Fish or Reindeer? The Relation between Subsistence Patterns and Settlement Patterns among the Forest Sami

Gudrun Norstedt and Lars Östlund


The subsistence patterns of the Sami of northern Fennoscandia in early modern times are poorly understood. In this study, we use a map from AD 1671 of a Swedish forest-Sami district in order to explore the subject. The map includes 38 summer settlement symbols, all placed close to rivers and lakes. We compare this settlement pattern with ethnographic descriptions of forest-Sami groups and find that it is consistent with a fish-centered subsistence pattern but not with a reindeer-centered one. In literature, the Sami of Sweden are generally said to have transitioned from a hunting economy to reindeer pastoralism, while fishing has been seen as a supplementary subsistence mode. Since fishers tend to differ from hunters and herders in terms of social organization and sedentism, it is important to consider the possibility of a fish-centered subsistence pattern when discussing arctic and subarctic societies.