The oldest remains of human activity in the Inari region have been discovered at Vuopaja and from the residential areas of the Sámi Museum from about 8000 – 7000 B.C. Artifacts such as micro-slivers and particles of chert allude to the fact that the inhabitants had come from the direction of the coast of Ruija, from the so-called Komsa culture. Other traces of this pioneer inhabitation have been found from areas in the Lake Inari region, e.g. Rahajärvi, Supru and the upper reaches of the Petsamo River. Later on in the Stone Age, people moved to the area from the White Sea area and from northern Sweden.
The Stone Age peoples lived from hunting and gathering in conditions which suitable hunting grounds varied seasonably. Living and camping places which were located near good fishing waters or deer hunting areas were often returned to again and again, even for as long as a millennium. The oldest deer hunting pits are dated from the end of the Stone Age.
The artifacts found in the Inari region are linked primarily to hunting and fishing. Things fashioned from organic material, such as bone, antler, wood or leather did not preserve due to the acidity of the ground, though it is certain that they were made. During the whole Stone Age, arrowheads, scrapers, cutting blades and grooving instruments were chipped from quartz, quartzite, flint and chert.
Early Metal Age – Metal Artifacts Found
Post-Ice Age northern Fennoscandia is considered to belong to the early Metal Age which includes the Nordic countries Bronze Age and early Iron Age (about 2000 B.C. – 300 A.D.) Bronze articles arrived in the area in minimal amounts through trade. There is only one discovery of bronze articles from Inari, but that makes it all the more significant. A cache from 900 – 700 B.C. was found on Lusman Island in Inari including nine bronze articles, four neck bands, three wrist bands, a pipe axe and a bronze plate. Iron manufacturing was first learned in the North Calotte around 600 B.C. and the only find in Inari that indicated that iron work was being done was a chunk of slag found at the site of a settlement located a the river mouth of Kirakka River.
Settlements from the early Metal Age are little known and they are dated mainly through various types of ceramics. The scarcity of sites may be attributed to the small amount of archeological research done as well as the fact that life during the early Metal Age went on in much the same way as during the Stone Age. The beginning of the early Metal Age is associated with a large system of deer pits. A type of artifact typical to this era is the broad-stemmed arrowhead; 36 specimens have been found in the region of Inari. At the end of the early Metal Age iron and ceramics manufacturing in northern Fennoscandia for some inexplicable reason ended about 300 A.D.
From the Poor Middle Iron Age to the Late Iron Age
The middle Iron Age in Inari (about 300 – 800 A.D.) is archaeologically difficult to outline, as there is a lack of clearly recognizable and characteristic ancient remains and types of artifacts. Ceramics making had ceased and things made from organic materials did not preserve in the ground. Metal objects found from a few rare areas were imported. This same phenomenon from the middle Iron Age is also discernable elsewhere in northern and eastern cultural regions. One can, however, assume that the hunting societies had gone on in much the same way as before.
Three carbon dated samples have been obtained from the middle Iron Age in the Inari Vuopaja and Sámi Museum settlements. Finds from middle Iron Age settlements would require more archaeological research and datings. Only one metal object, an iron dagger, from the middle Iron Age has been found in Inari. The closest similarity to this type of 40 centimeter-long Lapp knife was found on Gotland, which indicates connections between the north and the south.
One form of prehistoric remain from the late Iron Age has turned up in northern Fennoscandia, a rectangular-shaped hearth formation, which is considered the first prehistoric remains of Sámi origin. There are over 30 known hearth sites from Inari. Digs do not usually reveal any traces of the light, centrally-built Lapp lodges which were built around these formations. Hearth formations have been found singly, in groups of 2-3 and also often 6-8. The groupings of hearth formations tell that there were collective meeting sites in hunting societies, although they had split into smaller groups time to time.
The late Iron Age (800 – 1300 A.D.), as seen in Inari archaeological materials, portrays active trading connections with east, west and south. The north was a subject of interest to many then, as valuable furs were obtainable here through bartering. There are 20 metal object finds from that time in Inari, of which special mention is made of the bronze-decorated sheath knife from Miihkalinjärvi, a temple headband from Ukko Island as well as four silver neck bands from Nangunniemi.
The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, all the northern sovereign States, Sweden, Norway and Novgorod desired wide ownership of lands in Lapland. After the first decades of the century marked by conflict, Sweden and Novgorod formed a pact of peace in 1323; Norway and Novgorod created a border treaty in 1326, and with these treaties, joint areas of taxation were born in the north.
There are no veritable sources of documentation about the life of the inhabitants of Inari from the Middle Ages (1300 – 1550 A.D.), only information based on materials found from archaeological research. Archaeological findings from that period are however very rare. Hearth formations, as from the late Iron Age, are still an important type of ancient remnant of the Sámi people. Based on the range of distribution of hearth formations in the Inari region, it is assumed that there were several small hunting societies. The life of these communities was mobile and flexible, and living sites may have often changed. Deer hunting, fishing, gathering and acquiring furs had been a source of living for the population even as before.
The Middle Ages in the region of Inari came to a close in the 1550s when the first historical documents regarding the life of the Inari Sámis were written. At the same time, the nature of the dwellings used by the Sámis changed, as the light lodges built around a central hearth were replaced by log homes with peat roofing in the winter villages.
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