Finnmark and Alta was the site of one of the oldest settlements in Norway, the Komsa Culture, which seems to date back to 8000 BC. The Saami people are the oldest known inhabitants, and permanent settlement started around 1300, when Norwegians also settled to trade. A Russian settlement has been known from 1500. In the 1700s and 1800s, immigration from Finland— kverner—took place. A large number of rock carvings (c. 6200-2500 years old) have been found at Hjemmeluft, Alta, which have been protected as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site since 1985. Alta Museum was established in 1991. The first permanent Northern Light Observatory on the mountain of Halddetoppen (900 m), built on the Initiative of Kristian Birkeland, has been in use from 1899 to 1900 and 1912 to 1926. The Finnmark College in Alta enrolls 1900 students, and is the northernmost college in the world.
The town of Hammerfest was an important place to recruit Arctic sailors and supplies for Arctic expeditions. In World War II, Hammerfest was evacuated by the German troops and burned to the ground. The eastern part of the county was of strategic importance during the Cold War. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the importance of Kirkenes and its harbor as an important hub traveling to northwest Russia has increased. From 1989 onward, trade with Russia has resumed and increased political interest in the area is reflected in the establishment of the Barents Regional Council (1993) in Kirkenes.
See also Alta/Kautokeino Demonstrations; Barents Regional Council; Fjords; National Parks and Protected Areas: Norway; Norway; Saami; Saami Council; Troms
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