Animal bones and human society in the late Younger Stone Age of Arctic Norway
In recent decades anthropologists and archaeologists have divided hunter-gatherer groups into two types; "simple" and "complex". However, many documented foraging communities display traits associated with both types, and the placement of past and present hunter-gatherers into either category is problematic. The substantial house remains of the late Younger Stone Age hunter-gatherers of Varangerfjord, North Norway, have been connected by many archaeologists with sedentism and, by extension, with "complexity" and permanent social hierarchies. This analysis takes a more direct approach social organisation, using faunal remains to better define the social relationships between households within this community. The large mammal remains from a series of houses are compared to determine whether all households had equal access to prey species and to different parts of large mammal carcasses. Towards this end, the climate and available resources are established for North Norway during the Younger Stone Age. Previous interpretations of the archaeology of the period, including the argument for "complexity" are then discussed. The study sites and associated faunal assemblages are presented. Seal hunting patterns are compared between households in terms of both the choice of species and the age breakdown of each hunted seal population. Local differences in the numbers of ringed seal are attributed to the preference of ringed seal for certain types of coastline. Strong similarities are noted between all sites in terms of both the season of seal hunting activity and the selection of adult versus juvenile harp seal and ringed seal. Distribution of seal and reindeer body parts are also compared between and within houses. Again, there are more similarities than differences between households. Seals were returned whole to all houses and reindeer body part representation appears to be mediated by the utility of each part for artefact manufacture. The implication of these results are discussed in terms of the structure of social relationships, symbolic behaviour and territoriality. The utility of this approach in a broader context is also considered.