…officially started with a declaration from, at that time, the Swedish King Karl IX. Officially? Because there is no written evidence that can show a practice of having markets in Jokkmokk before this year, although it is quite probable. A market provided an opportunity for gathering, paying taxes, doing a census of the inhabitants and gave a reason for baptisms, weddings and any court or judicial work.
In 1632, silver was found in the Nasa Mountain region near Norway and was Norrbottens first silver mine. It was a privately owned venture, from owners in Piteå, and acquired a reputation of being harsh and unjust with the Saami, who many were apparently forced into labor to help with transporting silver ore.
Photo: Older mine hole on Ruotevare as witness to Norrbottens very first iron mine from 1638
So, it wasn’t so strange that during the 1638 winter market in Jokkmokk, a man by the name of Hans Fillip Lybecker was found walking the path through the old market area of Jokkmokk. He was the regional mine inspector working with the Nasa Silver Mine. Imaginably, he was dressed in a wolf skin winter coat and wearing reindeer boots common for the Saami in winter. Perhaps, too, he was clothed in a wolf skin coat tied in the middle with a knife belt and carrying a pair of skis on his shoulders. Or, had arrived from Luleå by way of reindeer and sled?
However the situation was, Hans Fillip Lybecker was in Jokkmokk. He was waiting for a supply of goods that would be further transported to the Nasa Silver Mine. And not so unlikely, he was sitting in a dimly lit, but warm, dirt hut on Dalvatis Hill, in the middle of the bustling market place, staring into a candle on the table and sipping from a small flask of home brew to keep extra warm with, when two Saami unexpectedly rushed down into the hut searching for him.
As these two stood in front of Lybecker, they held in their outstretched hands a few large rocks. Hans Lybecker took the candle and held it closer to get a better look at the rocks and, to his amazement, found them to be iron ore. He asked the two Saami, “Where did these come from?” They explained that they had found the rocks on a hill some twelve kilometers south of Jokkmokk. The hill had a Saamish name. Kiälmä Åiffde, or Kielm Oiwe, meaning “Iron Hill” it was called and there was more of the rock to be found.
Next day, Hans Lybecker headed south for Kielm Oiwe Hill together with several other Saami who followed to help him. When having arrived, the Saami shoveled snow away from the ground and more iron ore samples could be gathered. It is always bitter cold and very dark during winter market in Jokkmokk and coldly unwelcoming in the nearby forests.
Hans Fillip Lybecker sent these samples by courier to Stockholm and Queen Kristina, who was the head of royalty at the time. She decided that this was an exceptionally rich find of iron ore and sent word back to Lybecker that she would grant tax privileges to anyone interested in mining the iron at “The Iron Hill”.
Photo: searching for ore using the bonfire method from early 16th century
And, there were people interested! The richer citizens and farmers of Luleå, at that time Gammalstad or “The Old City”, wanted to exploit the iron in Jokkmokk that coming summer. Hans Fillip Lybecker would keep an eye on their progress and report this to Queen Kristina. The citizens and farmers were very enthusiastic with their attempts to mine the iron out of the ground, but they had no experience with mining and found the work very difficult. Seemingly, they were working the ground with ordinary axes trying to hack-out the iron ore in this manner.
Lybecker reported that the work was difficult for these Luleå citizens. The citizens worked the hill next coming summer, 1639, and finally gave up. Either because it was too much work and not enough profit or that Jokkmokk was too far from Luleå or… We don’t know more than they just gave-up and stopped working. Besides these notes, that Hans Fillip Lybecker wrote about this iron mine attempt, there exists a handwritten map showing where Kielm Oiwe can be found and how to get to it from Luleå.
This was the very first iron mine of Norrbotten. Many others came after and tried their luck at mining iron south of Jokkmokk. Among these could be mining adventurers like Regement Commisioner Olof Uneus, from Boden, who knew about “…Rutivare in Jockmock” and Carl von Linneus wrote about the iron ore in his Lapland travels of 1732. Prof. Jonas Medelcruetz or Abraham Steinholz was probably interested in Ruotevare’s exploitation in the 18th century as well as baron Samuel G. Hermelin och Jon Engström in the 19th century.
Photo: signs of prospecting from early 18th century
Lastly, there were many claims for Ruotevare during the 20th century. This time, not for iron but for deposits of feltspat and quartz. These were shipped by train to the smelting works in Porjus.
The last work done on Ruotevare was in the early 1950’s, when mine owner A. Thelin was killed. As he was climbing up a ladder, the charging caps he had in his back pocket accidentally exploded and he was rushed to the small hospital in Jokkmokk where he died. Today, there are plans of making Ruotevare into a nature reservation, but the remnants of over 350 years of mining still remain as an historical reminder for the residents of and visitors to Jokkmokk.
PS– A detailed historical account with remnant examples and cataloging results from research on Ruotevare can be found in a still unpublished report (2005) that Norrbottens Länsstyrelsen, Kulturmiljöenhet has. Call and ask about it! I can’t understand why they have difficulties with making this available to the public i.e. taxpayers? (Could it be that it is so well done, they just want it all for themselves?)
PSS– Today, February 1, 2008, I found a copy of the Ruotevare Report in the mailbox. Seemingly the report will soon be published on Norrbottens Länsstyrelsen website as well as hard copies can be had after it goes through the printers. Hats off for the regional government?