Last day of excavation, Melkoya, Hammerfest municipality, County of Finnmark

The excavations

The excavations at Melkoya were completed September 13th. We are pleased with the results after this year's season, which have given us new and complementary knowledge of the prehistory of Finnmark. The excavation of many different dwellings and artifacts gives us a rich basis for the further interpretation of past people's settlement in, and usage of, this area.

Thousands of flakes and debitage after the production of stone tools in different raw materials, such as slate, quartz, quartzite, rock crystal, chert and flint, were excavated. We have found several artifacts from Late Stone Age and Early Metal Age, such as knives, arrowheads, scrapers, axes and adzes, cores and awls. Artifacts of wood or bone have not been found, but shards of ceramics grained with asbestos appeared both in Sundfjaera nedre and at Melandet.

The most spectacular findings are the pearls of amber. In a grave in Sundfjaera midtre several pearls were found. Amber is very rare in Stone Age Northern Norway, and these pearls originate from Denmark or the Baltic.

Statoil is now in control of Melkoya, and the construction of the gas plant is far progressed. It is only a question of time before the last traces of the people living at this island through thousands of years will have to give way to gas and concrete.

Click the map for a larger image


Excavated structures

In Sundfjaera a total of 20 dwellings were found. Several other structures were excavated, such as possible gravemounds, cleared areas, fireplaces, and cooking pits. During the excavation of one of the mounds one pearl of amber was found. Preservational conditions for organic material are not good on Melkoya, therefore no skeleton, clothings or wrappings were found.

Two so-called "hellegrop", pits lined with flat stones, were found in Sundfjaera nedre. These are oblong/rectangular pits, around 2-3 meters long and 1 meter wide, with a greasy layer of ash and charcoal in the bottom. Probably these were used for processing or boiling whale- and seal blubber in the period between AD 200-1.200.

In prehistory the sealevel has been higher than today. Since the settlements have been located close to the shoreline, the oldest are found higher in the terrain than the younger. This reflects the gradual withdrawal of the sea after the last ice age, 12.000 years ago. Accordingly, we find the traces of settlement from Early Stone Age (10.000-4.500 BC) in the top of Sundfjaera. Further down we find dwellings from Late Stone Age (4.500-1.800 BC), and towards the present seashore we find settlement from Early Metal Age (1.800BC-0) and Iron Age (0-AD 1.100). Consequently, from top to bottom the finds from Sundfjaera represent a history of settlement that span a period of 8.000 years.

At Melandet, across the Melkoya strait, several nicely preserved artefacts also were found. This area is heavily influenced by the construction of a tunell and road connecting Melkoya to the mainland. Several demonstrations against gas exploitation of the Arctic ocean have taken place, amongst others with activists chaining themselves to machines. Here an area of ca. 20 m2 was opened, and many single objects were found. However, we could not find any structures like tent- rings, dwellings or fireplaces.


The work ahead

The finds and documentation are now at Tromso Museum. Here the finds first will be cleaned, then catalogued according to type of artifact and rawmaterial. The field supervisors will then start writing the reports from their respective areas of excavation. These reports will account for and describe the methods of excavation and documentation. Further, the reports shall contain a detailed description of the finds, and present an interpretation of the material each field supervisor was responsible for.

At the same time the scientific samples are sent to different laboratories for analysis. The charcoalsamples are cleaned before they are examined to determine what species of three they originate from, and thereafter they are sent to New Zealand for radiocarbon dating. The pollen- and macrofossilsamples are analyzed at the University of Tromsoe for information about the relation between vegetational development and settlement history during the last 10.000 years. The phosphate- and susceptibilitysamples are analyzed in Sweden. Through these we hope to gain some knowledge about where organic material, such as waste, was deposited.

In the end all results are collected and interpreted in one major publication. This is to be ready by the end of 2004.

We will continously publish results when they are available at this site.





Tromsoe Museum-Universitetsmuseet, N-9037 Tromsoe, Norway
Telephone +47 77 64 50 00 Fax +47 77 64 55 20
Updated by Anja Roth Niemi
Editor: Stephen Wickler, Dept. of Archaeology, Tromsoe Museum