Society and Identity
This paper analyses the history of encounters between Western European scholars and “submerged” or “imminent” societies in Northern Eurasia. Standard narratives of cultural evolution articulated since Shrenk and Castren emphasise the transition and migration of ethnolinguistic groups to explain the diversity of peoples and languages across Eurasia. The old narratives are built around the idea of “hearths” or “cultural origin points” and hold the idea that complexity and civilization arise in one place (usually a southern place) and diffuse to the frontiers of Eurasia. Based on anthropological fieldwork in Iamal and Northern Sweden, this paper compares the standard narratives of cultural diffusion to a set of indigenous narratives of alliance and co-existence with underground beings who are thought to co-exist with present-day peoples, influence their daily lives, but remain concealed to emerge potentially at some point in the future. The paper argues that by comparing two ontologically distinct accounts of the longue durée, we can get a better understanding of the ideologies underlying scientific-technical accounts and folkloric accounts. The long Western European ethnographic tradition of collecting accounts of submerged societies, be they archaeological, folkloristic, or biogenetic, is one of several possible ways of theorizing resilience and continuity in Eurasian spaces.