A Fishy Tale about a Sheep and a Dog – Isotope Studies and Medieval Sámi Mobility and Husbandry in Inner Finnmark, Northern Norway
Datings of sheep and dog bone samples from a so-called ‘Sámi circular offering site’ at Bealjalgnai in Karasjok Municipality, Finnmark, Norway, show that they were deposited in the Middle Ages. They are among the earliest dated bones from such structures, and the sheep is the oldest known example from this part of inland Finnmark. Isotope analyses show that the dog lived primarily on aquatic foodstuffs, with a substantial marine intake. The sheep’s nitrogen and carbon values indicate that it had eaten protein from animals quite high up in the food chain, mainly from freshwater and terrestrial sources, though with a certain intake of marine fodder as well. Two methods were employed to establish the amount of different nutrients eaten by these individuals and the potential marine and freshwater reservoir effects on their datings. Despite several potential sources of error, the results raise intriguing questions about mobility patterns and husbandry among medieval inland North Sámi groups. The cultural historical context of the finds is discussed, suggesting some possible scenarios that may have led to the surprising isotope analysis results.