The Forest Finns as a Model for the Early Slavic Migration

Slash-and-burn cultivation in Finland in 1892 (Photo: Wikicommons).

In this project, ethnohistorical-geoarchaeological studies on the subrecent Forest Finns in Sweden and Norway serve as a model for method development of analytical approaches on the archaeological visibility of mobile groups, their subsistence and materiality, as well as on their socio-cultural dynamics and crisis management in the context of climatic changes. It will be tested on the example of early Slavic migrations in the southern Baltic region in the middle of the 1st millennium AD.

Around 1580, the so-called Forest Finns migrated to the forest areas in the Swedish-Norwegian border region. They cultivated new agricultural land in the large untouched coniferous forests by slash-and-burn agricultural practices. In some isolated regions of Värmland or Finnskogen, Finnish language and culture survived for over 350 years up until the beginning of the 20th century. The Forest Finns offer an ideal empirical basis for the development of theoretical concepts for the investigation of cultural phenomena that are difficult to grasp archaeologically, as they provide knowledge beyond the actual material culture through additional source genres (toponyms, written historical sources, ethnography).

It is only in the late 7th century that the first Slavic settlements in the Southern Baltic region are securely dated. In the "dark centuries" before, there is no archaeological evidence of a settlement in the later West Slavic settlement area, but there is low-level rye cultivation in a forested area indicated by pollen profiles. The process of "slavisation" of this region remains far from being understood. One hypothesis suggests that people from the east who maintained a mobile way of life and practised slash and burn agriculture, spread out together with their forest habitat.

Research Approach
The project includes fieldwork activities, laboratory analyses, literature studies as well as theoretical modelling and reflecting. We will develop a theoretical and methodological model examining the spread of the Forest Finns to Sweden and Norway coinciding with the Medieval Little Ice Age (AD 1350-1800). A complex range of soil science methods allows slash-and-burn sites to be identified and dated. This model is then compared to the spread of the Slavs in the area south of the Baltic Sea during the Late Antique Little Ice Age (AD 536-660) using predictive modelling, field surveys and analyses. Additionally, the two case studies will help shed light on the problem of archaeological visibility of marginal groups.


This project evolves from cooperation between the ROOTS subclusters Conflict, Hazards, Dietry, Inequality, and the Reflective Turn.

Involved ROOTS members:

Jens Schneeweiß:
Magdalena Bunbury:
Vesa Arponen:
Ben Krause-Kyora:
Eileen Eckmeier:
John Meadows:


External Collaborators:


Stig Welinder (Mid Sweden University)
Elena Ponomarenko (University of Ottawa)
Ingunn Holm (Directorate for Cultural Heritage Norway)


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions