…have, in comparison to other parts of Sweden, a unique history. Yes, the silver mine of Sala, the copper mine of Falun and many other mines in southern Sweden can be older or larger, but, for being in Lapland and in an isolated area such as the Laponia mountains, Jokkmokks mining history is filled with a historically interesting and significant past.
As people progressed northwards in their search for a new life, some of the very first Swedes to push into the northern inland areas were miners and prospectors. Many of these came and went, but some stayed on after mining adventures and became the first settlers giving birth to small villages that still exist today. But, the story of searching for natural wealth and new settlements starts even longer ago. In the blog pages to come, let’s take a look at this past and briefly touch upon the stories of Jokkmokk’s older mines. To give a short but decent picture of these mines and better understand the story, we must first travel long ago back in time…
Photo: Jokkmokk’s and Laponia’s older mines take us into an exciting past
There were a lot of exiting things going on in Western Europe after the fall of Rome in the early middle ages (500-1000 A.D.) and a time when people started to move and explore more of the known world. One popular group at this time where the Vikings and one Viking king was known to have ruled over most of the northern Norwegian coastline and as far inland as the regions of Lapland. This was King Othere from Hålogaland. During his rule, he had declared that he had sole rights to all land between the Atlantic ocean and eastwards into Russia and he had the sovereign right to tax all inhabitants. In this case, the people living in this area were the reindeer breeding Saami.
Throughout history there are people taxing other people and either used force or cunning to reap in personal wealth. With the start of King Othere’s taxation on the Saami people, other groups of people believed they, too, had the right to tax the Saami during the next few centuries. These people were from Finland or eastern Russia and consisted of several groups, all doing trade with the Saami. The more popular of these unorganized groups were called “Birkalar” and were for centuries freelancing entrepreneurs selling their talents to collect taxes for different heads of state as they did trade.
During the 16th century, the Swedish King Gustav Wasa also proclaimed his right of ownership for all land between Russia and “the western sea”, or the North Atlantic, and entered into a contract with the Birkarls to collect taxes from the Saami for his part. Afterwards, the Birkarls worked for other Swedish royalty up until King Karl IX, who started free markets in the north of which the most popular was the Jokkmokk Market in 1604.
To pay taxes, the commodities that the Saami had at hand were natural goods. Furs, dried meats, fish etc. were the most common but, because of the Saami’s unique knowledge of the land and mountains from centuries of migration, they also knew about the value of pearls from freshwater mussels (Margaritana Margaritifera) and the clear quartz of Sweden called “Swedish diamonds”. A very small group of Saami even specialized in finding and collecting these two valuables and it isn’t unbelievable that freshwater pearls and “Swedish diamonds” were used to pay taxes. The latter, “Swedish diamonds”, was used as a substitute for flint to start fires with or flintlock weaponry.
With hundreds of years of taxation and the knowledge of the value of the “Swedish diamond” or quartz and its uses, it seems highly likely that the Saami paid taxes with quartz and mined small amounts of this in areas of Northern Sweden; among these near Jokkmokk in a place called “the iron hill” or Ruovddeváre in Saamish.
Next: Ruotevare– The first iron mine in Northern Sweden