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Cathedral cave, Træna, Arctic Norway

With its 30-meter high beckoning mouth visible directly from the ocean and positioned at the very outermost skerries deep in the Norwegian Sea, Kirkhellaren (cathedral cave) exerts a strong gravitational pull. People have been drawn to this site in the Arctic Circle for as long as humans have roamed the post-glacial Norwegian coastline, both for economic and ritual reasons. Separated by a 45 km ocean stretch from the mainland, Sanna island is located at the land/ocean interface hosting one of the most productive cod spawning grounds globally.


The arduous and notoriously storm-prone waters around the island had to be navigated in open, skin-covered boats to reach the island as a key access hub for the rich marine resources. However, the intensity of anthropogenic deposition, faunal remains and a plentiful archaeological record testifies to the economic importance of the site. Partly excavated in 1937-9, rich stratigraphic deposits were uncovered, likely spanning the entire Holocene record and contained artefacts and ecofacts at unprecedented organic preservation within the context of northern European archaeology.


Thus, the Kirkhellaren cave represents a unique location in Norway for developing new methods that can benefit the management, conservation and further study of deep-time, organic cave deposits. Despite enormous potential, very little knowledge of contemporary scientific value has hitherto been produced. A judicious dual focus on re-analyzing legacy data available in the archives and collections using state-of-the-art approaches and new excavation techniques will address this shortcoming.

Kirkhellaren cave contains the richest archaeological assemblage in all of Arctic Norway across several parameters:

  • largest set of human burials and osteological remains

  • largest faunal record

  • largest ceramic assemblage

This, combined with the unprecedented state of preservation and the continuous record spanning the last 10.000 years, make Kirkhellaren the ideal site for acquiring stratified data for the ARCAVE objective.

The project is funded hosted and funded by the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, granted through the Ministry of Climate and Environment.

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