Archaeologists are exploring a series of habitation layers dating back as far as 5000 BC in Rovaniemi, Finalnd, in the Arctic Circle, at a site along the Kemi River where city officials want to build recreational facilities.
Initial exploratory excavations were carried out at the 4.5 hectare site, known as Valionranta, by the Provincial Museum of Lapland in the early 2000s and a further test survey dig by the National Board of Antiquities took place in 2012. Both uncovered evidence of Stone Age inhabitants.
This summer, more detailed excavations have shown that the site was occupied off and on for milllennia, beginning as long as 7000 years ago.
“The test excavations found remains from stone age habitation right from the surface, down to a depth of around one metre. At a depth of half to one metre, there is a sand layer from flooding, covering stone age fire pits and artifacts,” explains Petro Pesonen, an archaeologist with the National Board of Antiquities.
Likely from the east
The earliest of the fire pits date back 7000 years, to a pre-ceramic period when the culture living there did not yet have pottery. According to Petro Pesonen, these people are likely to have migrated north into the area of present-day Rovaniemi from around Lake Onega in the north-western part of Russia.
Much of what was probably left behind by these early inhabitants has been lost.
“Only a fraction of what was used here has been preserved. What we have are mainly stone blades, burnt bone, and pottery from later periods. Organic materials do not last long in the acidic conditions of Finnish soils,” Pesonen points out. “The finds are stone axes, projectile points, scrapers and other hard blades.”
Ancient to modern
“In prehistoric times, when inhabited, this was the shore of an ancient lake. Soil samples contain remains of lake flora, such as yellow water-lilies, and fish remains that are an indication of that same period. At a later date it was a prime location on the river,” Pesonen continues.
Historic layers at the site contain remains from the battles to drive German troops from Lapland in 1944-1945, and a commercial dairy that operated nearby.
Following this summer’s excavations and an analysis of the finds, the National Board of Antiquities will file a report on the cultural importance of the site.
At present the area is classified as a protected site. The City of Rovaniemi wants it to be re-zoned once the study is completed and cleared for construction, possibly of a hotel-spa complex.