Graves and burial customs

Sámi burial customs in pre-Christian times were varied, but scree burials were the commonest and most characteristically Sámi form of burial.

The dead were laid in a rocky scree, beneath a boulder, or in a crevice or cave in the rocks, occasionally in a sled. The body was sewn into a birch bark shroud. The dead took with them burial gifts, such as arrows, tools and jewellery.

Animal bones and shells have also been found in scree graves. These may have been offerings to the goddess Jábmeáhkká, who held sway in the realm of the dead. Other than this we know little about the burial rituals.

The oldest graves have been dated to the last millennium BC and are in Varanger. During the period from 1000 to 1200 AD, the custom of scree burial spread southward. During the 17th century the practice disappeared in north Sámi areas, but continued well into the 18th century in south Sámi areas.

Scree burials have been recorded as far south as Tydal in Norway and Ĺre in Sweden. So-called hunting ground or lake burials in Hedmark in Norway and in Härjedalen and Dalarna in Sweden are probably also Sámi burials.

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Zachrisson, Inger, 1996: Möten i gränsland.

Hávdi Ceavccageađggis/Grav i Mortensnes. Govva/Foto: Mihkku Solbakk