned to this period for inspiration in naming a new journal for Nordic
archaeology, Viking (1937). This focus on the glory and accomplish-
ments of the Viking Period is no accident. As Olsen (1986: 34) points

It is quite natural that a nation which finds problems legitimising its

right to exist, sought its most glorious past, the Viking Age, which was
also more easily grasped through the Sagas and the Norse mythology.
Further, in the context of European imperialism, the memory of the
Viking raids also serves as some kind of metaphorical consolation for
the frustration among the Norwegian bourgeoisie for not being impe-
rialists themselves.

Not that they did not make the attempt. In the 1920s the dispute
between Denmark and Norway over Greenland was heating up, and
the year 1931 saw the unsuccessful Norwegian occupation of eastern
Greenland. This political dispute had a suffocating effect on research on
Norse Greenland for decades, as Christian Keller (1989, 1991) has shown.
During this dispute scholars in both Norway and Denmark were
almost uniformly biased in their interpretation of events. The Danes
argued that Norway, by preventing private and foreign trade with
Iceland and Greenland in the Middle Ages, failed to fulfill its constitu-
tional duties and in the current political atmosphere this accusation
clearly implied that Norway had lost all claims to both Iceland and
Greenland. Norwegian historians such as P.A. Munch argued that the
Danes were trying to rob the Norwegians of their past achievements
such as the colonization of Iceland and Greenland by using ambiguous
terms such as Norsemen and Scandinavian to describe the deeds of
Norwegians (Keller 1989: 103).
Brogger, professor of archaeology at the University of Oslo and a
national liberalist, was also involved. In 1926 Brogger became chairman

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Archaeology and National Identity 329

of Oslo Gronlandsforening, later also of the umbrella organization

Norges Gronlandslag (Keller 1989: 81). Both groups lobbied for Nor-
wegian territorial claims in Greenland and in the 1920s and early '30s
Brogger wrote articles in Tidens Tegn in support of the cause. In one of
these he wrote:

Jeg skal bare minde om at det hergjdder adgang til et land som engang er
kolonisert av normand og isUndinger, som i forste omgang var bygget
gjennom soo oar avfolk av norsk stamme, som i n&ste omgang blev bygget
paanyt av normmd med Hans Egede i spissen, og som heltfrem til 1814 var
gjenstandfor norsk kolonisation i alle former og endogsaa efter i8i4fremdeles
med en betydelig kontingent av norske i det byggende arbeidepaa Grmland.
(In Blom 1973:148)

(I will just recall that it [the Greenland Case] concerns access to a

country once colonized by Norwegians and Icelanders, which was first
settled over a period of 500 years by people of Norwegian stock, which
was next resettled by Norwegians with Hans Egede at the helm, which
all the way up to 1814 was the object of Norwegian colonization of all
kinds, and even after 1814 a considerable contingent of Norwegians
was part of the constructive initiative in Greenland.)

One might wonder here what had become of the Inuit population of
Greenland: they certainly were not considered prominently in this

But after the decision of the Hague in 1933 favoring Denmark,

Norwegian interest in Greenland declined. Norwegians, including
Fridtjof Nansen, turned to the search for Vinland, another bright spot
in the Norwegian past. During the late 1930s, a joint Nordic archaeo-
logical project in the west Atlantic was planned for Iceland with the goal
of bringing Icelandic and Greenlandic archaeology closer, but the Nor-
wegians turned down the invitation, ostensibly for lack of funds.
However, this was understood at the time in Norway to be just an
excuse (Keller 1991 : 107). Keller asserts that the refusal was a result of the
general animosity felt toward Denmark after losing the Greenland Case
and argues that, "we may guess that this attitude was greatly due to
A. W. Brogger's engagement, and to his general nationalistic and anti-
Danish sentiments" (Keller 1989 : 93). The first joint Inuit-Norse project
in Greenland did not get off the ground until 1976-77, and during the
intervening years, the relevant Norwegian archaeological material, es-
pecially from Iron Age farms, was almost completely ignored by those
working in Greenland.

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330 Scandinavian Studies

Nationalism and Norwegian Archaeology

The inter-war years were a period of increasing nationalism in archaeol-

ogy throughout western Europe; in this, Norway merely echoed
developments on the Continent and particularly in Germany, where
the most extreme expression of this trend was seen with the develop-
ment ofNazi archaeology. Archaeology was being used there to support
claims which proved to be far more dangerous than those in the
Greenland Case. The extent of Brogger's nationalistic views in this case
have been the subject of some discussion, since other Norwegians
active in the Greenland debate were enthusiastically pro-German (Keller
1991:105). During World War 11, however, Brogger was imprisoned at
Grini and after the war tried to distance himself from the nationalistic
wing to which he had previously belonged.
Despite his nationalist leanings, Brogger recognized the danger of
using archaeology to support certain kinds of political aims. In his
introduction to die first issue of Viking, Brogger cautioned his readers:

Oldjunnene setter jantasien isving og bidrarvedderestusenars elde uvUkarlig

mange steder likefrem har $ket all nasjonalistisk and. Mat dette er det
nedvendy a vre pa vakt.Afkeofogiens material even del av
propaganda. (1937: Introduction)

(Archaeological finds set the fantasy in motion and with their great age
contribute inevitably to awakening a feeling of national identity. Un-
fortunately, it cannot be denied that in many places they have also
increased nationalistic spirits. It is necessary to be on guard against this.
Archaeology's material and results ... are a part of a people, a nation's
spiritual capital. But they should not be misused in nationalistic propa-

Brogger was dearly distancing himself and his image of archaeology

from the dramatic events taking place within German archaeology at
that time, although he and other Norwegians had engaged in national-
istic propaganda during the Greenland Case.

TbE Nazi Impact

The growth ofNazi archaeology had a long lasting effect on Norwegian

archaeology, apparently even influencing the reactions of some Norwe-

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Archaeology and National Identity 331

gian archaeologists during the past fifteen years with regard to issues
involving Saami land claims. It is, therefore, important to consider
briefly what was involved. In Germany Gustav Kossinna (a philologist
who came late to archaeology) proposed that ideas and influences were
passed from more advanced peoples to less advanced peoples with
whom they came into contact. For example, Kossinna (1931:6) claimed
that in Italy no important cultural progress was achieved by the ancient
native Italian races as seen by comparing the poverty of civilization in
the Stone Age in Italy to the rich culture of the Stone Age of Central
Europe. According to Kossinna it was not until the transition to the
Bronze Age, when middle European Indo-Germanic tribes seized north-
ern Italy, that the Italians suddenly began participating in central
European culture.
In his short work, Die Herkunft der Germanen: Zur Methods der
Siedlungsarcbaologie (1920), Kossinna explained his method of settle-
ment archaeology and explicitly equated culture areas with ethnic or
tribal territories ("Kulturgebiete sind Volksgebiete" [1920:4]). In other
words, sharply defined archaeological culture provinces are always iden-
tical with precise races or tribes (1920:3). Thus maps showing the
distribution of Germanic artifacts were also believed to show the pre-
historic settlement or territory of the Germans (see Tafel I-V, Kossinna
1920). Such maps were then used by the Nazis to bolster their expan-
sionist policies: wherever a find was determined to be Germanic the
land was marked as ancient German territory (Arnold 1990: 464-5). In
this way Kossinna arranged the chronologies so that everything started
in Germany and Scandinavia far back in prehistory and spread from
there to Germany's inferiors.

In Germany
Prehistory had played an important role in rehabilitating German self-
respect after the humiliations of World War 1 (e.g. see Kossinna 1931,
Chapter 1), just as it had erased scars of the Danish humiliations a
century before, and under the National Socialists prehistoric archae-
ologists in Germany finally began to receive funding and university
chairs (Arnold 1990: 4-67f). Amateur organizations were formed to
encourage interest in German prehistory, e.g. Ahnenerbe was founded
in 1935 by Himmler as the Research and Teaching Society for Ancestral
Heritage and after 1936 was known as the Society for the Advancement
and Preservation of German Cultural Monuments (Arnold 1990: 469).

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332 Scandinavian Studies

To Himmler, Charlemagne was a hated historical figure, the Saxon

butcher, and he could not forget the 4500 Saxons murdered by
Charlemagne's forces at Verden in Niedersachsen in 782. Not wanting
the German people to forget this episode, in 1935 Himmler erected a
monument of some 4500 standing stones (brought from 4500
Niedersachsen villages) at Sachsenhain in Niedersachsen to commemo-
rate those who fell to Charlemagne (Ackermann 1970 156). This memorial
was apparently meant to evoke comparisons with sites such as Avebury
and, in fact, Himmler conducted summer solstice ceremonies here as
well as at the Externsteine, claimed by some to have been the site of the
sacred pagan oak grove and temple of Irminsul destroyed by
Charlemagne a few years before the massacre (Ackermann 1970:57;
Meades 1994:38; Kater 1974:545).
The Nazis also tried to use the Nordic Viking past as proof of Aryan
supremacy: one edition of Der nordische Mensch, published by the SS,
reported on the Viking ships and concluded that Norway was the
homeland of the Germanic people (Combs 1986:74). The SS supported
a number of archaeological excavations including those at Hedeby or
Haithabu, the Viking town in Schleswig-Holstein.5 After the war
Ahnenerbe was declared at Niirnberg to be a criminal organization
(Hagen 1986 : 272), but the impact of this misuse of archaeology was felt
for decades after World War 11, both in Germany and in Norway.

In Norway
Despite the right-wing leanings evident in some of Brogger's writing,
he was a leader among the University resistance against the Nazis
during the German Occupation of Norway. According to Charlotte
Blindheim, Brogger was the csjef og sjeP (body and soul) of the museum
during the war. In her article describing the five long years at the

*DieAu$0mburifen in Haithabu, a report on the excavations at Hedeby, was published in

1943 by Ahnenerbe and includes a quotation from Himmler on the page before the title
page: "Geleitwort : Ein Volk lebt so lange glucklich in Gegenwart und Zukunft, als es sich
seiner Vergangenheit und der Grosse seiner Ahnen bewusst ist" (Preface: A nation can
live happily in the present and future as long as it is aware of its heritage and the greatness
of its ancestors). In the Foreword to the second edition of Haithabu: Eine gmnanische
Stadt der Fruhzeit, Jankuhn wrote that in 1938 a fundamental change in the excavation
took place because of the interest of the Reichsfuhrer SS and Chief of the German Police
Heinrich Himmler and the transfer of the excavation to the auspices of Ahnenerbe which
extended the excavations and put them on much firmer footing (Jahnkuhn 1938: VII).

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Archaeology and National Identity 333

museum, Blindheim quoted a radio lecture given by Bragger in 1937

when he was clearly responding to developments in archaeology in
Germany and said: "Her harjeg ogsa r0rt ved ett av defaremomentene som
ligger i tiden og som arkeologien og historienhos oss ma holde sig klar av,
utnyttelsen av deres resultater til nasjonalistiske (ikke nasjonale) formal"
(Blindheim 1984: 28) [Here I have touched on one of the dangerous
aspects relevant today and which archaeology and history in Norway
must be aware of, the exploitation of their results for nationalistic (not
national) purposes].
In a 1986 article, Anders Hagen remembered Bragger's leadership
during the war. According to Hagen (1986: 269-70) there were two
reasons why Brogger was one of the first leaders from the university to
be arrested. The first was his written and spoken statements against the
occupation based on his expertise as an archaeologist. Professor Herbert
Jankuhn, a leading archaeologist for Ahnenerbe, an SS officer and leader
of the SS-supported excavation of the Viking town at Hedeby, was the
individual who reported Br0gger to the German authorities for a re-
mark he made at the Norwegian Archaeology Society meeting in 1940.6
More importantly, as director of the Oldsaksamling Brogger refused to
agree to hand over the sixth-century Snartemo sword (in the spirit of
the time regarded as clearly a Germanic object) to Himmler when he
visited Oslo in 1941.7
Brogger was not the only archaeologist to spend time in prison,
however. According to Blindheim (1984: 34-5), most of the archaeolo-
gists at the Oldsaksamling- researchers and students alike- were
arrested at one time or another, Blindheim and Hagen included. Sev-
eral, including Brogger and Sverre Marstrander, spent time in the
concentration camp at Grini. Nevertheless, the staff at the Oldsaksamling
managed to continue to produce the journal Viking regularly, thus
keeping the Nordic past visible.

6 Jankuhn was in fact attached to Himmler's personal staff and held the rank of SS-
Sturmbannfiihrer (McCann 1990:81). As part of Himmler's Freundeskreis, he spoke to a
gathering of that group in April 1943 on the theme "Die Eroberung Englands durch die
Normannen im Spiegel des Teppichs von Bayeux" (The Norman Conquest of England as
represented in the Bayeux Tapestry) (Vogelsang 1972:70-1).
7Ahnenerbe was responsible for looting museum objects, libraries, and works of art from
occupied territories throughout Europe (McCann 1990; Nicholas 1994). There was even
a plan to take the Bayeux tapestry from Paris back to Germany, but it was never carried
out (Nicholas 1994:293).

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The importance of Norwegian prehistory to the general public at

this time can be seen in a specific example in the Stavanger museum
archives (Arkeologisk museum i Stavanger). In the spring of 1944, Jan
Petersen received word at the Stavanger museum from Ommund Tu in
Klepp that the Germans were destroying grave mounds on his prop-
erty, something prohibited according to the law from 1905 . The German
officer in charge responded that the work was necessary and of a purely
military nature and that the mounds would be left in the condition in
which they were found. This does not seem to have been the case,
however. A series of letters from the spring of 1946 shows that the
landowner was still upset about the destruction of the mounds on his
property and wanted them to be restored- a desire which would cer-
tainly be unusual today- and suggest that German prisoners in the area
should be set to work to rebuild the mounds. Unfortunately the end
result was not clear in the papers available in the archives. But the
incident seems to indicate that for some the German assault on Norwe-
gian culture was deeply felt and resisted. It would be interesting to
know how many such incidents took place during the occupation and
whether similar destruction of monuments undertaken by Norwegian
farmers occasioned the same reaction.8

Politics, Archaeology and the Saami

The experience of those archaeologists who came of age during World

War 11 clearly influenced their later attitude toward archaeology and
what it can say about the past. In his 1986 article, Anders Hagen warned
against the use of archaeology for political purposes when its spokes-
men allow themselves to be used in a political game that they cannot
completely control (1986: 275). Here he was no doubt referring, at least
in part, to the political debate in the early 1980s surrounding the Saami,
their land rights, and whether they qualified as an indigenous people.
This debate caused considerable dissension in the archaeological com-
munity in Norway, and Hagen's views were held by several other
archaeologists who seem not to have realized that the traditional objec-

8 This would require a thorough survey of the voluminous archives held in all the major
Norwegian museums, and I am not aware that any such survey has been attempted.

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Archaeology and National Identity 335

tive archaeology they advocated also served a political agenda, but in a

much less obvious manner.
In 1979 Universitetets Oldsaksamling in Oslo celebrated its 150 anni-
versary with the motto "Ingen norsk identitet uten en norsk arkeologi"
(Schanche and Olsen 1985: 88) [No Norwegian identity without a
Norwegian archaeology]. This statement makes one wonder who is
considered a Norwegian since the Saami were just beginning to make
political demands on the Norwegian government. This new conscious-
ness was closely related to the Alta/Kautokeino Hydroelectric project
which provided the impetus for a number of changes both within
Norwegian archaeology and in the general treatment of the Saami in
Norway, including the formation of a Saami parliament. For example,
until 1980 remains of Saami houses were thought to be younger than
1537 and therefore were not protected (Olsen, personal communication
1992), but in that year Saami archaeological sites older than 100 years
were finally protected by law. Today Saami cultural remains play an
important role in the Saami revitalization which has taken place since
the end of the 1970s.
As in North America when native land claims are contested, Saami
archaeological material is drawn into the debate when Saami land
claims are at issue. The identification of certain sites or types of sites
with an ethnic group worried some Norwegian archaeologists because
of the use of such arguments during the Nazi era. The debate came to
a head in the early 1980s. At the Norwegian Archaeology Meeting in
1981, the members approved a resolution stating that on the basis of
archaeological and historical data, one could conclude that Finnmark
and parts of the counties south of Finnmark made up a Saami cultural
area at the time when Norwegian colonization of Finnmark began in
the 1300s (Naess i985:iO9).9They in effect supported some of the Saami

9 The full text of the resolution was as follows:

Sporsmalet om samene fyller iLO-konvensjonens krav til a kunne kalles urbefolkning
er under debatt. I denne sammenheng har arkeologer pa Det Norske Arkeologmote
samlet i Oslo 9.-10. mars diskutert den historiske delen av urbefolkningsdefinisjonen i
iLO-konvensjon nr. 107, og vi uttaler folgende:
Urbefolkningsbegrepet har i den senere tid vaert diskutert i forbindelse med samer.
Den politiske strid star om samene er en urbefolkning slik internasjonal folkerett
definerer dette. ILO-konvensjon 107 definerer dette begrepet slik:
"Konvensjonen gjelder . . . personer fra befolkningsgrupper som helt eller delvis lever
under stammeforhold i uavhengige land og betraktes som urbefolkninger fordi de
stammer fra befolkningsgrupper som bodde i landet, eller i et geografisk omrade som

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336 Scandinavian Studies

claims. Some who took part in the debate felt that archaeologists as a
group had no right to make such a statement because it could well be
misused in ways they could not foresee. Others argued that archaeolo-
gists know their results will be used politically and they are therefore
obligated to take a stand. They also wondered why there was such
difficulty among archaeologists in expressing an opinion in this case
when they spoke out with few reservations in other instances concern-
ing Norwegians in prehistory.

landet tdlhorer, pa et tidspunkt for [sic] erobring eller kolonisasjon og som, uansett sin
rettslige stilling, lever mer i samsvar med datidens sosiale, okonomiske og kulterelle
institusjoner enn med institusjonen i den nasjon de tilhorer." (nou 53/1980, s.78).
Deltakerne pa det norske arkeologmotet mener at de kulturelle og sosiale betingelser
for a betrakte samer som urbefolkning ligger utenfor vir fagomrade. Vi anser det ogsa
uten betydning for definisjonen om arkeologiske kulturer i steinalder eller eldre jernalder
kan betraktes som samisk eller ikke. Vi mener imidlertid, pa grunnlag av arkeologiske og
historiske data, a kunne slutte at Finnmark og deler av de sydenfor liggende fylker,
utgjorde et samisk kulturomrade pa det tidspunkt da den norske kolonisasjon i Finnmark
begynte i middlealder.
Pa denne bakgrunn vil deltakerne pa det norske arkeologmote hevde at de historiske
kriteriene for a oppfatte den samisk minoritet i Norge som en urbefolkning er oppfylt.
(Naess 1985:113)
[The question of whether the Saami fulfil the ilo (International Labour Organisation)
Convention's definition for an indigenous people is under debate. In this connection
archaeologists at the Norwegian Archaeology Meeting in Oslo March 9-10 discussed the
historical part of the definition of indigenous people in ilo Convention number 107, and
we declare the following:
The concept of indigenous people has recently been discussed in connection with the
Saami. The political conflict is over whether the Saami qualify as an indigenous people as
international law defines it. The ilo convention defines the concept as follows:
"The Convention applies to ... members of tribal or semi-tribal groups in indepen-
dent countries who are descendants of the population which inhabited the country, or a
geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation
and who, irrespective of their legal status, live more in conformity with the social,
economic and cultural institutions of that time than with the institutions of the nation to
which they belong." (The English version is taken from the Report vi (1) of the 40th
session of the International Labour Conference, 1957.)
The participants at the Norwegian Archaeology Meeting believe that the cultural and
social conditions for regarding the Saami as an indigenous people lie outside our
professional sphere. We also consider it irrelevant for the definition whether archaeologi-
cal cultures in the stone age or early Iron Age can be regarded as Saami or not. We believe,
however, that on the basis of archaeological and historical data we can conclude that
Finnmark and parts of the counties to the south comprised a Saami culture area at that
time that the Norwegian colonization in Finnmark began in the Middle Ages.
On this basis we participants at the Norwegian Archaeology Meeting assert that the
historical criteria for regarding the Saami minority in Norway as an indigenous people
are fulfilled.]

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Archaeology and National Identity 337

The debate also raged in the newspapers. In answering a question

about whether archaeological material can tell us anything about the
ethnicity of those who left it behind, Anders Hagen claimed that ar-
chaeology "kan hverken opplyse om sprog eller fysiske egenskaper,
derimot kan det si noe om hvordan mennesker har levd, hvor gammel
deres kulturform er og hvilke kontakter de har hatt med forskjellige
omrader utenfor eget territorium" (Aftenposten 26 February 1981, in
Naess 1985 : 103) [Archaeology can neither inform us about language nor
physical characteristics, but it can tell us something about how people
have lived, how old their cultural form is and what contacts they have
had with areas outside their own territory]. He went on to say that what
was happening in certain groups within the Norwegian archaeological
community reminded him of Kossinna's theories about the connection
between people and artifact types and concluded that he had hoped this
sort of misuse of archaeology had stopped. Clearly the impact of Nazi
archaeology was still being felt.
In the introduction to the second edition of his book Finner og
Terfinner, Knut Odner responded to this criticism. He commented,
<cJeg finner det merkelig at den samme gruppen som hevder at det i
forbindelse med samer er umulig a si noe om etnisitet, finner det svaert
rimelig a skrive om germansk etnisitet pa grunnlag av arkeologi" (1983 :
Foreword) [I find it strange that the same group which claims that in
connection with the Saami it is impossible to say anything about ethnicity
finds it quite reasonable to write about Germanic ethnicity on the basis
of archaeology]. He went on to point out that making one kind of
research taboo can result in the majority population being structural
oppressors. By putting certain topics such as the origins of Saami
identity off limits, the majority can manipulate organizational and
funding structures in such a way that the existence of minority concerns
is not acknowledged and such concerns are certainly not addressed in
any official way.
In Norway and Sweden, Saami cultural remains have often either
been ignored or discussed using supposedly neutral terminology which
results in a clear denial of a separate and valuable Saami past. Early on,
it was evident that the archaeologically "uninteresting" areas in the
north were not empty of people in the past (Schanche and Olsen 1985:
89). But Saami prehistory was not considered an appropriate field of
activity for Norwegian archaeology.

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338 Scandinavian Studies

Even in more recent times the handbooks used by archaeologists

conducting surveys for the registration of archaeological sites have been
hopelessly biased- gammctufter or Saami house remains lay at the
bottom of the list along with traces of haystacks.10 There were no
examples of a number of site types found in northern Norway, e.g. tent
rings or teltringery circular sacrificial offering sites or offerringer, fences
for reindeer or reingjerder, scree graves or urgmver (Schanche and Olsen
1985: 92). Furthermore, many of the areas where one might find evi-
dence of past Saami occupation are isolated or outlying areas today and
are therefore not surveyed for the Okonomiske Kartverk. Saami prehis-
tory has been ignored or coopted in a number of works: Nordmennfor
oss (Norwegians Before Us), Det norske folks liv 00 historic (The Life and
History of the Norwegian People), and Defirste nordmenn (The First
Norwegians). This surface neutrality in terminology made it almost
impossible for the Saami to claim their own past: Saami archaeology
had to be made a legitimate independent area of research not subsumed
under an all-encompassing "Norwegian" archaeology which tended to
dismiss evidence of Saami occupation as inherently less interesting.
And if the sites were interesting, they could well be interpreted as non-
Recent reviews of the material are prompting reevaluations of long
standing beliefs. For example, the Swedish archaeologist Inger
Zachrisson showed recently (1985) that Viking settlements in Harjedalen,
previously thought to indicate the progress of Viking conquests, are in
fact old Saami sites. In his book Samisk fanjjstsamfunn og norsk
hetvdingeekonotni, Lars Ivar Hansen discusses the relationship between
Norwegian settlers and the Saami from prehistory into modern times.
He acknowledges that the Saami may not have perceived the apparent
territorial ethnic boundary in the same way that the Norwegians did
(1990 :2i6) and, thus, leaves open the possibility of different but equally
valid interpretations of the material from a Saami point of view. The
Saami themselves are becoming more assertive about their past. There
have been demands that no more Saami sites should be excavated until
Saami archaeologists can take over the work themselves, bringing with
them their insights into Saami life and culture (Aikio 1989: 128), but as

10 These handbooks were written by and for archaeologists working in southern Norway
(Schanche and Olsen 1985: 92). They have not been used for some time (Olsen, personal
communication 1994).

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of November 1994 there was only one Saami archaeologist in Norway

and one in Sweden (Olsen, personal communication 1994).

Modern Archaeological
Interpretation and the Public

Today the organization of archaeology in Norway is changing, but

protection of the cultural heritage is still very important, perhaps even
more so as Norway's cultural and economic ties to Europe increase.
Much of the responsibility has devolved to local archaeologists instead
of being controlled exclusively by the five major museums. There is
much discussion aboutfirmidling, about how the archaeologist chooses
to interpret the past, and the archaeologist's responsibility to the Nor-
wegian public.
An example of this debate concerning interpretation is the discus-
sion about the proper presentation of the site at Borre in Vestfold. Lise
Nordenborg and Bjorn Myhre (1991) recently discussed the problems
associated with interpreting the Borre grave mounds- some of which
are as much as 45 m in diameter- and their surroundings. The site is
mentioned in the sagas as the burial site of one or two of the Yngling
kings, and archaeological work indicates the burial ground was used
between ad 650 and 900. In 1932 Borre became the site of the first
national park and it has been an important focus for national feeling:
today the park is used every year for Syrtende Mai celebrations.
But it also has a darker recent past. During World War 11 the Norwe-
gian Nazi party used the mounds at Borre to legitimize their ideology
and held an annual festival in the park (Nordenborg and Myhre 1991 : 7-
8). The foundation for Quisling's podium can still be seen at the foot of
the largest mound, and the refreshment building in the park was built
by the Nasjonal Samling party: its swastikas have been painted over.
The question facing those charged with interpreting the site to the
public is how much of this darker history should be included in the
public interpretation, especially since the people in the area would
prefer to ignore the Nazi use of the park. Other questions not related to
the Nazi use of the site include how to represent the social and political
conflicts we know existed in past societies and which the Borre mounds
also symbolize. As Nordenborg and Myhre write, ccBorre gir en spesiell
anledning til a vise publikum at fortida ikke er en verdinoytral og

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politisk ukomplisert affaere, men at den ogsa er en del av dagens

samfunnsdebatt" (1991:10) [Borre gives a special opportunity to show
the public that the past is not a value-neutral and politically uncompli-
cated affair, but that it also is a part of today's public debate].


Throughout the twentieth century archaeology in Norway has been

influenced by politics and has been used, sometimes misused, in the
construction of a specifically Norwegian identity. In this Norway is not
significantly different from other countries. The excavation of the tre-
mendous find at Oseberg coincided with Norway's independence and
concern over the very real possibility that such a national treasure might
be sold abroad provided the necessary impetus for the passage of one of
the earliest laws in the world protecting historic and prehistoric monu-
ments and artifacts. One of the archaeologists deeply involved in work
on this find, A. W. Brogger, wrote quite clearly of the importance of
archaeology in building a national feeling and brought archaeological
arguments to bear in the Greenland Case which pitted Norwegian and
Danish nationalism against each other.
The misuse of archaeology by the Nazis also had a profound effect on
Norwegian archaeology, an effect which has lasted down to the present
day in the attitudes of some archaeologists. Certain research questions
such as those dealing with prehistoric ethnicity and specifically with
Saami ethnicity were deemed unknowable and therefore inappropriate
areas of study, in part a reaction against the Nazi use of archaeological
evidence to justify their occupation of large parts of Europe. And yet
the refusal to address such questions has the negative consequence of
denying the minority access to their prehistory, a past which is now
being reevaluated with the realization of such biases.
Archaeologists in Norway and elsewhere have recently become more
aware of their many audiences and their responsibilities to those audi-
ences, not least because they realize most of their funding comes from
the public coffers. Museums are attempting to reach out to those
audiences in an effort to build support for archaeology. This can be seen
in the increased signing of protected sites, the growth of glossy popular
museum publications and in Stavanger museum's inclusion of a com-
plete archive in the museum display which individuals can use to research

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Archaeology and National Identity 341

what finds have been made on their land in the past. Many sites have
become open air or proposed open air museums- e.g. the Iron Age
chieftain's hall at Borg in Lofoten- and provide economic develop-
ment besides promoting local history and keeping the artifacts close to
the people. One might argue that these developments are not simply
providing economic opportunities in what are often peripheral areas.
This renewed public emphasis on the Norwegian past may also be a
form of resistance to encroaching European and American culture, a
resistance seen most clearly in the recent defeat of the referendum on eu
membership (November 1994). So once again contemporary politics
and economic reality are influencing the direction of archaeological
work in Norway.

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