A hearth row site is defined as a set of three or more regularly interspaced hearths organised in a linear pattern. It normally consists of 4 – 8 hearths, most likely representing tent dwellings and thus a group of co-residing households. Hearth row sites have a remarkable extensive distribution and are found over most of the interior region of northern Fennoscandinavia. Compared to earlier northern prehistoric sites they represent new and distinct environmental preferences by being located away from lake shores and major waterways, typically on dry moraine outcrops, on forested terraces, or next to small creeks surrounded by heathlands rich in reindeer lichen (Hedman 2003).
The hearth row sites emerged around 800 AD and became especially widespread during the late Viking Age and Early Medieval Period, before their use discontinued ca. 1300 AD. Their chronology thus coincides with a period of dramatic cultural, economic and socio-political transformations in neighboring societies. Also within the Sámi communities a number of changes took place that in many ways seem connected to those represented by the hearth rows: In terms of settlement outline, the same linear pattern is reflected in the so-called “Stallo” house sites that spread throughout the northern Norwegian-Swedish alpine zone (Storli 1994, Liedgren and Bergman 2009). At the same time ritual and religious practices intensified and became increasingly unified over larger part of the Sámi settlement area (Hansen and Olsen 2004, Fossum 2006, Broadbent 2010). Richness and variation in grave goods also suggest an emerging social differentiation among the Sámi (Schanche 2000).