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Bears and Meanings among Hunter-fisher-gatherers in Northern Fennoscandia 9000–2500 BC

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 May 2012

Knut Helskog
Tromsö University Museum, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway Email:


An examination of meanings associated with bears among early hunter-gatherer-fisher populations in northern Fennoscandia, based on beliefs and ritual practices in the ethnohistoric record, indicates that they were an animal attributed multiple meanings in prehistoric as well as historic times. They were clan ancestors, spirit masters and symbols of power and reincarnation such as rebirth and the change of seasons. The evidence indicates a pattern of local variation and identities rather than a uniform regional pattern, and some large-scale differences from the coastal area of Norway in the west to Karelia in the east.

Copyright © The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2012

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