The Use of Plants as Regular Food in Ancient Subarctic Economies: A Case Study Based on Sami Use of Scots Pine Innerbark

Ingela Bergman, Lars Östlund and Olle Zackrisson


This study combines ethnological, historical, and dendroecological data from areas north of the Arctic Circle to analyze cultural aspects of Sami use of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) inner bark as regular food. Bark was peeled in June when trees were at the peak of sapping, leaving a strip of undamaged cambium so the tree survived. As a result, it is possible to date bark-peeling episodes using dendrochronology. The paper argues that the use of Scots pine inner bark reflects Sami religious beliefs, ethical concerns, and concepts of time, all expressed in the process of peeling the bark. A well-developed terminology and a set of specially designed tools reveal the technology involved in bark peeling. Consistent patterns with respect to the direction and size of peeling scars found across the region demonstrate common values and standards. Peeling direction patterns and ceremonial meals relating to bark probably reflect ritual practices connected to the sun deity, Biejvve.

  • Ingela Bergman, The Silver Museum, Storgatan 20, S-93090 Arjeplog, Sweden

  • Lars Östlund, Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, SLU, S-901 83 Umeå, Sweden

  • Olle Zackrisson, Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, SLU, S-901 83, Umeå, Sweden

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