Sites or topics included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List must be of value or significance to a large part of mankind, what UNESCO refers to as outstanding universal value. Wild reindeer and wild reindeer hunting fulfil this requirement.
There are four reasons for this:
- the long history this cultural heritage represents
- the cultural heritage’s unique character, high level of conservation and, not least, the variation of cultural heritage
- the similarities between the present landscape and the landscape at the time the heritage sites and hunting methods were in use
- the link between the natural environment and the cultural heritage
The oldest traces of reindeer hunting in Norway are approx. 10,000 years old. In Europe, on the other hand, the tradition extends back another 30,000 to 40,000 years. As the ice melted, reindeer migrated towards the mountains. The oldest evidence in our region is approx. 8,000-9,000 years old, but most hunting sites we find evidence of today originated in the period between 500 and 1350 AD.
Part of what makes Norway and the northern most part of the south Norwegian mountainous country special is that there is still a living tradition associated with hunting reindeer – descendents of the very reindeer that were hunted 10,000 years ago.
The area contains many different types of cultural heritage sites associated with reindeer hunting, such as hides and different types of hunting pits. The walled pits are especially unique, and are only found in Southern Norway and Hjämtland (Sweden). During the centuries before and after 1000 AD, large-scale hunting took place using large-scale trapping systems that could capture entire herds of reindeer. This probably represents maximum utilisation of wild reindeer resources, and it had an almost industrial quality to it.
The landscape has been altered by changes in the climate. Today, the mountains in this territory still have a lot in common with the landscape at the time when the majority of the hunting sites and methods were in use. This allows us to gain good insight into how the hunting sites were situated in relation to other elements in the landscape.
There are currently five categories of world heritage. The two oldest and best known types are cultural and natural heritage. A site can also be nominated as a cultural landscape or as a mixed site. Such sites meet the requirements for both cultural and natural heritage sites. The final type of world heritage is intangible culture, i.e. traditions, languages, song etc.
The topic of this project,wild reindeer and wild reindeer hunting,involves both the cultural and natural heritage. The board therefore proposes that the project should primarily be nominated as a mixed site, or alternatively, as a cultural landscape.
If the area is nominated as a mixed site, it must fulfil at least one natural heritage criterion and one cultural heritage criterion. Since two requirements from two different categories must be met, this would be the most demanding category.
If the area is nominated as a cultural landscape, it must meet at least one cultural heritage requirement. In addition, it must have a certain natural value. The most important aspect of cultural landscape sites is that they must demonstrate how human beings and nature have mutually influenced each other and how human activity has left traces in the landscape.
Regardless of whether the project chooses nomination as a mixed site or a cultural landscape, the intangible culture will lend it added value. The living hunting traditions in the area are not unique enough in themselves to justify nomination in the category of intangible culture. but they will strengthen the project as a whole.
The hunting sites and methods can be roughly divided into three categories: hides,
pits and trapping systems. Each category contains several
sub-groups, which means that there is great variation in types of methods. In addition, the last few centuries’ hunting with rifles must be considered a final category.
A hide is a generic term for all types of concealment used by hunters during a hunt. The Norwegian term “buestilling” is so named because hides were often used to conceal hunters with bows (“bue”) and arrows. Some have also been used to conceal beaters in connection with the use of mass hunting systems. Hides are difficult to date, but the simplicity of the principle they represent combined with the location of some of them may indicate that the technique is very old.
A distinction is usually made between earthen and walled pits. Earthen pits are dug in soil and gravel with wooden supports on the interior walls of the pit. They can be found throughout the whole of North Calotte, the area of Norway, Sweden and Finland north of the Arctic Circle. Walled pits are often found higher up in the terrain, with interior walls of stone. The pits may be completely below ground level, partially walled or with walls extending above ground level. Pits are found individually or in systems of up to 1,000 pits.
A trap can refer to a variety of methods whereby reindeer are captured by entering or being led into long, fenced runs of raised wooden stakes or stone cairns. The runs can either lead into a pen or a fold made of wood or stone, where the animals were killed. Such traps could trap entire herds at a time, and they represent maximum utilisation of reindeer as a resource. The majority of traps of this type in the northern part of Southern Norway have been dated to the period 800-1200 AD.
Hunting with rifles is distinct from hunting in earlier periods as it introduces a new weapon. Nevertheless, this type of hunting has a lot in common with earlier methods of hunting. Hunting with rifles does not represent a break with tradition; rather, it represents the final stage in a thousand-year-long tradition associated with the utilisation of reindeer as a resource.
Wild reindeer hunting has long and deep traditions in this area and it is an important part of the identity of the communities that live on and near the high mountain plateau. The traces of reindeer hunting go all the way back to the Stone Age, but the project believes it is important to point out that these traditions are not unbroken; through the ages different communities have had different relationships to the reindeer as a resource and as a vehicle of cultural identity.
There used to be Sami reindeer herding and hunting in several mountain areas in Southern Norway. Harald Fairhair’s Saga includes the story of how King Harald met the “Finn” (Sami) Svåse at the royal residence of Tofte in the Dovre mountains. He even married Svåse’s daughter Snøfrid. Today, the Sami herd tame reindeer around Røros and Femunden, not so very far east of Dovre. There is still reindeer herding based on the communities of Vågå and Lom.
The project therefore has an open attitude to ethnic questions. In light of current knowledge, we cannot be certain whether the hunting of wild reindeer in this area was conducted by Sami or Norse groups. It may have been Sami groups in some periods, and Norse in others. At Gautsjøen lake in Lesja municipality, Stone Age artefacts have been found that point both north and south: asbestos ceramics and slate tools suggest contacts northwards, while the flint objects are typically Southern Scandinavian. The project wishes to emphasise this ethnic diversity, and therefore considers it essential not to tie the reindeer hunting to one particular ethnic group or cultural tradition. The central theme here is the reindeer and the associated hunting heritage found in the mountains; these are so unique and of such value that we are applying for their inclusion in the World Cultural Heritage.