Between 2010 and 2015, Metsähallitus carried out a field survey of cultural heritage sites in multiple-use forests owned by the Finnish government. The project was part of the National Forest Programme 2015. Nearly four million hectares of managed forests, forest land of low productivity and non-productive land were surveyed. The project was the largest field survey of cultural heritage in the history of Finland, and the first to identify and protect in the forests the cultural heritage of later periods.
The cultural heritage survey mapped the marks humans have left in the Finnish forests from the Stone Age until the 1960s. Over a period of six years, archaeologists documented more than 10,000 sites with 100,000 individual structures. As most of the areas had never before been surveyed, the project produced vast amounts of new information on the history of Finland.
Thousands of new sites from Stone Age dwellings to military history sites
With the cultural heritage survey, the number of fixed antiquities protected under the Antiquities Act in multiple-use forests nearly quadrupled from a thousand to some 4,000 in number. Hundreds of new Stone Age dwelling sites were discovered, the oldest of which were inhabited nearly 10,000 years ago. In Lapland, the oldest sites identified during the project moved back the earliest known period of inhabitation by up to a thousand years. Other documented sites included hunting pits, graves, holy sites and thousands of tar pits and charcoal pits.
The cultural heritage sites from later periods largely comprise crofts, forest rangers’ estates, log floating and logging cabins, tracks, farms, meadow barns and log floating structures dating back to the 1900s. While these have not fallen within the Antiquities Act, Metsähallitus has decided to protect them as a result of the survey. Since these wooden or stone structures are rapidly disintegrating, the survey was carried out in the nick of time. In addition to geographical location data, the project collected stories related to the sites, featuring characters from seers to bear hunters.
Exceptionally, the project also carried out systematic mapping and protection of sites of military history on government land, which were also about to be reclaimed by the forest. Some 2,000 Second World War sites were documented, comprising defensive structures, dugouts, trenches and emplacements used in the Winter War and the Continuation War. Crucially, the ‘dark heritage’, referring to the silenced history of the wars, was explored in Lapland and Kainuu regions especially.
Cultural heritage as part of silviculture
Metsähallitus planning officers and contractors now have new fieldwork guidelines that they can take to the sites. Personnel training was provided on site identification. Data and photographs on each site were saved in Metsähallitus’s information system where they are available to planning officers right from the silviculture planning stage.
The total project expenditure came to some four million euros, funded by the Forestry business. Cultural heritage surveys facilitate the sustainable use of Metsähallitus land. The cultural heritage sites will be used across a range of fields, from the development of tourism to teaching and research.
Hunting pits were used in deer and elk hunting from the Stone Age up until the 1800s. Trainee Tuuli Taivalantti documenting a pit in Suomussalmi, Kainuu. Photo: Hanna Kelola-Mäkeläinen/Metsähallitus.
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