Anthropogenic deforestation has shaped ecosystems worldwide. In subarctic ecosystems, primarily inhabited by native peoples, deforestation is generally considered to be mainly associated with the industrial period. Here we examined mechanisms underlying deforestation a thousand years ago in a high-mountain valley with settlement artifacts located in subarctic Scandinavia. Using the Heureka Forestry Decision Support System, we modeled pre-settlement conditions and effects of tree cutting on forest cover. To examine lack of regeneration and present nutrient status, we analyzed soil nitrogen. We found that tree cutting could have deforested the valley within some hundred years. Overexploitation left the soil depleted beyond the capacity of re-establishment of trees. We suggest that pre-historical deforestation has occurred also in subarctic ecosystems and that ecosystem boundaries were especially vulnerable to this process. This study improves our understanding of mechanisms behind human-induced ecosystem transformations and tree-line changes, and of the concept of wilderness in the Scandinavian mountain range.