This week On the Reading Rest I have an article that discusses the reburial of indigenous people once exhumed for the benefit mainly of race biology. The article focuses on the ethics of complex situations, questionable already when they occurred. Today, more or less by definition, the roots of the problems belong to a relatively remote past that we are able to judge without too much ado. Thus I too, wise in the event, read:

NAR nummerSvestad, Asgeir. 2013. What Happened in Neiden? On the Question of Reburial ethics. Norwegian Archaeological Review. Vol. 46, No. 2, 194-242. Acronym: ASve.

To most readers Neiden, if anything, is geography, a point on a map of Northernmost Norway and a river where we do not live. The actual place, nevertheless, is a settlement called ‘Skoltebyn’—a place where Skolt Sámi people live, although there are very few left. This place name suggests that non-Skolts, the very great majority, needed to define the place. Skoltebyn is probably full of living traditions with little historical evidence to corroborate or question and reconstruct the past and the present. ASve’s approach is straightforward geographical and historical. He defines the place on a map and in relation to two precisely dated historical events. In essence, his approach is based on facts and the individual opinion of some of those who took part in 1915 and 2011. Wider aspects, the more we know about them, are brought in when necessary, but in principle everything pivots on what happened in July 1915 and September 2011. ASve’s analysis of the two situations is revealing and cautious.

It turns out that history allows itself to play a trick on everyone involved in the two events. Notwithstanding, the central question is simple enough: what, if anything, should be done with the bones from Neiden? Needless to say we know very little about the bones too.

To the physician and odontologist of 1915, Johan Brun, bones and even skeletons were a source material worth describing because without anatomical knowledge there would have been no physicians. Anatomical description wherever possible is thus above the individual physician – ideally speaking. It is difficult, therefore, to accept a physician who for ethical reasons would not be prepared to use the human body as a source material, nor use the evidence-based knowledge about broken bones, often obtained without ethical considerations, to help us. Still today a large number of corpses are anatomized. This doesn’t give Johan Brun the right to go to Neiden and loot a cemetery it just creates an everlasting ethical problem.

The still unsettled cemetery

The reason is simple – we think of our forefathers as our heritage and thus as ours by right! Except of course if we are landowners. If that is the case, we may think that we own what is on our land exploiting it is as best we wish. Landownership as opposed to communal rights is a cornerstone of practical colonialism and the relatively rich Johan Brun took advantage of a relatively poor landowner Ondre Jakobovitsj, who knew that there were inhumation graves on his land. Since his land was not on the early colonial monument still in use, i.e. the Orthodox chapel and churchyard in Neiden, he sold Brun the right or a concession to dig on his land and take skeletons back to Oslo – payment per skeleton. To buy and sell in this way may be seen as unethical and condemned, accepted, pardoned or hailed. Irrespective of our point of view it may in time repeatedly be condemned, accepted, pardoned or hailed.

Only oblivion can save us from heritage and ethical problems, and that is the reason why much heritage legislation is built on oblivion. When something material is no longer used or when it has been forgotten, i.e. when it has fallen into oblivion while still existing, i.e. when its role as meaningful in a living culture has come to an end, then it becomes accepted as everybody’s heritage and protected by law despite the fact that we lack knowledge about it. If it comes to our knowledge it must be treated with respect and preserved as best we can. Since preservation is impossible in the long run, and since knowledge can be reproduced, respecting the past as our heritage is knowledge driven. The more we know, the more will become our heritage and revived material culture. In a democratic society this may solve a lot of ethical problems, but obviously not all.

Brun's excavationBoth Johan Brun and Ondre Jakobovitsj acted unethically because they should have understood that the existing churchyard was no more than a part of a larger burial ground – in all probability its pre-Christian parts, which had fallen into oblivion and thus become part of our common heritage. The ideological colonialism of Christianity, which denounced indigenous culture and faith, is to blame for the oblivion. At least Johan Brun ought to have understood this. Needless to say, in this situation the obvious cannot be proved. Most of what we know about what happened in 1915 is what Johan Brun told us in his report and he steered clear of ethics, context and any wider perspective. The skeletons exhumed were his objective, the living his problem. Bargaining with the locals, Brun spend money, but ASve doesn’t mention whether Brun was compensated for his expenses. It stands to reason, nevertheless, that he was, and if so his description of the way he haggled with Jakobovitsj makes sense inasmuch as it demonstrates that he did not waste money.


True to his approach, which is based on Heidegger’s view upon the disclosure of the hidden and the care and being that characterizes humans, ASve goes beyond describing what happened in 1915 and 2011 respectively, and his Heideggerian discussion works quite well. Nevertheless, being and care didn’t characterize the agents when they took part in the disclosed events. Moreover, I don’t think it is possible to lay bare or disclose the 1915 and 2011 events, because there is nothing specific – no essence – to lay bare. Contrary to Heidegger I don’t think that nur ein Gott kann uns retten – only a god can save us – because such an entity cannot be disclosed. Inventing a god or seeing oneself as one, jeopardizes the human, i.e. the agents now and again bothered by ethics. I find enlightenment and emancipation a better approach to ethics.

No ethics will solve ethical problems. Oblivion will erase them, but we learn nothing from oblivion because knowledge in a historical situation, be it past or present, is the only way to come to terms with ethical problems. Knowledge often fails, even if it concerns disclosure, because it is easily disputed by those who take only a limited interest in the obvious. Care and being are roads to ethical shortcomings and Heidegger’s life is a case in point. Being, moreover, is hard to avoid and care is a cornerstone in reproduction – caring for those who cannot survive without it.

ReburialASve is cautious when he describes the events that led up to the reburial in September 2011. One might say that he discloses the events in an unbiased manner rather than he exposes them. While the reader reads between the lines, ASve is true to his sober method – almost. The comment on the Orthodox tradition that governed the reburial is an exception (ASve:211, col. 2).

Actually there is no need to be cautious because the events leading up to September 2011 make up a textbook example of how a majority marginalizes a minority. In this case the Sámi community, the majority among the indigenous people in northern Scandinavia, and organized around Sametinget (the Sámi Parliament), has turned a place central to a minority, the almost extinct Neiden Skolts, into a memorial of its own and a protected heritage area. The Neiden Skolts have been sqeezed into heritage. In this process, as we would expect from a textbook example, the 10 odd Skolts involved have been divided into a larger group of people who find themselves excluded and alienated and a few who back-up the powerful Sámi majority.

Njauddâm sijddAt least since 1826 Skolt identity has been threatened (1). In this year the border between Finland (Russia) and Norway (Sweden) was closed and the Skolt community and its settlement area – both referred to as Njauddâm sijdd lost its land, and began losing its identity, being unable to live in the sijdd in the intended yearly cycle. While the sijdd used to be orientated towards Russia the frontier delimination meant that Spring and Summer was incorporated in Norway, while Autumn and Winter and most of the population stayed in Finland. In Norway the population was concentrated to Njauddâm (Now: Neiden), the summer site of the sijdd, in a permanent settlement called Skoltebyn. For more than a millennium the sijdd’s cemetery and since the 16th c. the orthodox St George chapel and its churchyard were already situated at Neiden. Soon a protestant chapel marked Norwegian colonization and the ideological consequences of the closed border.

neidenkapellkartaThe marginalization of the Skolts and their loss of identity has continued. Their language is no longer spoken in Norway, they are not represented in Sametinget. In effect, Neiden rather than being part of the Skolt Njauddâm sijdd has been culturally annexed by the Sámi and become a site where this people demonstrates its unified heritage and ideology at the expense of the identity of the Skolts. Neiden has become a protected heritage area and a museum site dedicated to Skolt culture. Ironically, as if the authorities awaited Skolt culture and the last Skolt to pass away, the museum building has been left empty and leaking through the roof since 2008.

the burial siteThe reburial fits the cultural demise of the Njauddâm sijdd. As ASve shows Johan Brun excavated more than a sample of Sámi skeletons. He found an unknown cemetery older than the Christianization of the Skolts with a potential of reviving an unknown Skolt history with a potential to illustrate the Skolt interaction with other people. Moreover, given that Neiden was the millennia old summer site of the Njauddâm sijdd it is by no means certain that all the human remains were Skolts. The Neiden Skolts understood this and that was obviously their reason to place the skeletons in a respectful context without destroying them as a source material. In view of losing their history or recovering it, they opted for knowledge. It is obvious from ASve’s analysis that destructing the source material and keeping Skolt history in the firm grip of decay and oblivion to benefit their own ideas of essentialist colonial and Christian ethics guided the representatives of the Sámi establishment. The representatives of the Church of Norway and the representatives of the Orthodox Church, moreover, were supported by the Norwegian Government and its institutions.

There may be utilitarian reasons to destroy remains of the past, mainly the resent past, and the representatives of a society may judge it to be necessary and have the power to act accordingly. In the Neiden case it is difficult to find any reason for anybody except Skolts to destroy Skolt history. An ossuary would have been an alternative to the slow destruction in the burial mound – echoing a distinctly South Scandinavian past – in which the 94 small wooden coffins are now decaying. This mound can be appreciated only as a monument of the colonialist oppression that the Scandinavian majority societies have subjected their minorities to. While doing so, they effectively taught the tame majority groups within the minorities to act likewise against their minorities. Since this is a never-ending process it is important that the Neiden reburial story split the Neiden Skolts. Divide et impera is at the heart of the matter. ASve lets his quotations speak for themselves rather than pointing the reader in the right direction. This is quite an effective strategy not least given the context in which representatives of those in power speak. Here they are at Neiden, literally burying the history of the Neiden Skolts in a mound letting it moulder away, and the Minister for Reform, Administration and Church Affairs says:
‘ – I hope this will remind us of the importance of reconciliation. We should lift our eyes and use this opportunity to look at the need to protect Skolt Sámi language and culture’—Jeg håper dette kan minne oss på betydningen av forsoning. Vi bør løfte blikket og bruke anledningen til å se på behovet for å ivareta skoltesamenesspråk og kultur,

the newspaper adds: ’she thinks.’—mener hun.

Indeed, and she is right, of course! This need to protect Skolt language and culture is visible in the sky only, i.e. above the grey September clouds over Neiden. Moreover, as Minister of Church Affairs it is appropriate in this solemn context to express a pious hope echoing a biblical phrase. In fact, almost anything one could say as an official representative will add to the unintended but nevertheless carefully constructed irony of the occasion.

Only knowledge can save us – nur eine Erkenntnis kann uns retten.



(1) The history of the Skolts and the injustices done to them is outlined (in Nowegian) in an official governmental commission 1997

This week On the Reading Rest I still have the article on the rune stone from Hogganvik, Mandal, in Southwest Norway. This stone was mentioned OtRR 9 January, 2012, but there is no point in looking it up since in the present entry the perspective from 2012 has simply been developed.

ILLU 01Schultze, Michael. 2013. The Norwegian Hogganvik Stone as an Emblem of Social Status and Identity. Journal of the North Atlantic 4:120-128. Acronym: MiSCHu.

The Hogganvik stone stands in a nave, i.e. in a place that attracts and radiates – a ‘focus’ and a ‘centre’ in the human landscape (6). In this nave the stone does something and it seems plausible that the reason why the stone does what it does rests with the man who calls himself Wolverine. This man in his turn is connected to someone he calls Chilver-Servant (a chilver being a ewe lamb). Since it is plausible that a wolverine meeting a chilver in meadows or mountains will kill the lamb and eat it, it seems reasonable to suggest that the 1st and 2nd elements of the dithematic names, naudi-, -gastiz and –þewaz (7) are chosen to convey a less brutal situation. Generally speaking combining a variety of first and second elements in dithematic names (their stems) are meant to explore the concepts of being a Guest or a Servant.

Contexts containing names or appellatives with -þewaz, servant, as the second element indicate that being a servant ranks high among the upper classes. King Hrothgar’s perfect queen Wealhtheow in Beowulf is a case in point and so is Virgin Mary in Hêliand, she who modestly says: Thiu bium ic theotgodes—‘I am the Folk-god’s maid servant(=thiu)’. In Hêliand shs is betrothed to Joseph, the man who presently occupies King David’s throne in Bethlehem, no less, and Mary is by no means a servant to anyone except God in his capacity as protector of the people (cf. OtRR 19 August 2013). Being a chilver servant is thus a most honourable ocupation that accords harmoniously with having a wolverine as a guest. Since there is a symbolic ring of devotion to the name Kelbaþewaz befitting a member of the upper classes, this devotion spreads downwards in the hierarchy to his guest Erafaz, the Wolverine, when he calls himself Need-guest.

ILLU 09Guest-names are common Old Germanic names and in their original form before 500 CE, they point out a male visitor to a social environment that accepts him as a guest (8).

The visitor, who is on his own and by definition comes from somewhere, has a dependent, albeit prestigious social position because he may have personal qualities or be useful and rewarded in certain situations as well as dangerous. Some guests cannot behave themselves, but others like Beowulf can, Being a useful guest, as well as lethal to the likes of Grendel and his mother, is no less than Bowulf’s road to success. To be a guest may thus be a career and guest-names may well refer to a role. Runologists often suspect that guest- and servant-names are based on a conventional variation of the first element making the semantics of the both uninteresting. However, in turbulent and formative periods such as the first half of the first millennium CE variation in the first element is obviously a way to investigate new concepts such as guest and servant as well as their social meaning in a society gradually becoming more and more stratified.

Proto-Germanic need-names are uncommon, MiSCHu knows of none except Hogganvik, but next to Naudigastiz from Mandal there is the broadly speaking contemporary Hnaudifridus from Housesteads across the North Sea (R(oman) I(nscriptions in) B(ritain) 1576; altar):


DEABVS ALAISIAGIS BAVDIHILLIE ET FRIAGABI ET N(numina) AVG(usti) N(umerus) HNAVDIFRIDI V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens et) M(erito)—To the Alaisagae goddesses Boudihillia and Friagabis, and to the divine spirit of the Emperor, the unit of Hnaudifridius readily and deservedly fulfils its vow.

The name HNAVDIFRIDI is the Germanic name Naudifriþuz in Latinised genitive. The initial H is a misspelling, but it is conceivable for other reasons too that the Latin speaking composer of the inscription had difficulties analysing what he heard – or perhaps what Notfried said (9). The numerus Hnaudfrifdi—‘Naudifrid’s unit’, is this officer’s loosely defined group of mounted men. Rather than a Roman or a Romanised German like 1st c. Cerialis the officer Naudifridus is a German, and this indicates that he and this unit were mercenaries of the 3rd c. CE (10). A Friesian wedge-formatted mounted unit (a cuneus) was often stationed at Housesteads by Hadrian’s Wall and in inscriptions this unit referred to the Germanic deities the Alaisagae. Owing to these circumstances Naudifridus and his men were probably Friesian from Twente or at least German speaking. The long-term presence of the Friesians and Tungrians as well as their involvement in the Romanization of Northern England is attested not least by the tablets from nearby Vindolanda (11).

Similar to Naudigastiz, the meaning of Naudifriþuz is in all probability positive and the name/appellative would signify something like peace/protection when there needs be just that. His mother may have known him as Schtroumpfy, but we may think of him as a -friduz recognizing that sword in hand he once brought peace to a negative situation. Perhaps the name could be paralleled with the place name Gundralöv, which once contained the name Gunþifriþuz—strife + peace, i.e. he who brings peace to strife in some way or other (12). Analogically, Naudigastiz would signify a guest who is needed – an outsider loyal to his host, who is probably a hall owner or at least a person with some kind of wealth and a political agenda that might need support.

In their inscription, both Naudifriþuz and Naudigastiz recognize the hierarchies to which they belong, and given the troubled 4th century with the disappearing Western Roman Empire and the thousands of farms that were given up in South Scandinavia, it seems reasonable to construct Naudi-names or –appellative. Indirectly they would signify belief in a social order under pressure. This endangered order reflects a social stratification, which grew during the RIA and created an elite that was replaced in the 6th c. when the new South Scandinavian centres emerge (13).

Irrespective of their first element, there is no need to infer that names ending in -gastiz, -þewaz or –friþuz must refer to martial skills only. The concepts are broader although martial skills may be required. And although Naudigast acknowledges the supremacy of Kelbaþewaz, Like Naudifrid, who acknowledges the Goddesses and the Emperor, the central figure in the inscriptions is Naudigast and Naudifrid respectively. Both may be praised. While R.I.B 1576 is conventional the Hogganvik inscription is exceptional, partly because it refers to the monument in which it stands – a nave and seemingly a relatively sacred place. Today we must appreciate the fact that a rune stone happens to mention and illustrate a nave thus giving us a clue to its capacity as a spiritual site where chanting lexical nonsense or uttering alphabetical magic for those who can read or hear was a worthwhile perpetual occupation at least for standing stones.

Commemorating Kelbaþewaz or the Emperor was not the primary purpose of the monuments. Instead, in Hogganvik as well as in Housesteads devotion and the glory it lends to the devotee is the central theme. In Housesteads inscriptions live up to a formulaic standard while in Hogganvik an original formulation seems much more important, but that does not tell us whether Naudigast was more devoted than Naudifrid or vice versa. Nor do we know whether they ever met their masters. Given the small-scale Iron Age society, which we believe characteried Southwest Norway, we nevertheless hope that Naudifrid and Kelbaþewa knew each other, as hinted when the former calls himself Kelbaþewa’s guest. In Hogganvik the introductory I-formulation, which always sounds as if we were listening to someone taking an oath, creates personal presence, while dedication gives gravity and distance to Housesteads. It is the suitable expression and the blending of a moral spiritual and a practical social status that matters.

Far from being no more than inscriptions on stones that ‘reflect hierarchical societies’ the statements at Housesteads and Hogganvik are ritual formulations befitting sanctuaries. At Housesteads the stone is an altar at a temple in the vicus, at Hogganvik the stone stands in the nave. At both places there is probably a nearness to spirits or gods. In Housesteads the altar in the edifice sees to that, in Hogganvik the stone, the kerbstones and the elevated position of the monument creates or enhances a nave in the landscape. As pointed out OtRR 9 Jan, 2012: “the stone itself is not connected to any grave, but standing on an angular shelf at the very end of the cemetery. From this position we overlook the settlement below the cemetery“. We don’t know if the nave sanctuary had any other vertical elements other than the stone, but we may still speak of it as a small road sanctuary with a nave opening to the Northeast.


In the nave the stone, imbued with non-lexical runes, held an essential part of the ritual statement framed by a more worldly lexical explanation. As Naudifriþuz could have spoken the formulaic words later carved on the altar stone, Erafaz could have done the same in Hogganvik, not least why the inscription is direct speech. Like Naudifriþuz, Erafaz demonstrates his devotion, albeit indirectly, but there doesn’t seem to be any dedication in Hogganvik. A dedication may of course hide itself in the non-lexical expression – who knows?

The Hogganvik monument is very Norwegian and very 4th century CE, but it borrows the idea of the religious inscription and perhaps the idea of the constructed sanctuary from Roman civilisation. The stone didn’t last long and had I been a religious fundamentalist in the years around 500 CE smashing rune stones and opening chamber graves in the Mälar Valley in Sweden defending true religious values, I would have gone to Norway and toppled the Hogganvik stone. Since the road to Norway passed the Järsberg stone in Värmland I would have pushed that one over too and had a go at the Tune stone in Østfold when I passed by. But that’s another story.



(6) cf. Herschend 2009:139ff. Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University.

(7) The names can be looked up in Peterson 2004, se note (5).

(8) Recently guest-names have been collected and discussed by Haubrichs 2008:53-79. Haubrichs, Wolfgang. 2008 Namenbrauch und Mythos-Konstruktion. Die Onomastik der Lex-Salica-Prologe. In: Uwe Ludwig and, Thomas Schilp (eds). Nomen et Fraternitas. Festschrift for Dieter Geuenich on his 65th Birthday. Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde – Ergänzungsbände 62. Berlin – New York. De Gruyter. See also MiSchu:125.

(9) There is an old but quite good discussion of the Germanic names of this innscrption by Theodor Siebs. See Siebs, Theodor. 1922. On an altar dedicated to the Alaisiagae 2. Archaeologia Aeliana. Vol 19:192-197.

(10) Bowman, Alan K. 2003. Life and letters of the Roman frontier. Vindolanda and its people. London. The British Museum. Alan Bowman gives an overview of the role of Friesians and Tungrians in the Romanisation of England pp 14-27 and specifically on Cerialis pp. 20f. See also the discussion on Hnaudifridus in: Birley, Anthony. 1980 The people of Roman Britain. Berkley. University of California Press.

(11) The Turingians emerged sometime in the early 1st c. CE when they became auxiliary troops (see Bowman 2003: 14-27. In Ceasar’s days they were but Gemani West of the Rhine in Northern Gaul. It would not be surprising if the Romans were instrumental in the ‘ethnogenesis’ of Tungrians and even Friesians, conveniently collecting a number of tribes or Germans under one heading. Skill was probably more important than blood for those who became auxiliary soldiers.

(12) See Peterson 2004:26 and Locked Inside a Nave Since the Fourth Century CE – Part I note (5) above.

(13). This development and change is the topic of chapter six, The Landscape of Warfare pp 331-81 and condenced at page 359 in Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University.