Further excavations may reveal if the stones of the previously unrecorded cairn were raised to honour the dead or to display dominance over the area.
An archaeological survey has identified a previously unrecorded Bronze Age monument in the Haaga district of the city of Turku on Finland’s southwest coast. The site could possibly date back as much as 3,500 years.
The cairn — a pile of granite stones typical of Bronze Age burials — is located at the highest point of a rocky hill area overlooking the Aura river.
Stone burial cairns were typical for western Bronze Age culture which in Finland is dated to around 1,500–500 BCE.
These cairns were usually constructed of granite boulders quarried from the cliff face below the crest of a ridge or collected from the site itself.
Thousands of these monuments from the Bronze Age and early Iron Age have been recorded in Finland, mostly in coastal areas. Only a fraction of these cairns have been excavated.
This latest find in Turku, made in late November, measures 10 metres long and seven meters wide, but only about 40 centimetres high.
Researchers say that the cairn was probably higher and more compact when constructed, but its stones have become scattered over time.
Bronze Age cairns are considered primarily as graves, but not all contain evidence of burials. Based on their locations on visible promontories, some are thought to have been built to display territorial dominance or control over certain areas.
More precise dating of the find will require excavation, but according to Turku University archaeology instructor Juha Ruohonen, the remains already help complete the picture of Bronze Age settlement in what is now the city of Turku.
Following up on tips from local residents, the same survey team that discovered the Bronze Age cairn also identified two nearby cupstones, stones incised with small cup-like markings, that are believed to have been ritual sites during the Iron Age.
Scientists Investigate Fibers in 6,000-Year-Old Finnish Burial
The exceptional excavation of a Stone Age burial site was carried out in Majoonsuo, situated in the municipality of Outokumpu in Eastern Finland. The excavation produced microscopically small fragments of bird feathers, canine and small mammalian hairs, and plant fibres.
The findings gained through soil analysis are unique, as organic matter is poorly preserved in Finland’s acidic soil. The study, led by Archaeologist Tuija Kirkinen, was aimed at investigating how these highly degraded plant- and animal-based materials could be traced through soil analysis.
During the Stone Age in Finland, the deceased were interred mainly in pits in the ground. Little of the organic matter from human-made objects has been preserved in Stone Age graves in Finland, but it is known, on the basis of burial sites in the surrounding regions, that objects made of bones, teeth and horns as well as furs and feathers were placed in the graves.
Teeth and arrowheads were found in the red-ochre grave
The Trial Excavation Team of the Finnish Heritage Agency examined the site in 2018, as it was considered to be at risk of destruction. The burial place was located under a gravelly sand road in a forest, with the top of the grave partially exposed.
The site was originally given away by the intense colour of its red ochre. Red ochre, or iron-rich clay soil, has been used not only in burials but also in rock art around the world.
In the archaeological dig at the burial site, only a few teeth were found of the deceased, on the basis of which they are known to have been a child between 3 and 10 years of age. In addition, two transverse arrowheads made of quartz and two other possible quartz objects were found in the grave. Based on the shape of the arrowheads and shore-level dating, the burial can be estimated to have taken place in the Mesolithic period of the Stone Age, roughly 6,000 years before the Common Era.
What made the excavation exceptionally was the near-complete preservation of the soil originating in the grave. A total of 65 soil sample bags weighing between 0.6 and 3.4 kilograms were collected, also comparison samples were taken from outside the grave.
The soil was analyzed in the archaeology laboratory of the University of Helsinki. Organic matter was separated from the samples using water. This way, the exposed fibres and hairs were identified with the help of transmitted-light and electron microscopy.
Oldest feather fragments found in Finland
From the soil samples, a total of 24 microscopic (0.2–1.4 mm) fragments of bird feathers were identified, most of which originated in down. Seven feather fragments were identified as coming from the down of a waterfowl (Anseriformes). These are the oldest feather fragments ever found in Finland.
Although the origin of the down is impossible to state with certainty, it may come from clothing made of waterfowl skins, such as a parka or an anorak. It is also possible that the child was laid on a down bed.
In addition to the waterfowl down, one falcon (Falconidae) feather fragment was identified. It may have originally been part of the fletching of the arrows attached to the arrowheads, or, for example, from feathers used to decorate the garment.
Dog or wolf hairs?
Besides the feathers, 24 fragments of mammalian hair were identified, ranging from 0.5 to 9.5 mm in length. Most of the hairs were badly degraded, making identification no longer possible.
The finest discoveries were the three hairs of a canine, possibly a predator, found at the bottom of the grave. The hairs may also originate, for example, in footwear made of wolf or dog skin. It is also possible a dog was laid at the child’s feet.
“Dogs buried with the deceased have been found in, for example, Skateholm, a famous burial site in southern Sweden dating back some 7,000 years,” says Professor Kristiina Mannermaa, University of Helsinki.
“The discovery in Majoonsuo is sensational, even though there is nothing but hairs left of the animal or animals – not even teeth. We don’t even know whether it’s a dog or a wolf,” she says, adding: “The method used, demonstrates that traces of fur and feathers can be found even in graves several thousands of years old, including in Finland.”
“This all gives us a very valuable insight about burial habits in the Stone Age, indicating how people had prepared the child for the journey after death”, says Kirkinen.
The soil is full of information
Also found were three fragments of plant fibres, which are preserved particularly poorly in the acidic Finnish soil. The fibres were what are known as bast fibres, meaning that they come from, for example, willows or nettles. At the time, the object they were part of may have been a net used for fishing, a cord used to attach clothes, or a bundle of strings. For the time being, only one other bast fibre discovery dating back to the Mesolithic Stone Age is known in Finland: the famed Antrea Net on display in the National Museum of Finland, laced with willow bast fibres.
A fibre separation technique was developed in the study, and is already being applied in subsequent studies. The project has demonstrated the great information value of soil extracted from archaeological sites.
Rare silver coins minted by Viking king Harald Bluetooth were found in Finland
In May of 2022, Finnish metal detectorists discovered a silver cache from the Viking Age in a field in Mynämäki, a municipality of Finland located in the Southwest Finland region.
The follow-up excavations carried out by the Finnish Heritage Agency uncovered silver coins and pieces of silver jewellery.
The hoard included 12 coins minted by Viking king Harald Bluetooth. They are considered very rare, as only a couple of such coins have previously been found in Finland.
Furthermore, researchers were able to make a noteworthy discovery – the objects were brought to Mynämäki from Poland.
METAL DETECTORIST DISCOVERS TREASURE, IMMEDIATELY CALLS NATIONAL MUSEUM OFFICE
The batch of silver objects was found during a metal-detecting trip by enthusiasts of the Vakka-Suomen Metallinetsijät association.
“My hands were shaking… This was my most spectacular find so far and the first intact cache I’ve found,” metal detectorist Oskari Heikkilä said.
After stumbling upon the find, Heikkilä stopped digging, left the rest of the objects in their place, and reported his findings to the National Heritage Agency.
The following week, archaeologists visited the site to carry out trial excavations. A small excavation area was processed at the location of the find, and the rest of the silver cache was carefully lifted from the ground.
The investigations by the National Heritage Agency determined that the objects were densely concentrated, and they may have originally been left in, for example, a leather bag.
Small pieces of Iron Age pottery vessels were also found in the dark soil layer of the excavation area, which suggests that the site may have been inhabited. Mynämäki is known for many Iron Age sites and finds.
Now, the field area where the cache was found has been registered as a protected archaeological site, and metal detecting and digging will not be allowed there without the permission of the National Heritage Agency.
No further studies are currently planned.
SILVER COINS MINTED BY HARALD BLUETOOTH
Jani Oravisjärvi, the curator of the Finnish National Museum who investigated the coins, described the find as “important and interesting.”
“I got the initial information about the discovery directly from Oskari in the field, who sent me pictures of the discovery. My eyes almost immediately fell on Harald Bluetooth’s money, and I noticed four (of his) coins in the photographs.
“I knew we were now on the verge of an important and interesting discovery. It was a great privilege to be the first to get all the discovered coins and objects on my desk,” Oravisjärvi said, according to the Agency.
As many as 12 silver coins minted by the Viking king Harald Bluetooth (911–986 CE) were eventually identified, which makes the find exceptional.
In the past, only one or two similar coins have been found in Finland. In total, about one hundred silver coins were recovered from the place where the cache was found.
The find contains money from a range of around 250 years. The majority of the coins date to the last decades of the 9th century, but none of the coins in the cache date to the 11th century with certainty.
The origin of money is very diverse. Along with Iraq and Central Asia, the stash includes money from England, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, and Strassburg, France.
“At that time, hundreds of different mints were operating in Europe. In addition, dozens of mints operated in the Caliphate and Central Asia.
“Furthermore, at that time, money circulated completely freely, so the place where the money was minted was not as important as it is today. The most important thing was the material of the money, i.e., silver,” Oravisjärvi explained.
Based on the composition, it is very likely that the silver treasure originated in Pomerania, the area of present-day Poland. One of the fragments of the silverware is identical to the plate buckles previously found in Pomerania.
“The origin of the money can almost always be identified. The problem is that the money is often from dozens of different places, making it difficult to tell where the cache originally came from. However, in the case of this discovery, we can do that”, Oravisjärvi said.
The discovery will now become part of the Archaeological Collections of the National Heritage Agency.
Possible shaman’s snake stick from 4,400 years ago discovered in a Finnish lake
Archaeologists in Finland have uncovered an intricately carved wooden staff that may have been used by Stone Age shamans for rituals. More than half a metre long, the perfectly preserved life-sized wooden stick is a carving of a snake, shaped as if it is slithering away.
It was found at Järvensuo 1, a wetland site in Finland’s southwest that was occupied between 4000 BC and 2000 BC, and is ‘unlike any other wooden artefact found in Northern Europe’ during this period.
The archaeologists say the object is 4,400-years-old, meaning it dates back to the Neolithic period – the final division of the Stone Age.
‘This delicately carved natural-sized snake figurine is a magnificent, thought-provoking glimpse from far back in time,’ said study author Dr Satu Koivisto at the University of Turku.
‘I have seen many extraordinary things in my work as a wetland archaeologist, but the discovery of this figurine made me utterly speechless and gave me the shivers.’
Contemporary rock art shows snake-shaped objects being held by human-like figures, which is why the experts think the carving was a Stone Age shaman’s staff for rituals.
‘There seems to be a certain connection between snakes and people,’ said co-author Dr Antti Lahelma from the University of Helsinki.
‘This brings to mind northern shamanism of the historical period, where snakes had a special role as spirit-helper animals of the shaman.
‘Even though the time gap is immense, the possibility of some kind of continuity is tantalising – do we have a Stone Age shaman’s staff?’
Järvensuo 1 was discovered by accident by ditch diggers during the 1950s but had not been fully excavated. As such, archaeologists have been working to explore the site since 2019.
The prehistoric lakeshore has wetland conditions conducive to preserving wooden items. Previous excavation work at the site unearthed a wooden scoop with a handle like a bear’s head.
Several other wooden artefacts have been found by the new investigations, including wooden utensils, structural remains and pieces of fishing equipment.
According to archaeologists, this indicates Järvensuo 1 was the site of not just bizarre rituals involving the snake figurine, but practical activities as well-meaning it offers a snapshot of all aspects of ancient life.
‘Well-preserved finds from wetlands help our understanding of ancient peoples and the landscape where they performed both mundane and sacred activities,’ said Dr Koivisto.
Sadly, Järvensuo 1 and the historical treasures within are under threat from drainage and other changes to the local environment, exacerbated by climate change.
‘The signs of destruction caused by extensive drainage are already clearly evident at the site and its organic treasures are no longer safe,’ said Dr Koivisto.
Prehistoric Teeth Pendants Worn in Ancient Dance 8,000 Years Ago Incite Body Movements
“Ornaments composed of elk teeth suspended from or sown onto clothing emit a loud rattling noise when moving,” says auditory archaeologist and Academy of Finland Research Fellow Riitta Rainio from the University of Helsinki.
“Wearing such rattlers while dancing makes it easier to immerse yourself in the soundscape, eventually letting the sound and rhythm take control of your movements. It is as if the dancer is led in the dance by someone.”
Rainio is well versed in the topic, as she danced, for research purposes, for six consecutive hours, wearing elk tooth ornaments produced according to the Stone Age model.
Rainio and artist Juha Valkeapää held a performance to find out what kind of wear marks are formed in the teeth when they bang against each other and move in all directions.
The sound of a tooth rattler can be clear and bright or loud and pounding, depending on the number and quality of the teeth, as well as the intensity of movement.
Microanalysis demonstrates that tooth wear marks are the result of dancing.
The teeth worn out by dancing were analyzed for any microscopic marks before and after the dancing. These marks were then compared to the findings made in the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov graves by Evgeny Girya, an archaeologist specialized in micro-marks at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Girya documented and analyzed the wear marks in the elk teeth found in four graves chosen for the experiment. Comparing the chips, hollows, cuts and smoothened surfaces of the teeth, he observed a clear resemblance between teeth worn out by dancing and the Stone Age teeth.
However, the marks in the Stone Age teeth were deeper and more extensive. According to Girya, the results show that the marks are the result of similar activity.
“As the Stone Age teeth were worn for years or even decades, it’s no surprise that their marks are so distinctive,” Girya says.
Associate Professor of Archaeology Kristiina Mannermaa from the University of Helsinki is excited by the research findings.
“Elk tooth rattlers are fascinating since they transport modern people to a soundscape that is thousands of years old and to its emotional rhythms that guide the body.
You can close your eyes, listen to the sound of the rattlers and drift on the soundwaves to a lakeside campfire in the world of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.”
A total of 177 graves of women, men and children have been found in the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov burial site, of which more than half contain several elk tooth ornaments, some of them composed of over 300 individual teeth.
A 5,000-year-old barley grain discovered in Finland changes the understanding of livelihoods
Representatives of the Stone Age Pitted Ware Culture was known as hard-core sealers or even Baltic Sea Inuit. based on prior research.
Now, researchers have discovered barley and wheat grains in areas previously inhabited by this culture, leading to the conclusion that the Pitted Ware Culture adopted agriculture on a small scale.
A study carried out in cooperation with parties representing the discipline of archaeology and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Helsinki, as well as Swedish operators in the field of archaeology (The Archaeologists, a governmental consultant agency, and Arkeologikonsult, a business), found grains of barley and wheat in Pitted Ware settlements on Finland’s Aland Islands and in the region of modern Stockholm.
The age of the grains was ascertained using radiocarbon dating. Based on the results, the grains originated in the period of the Pitted Ware culture, thus being approximately 4,300-5,300 years old. In addition to the cereal grains, the plant remnants found in the sites included hazelnut shells, apple seeds, tuberous roots of lesser celandine and rose hips.
The study suggests that small-scale farming was adopted by the Pitted Ware Culture by learning the trade from farmers of the Funnel Beaker Culture, the latter having expanded from continental Europe to Scandinavia. Other archaeological artifacts are also evidence of close contact between these two cultures.
“The grains found on Aland are proof that the Pitted Ware Culture introduced cultivation to places where it had not yet been practiced,” says Santeri Vanhanen, a doctoral student of archaeology at the University of Helsinki.
Cereal perhaps used to brew beer?
The 5,000-year-old barley grain found on Aland is the oldest grain of cereal ever found in Finland.
The researchers also found a handful of barley and wheat grains a few hundred years younger, representing either common wheat or club wheat.“We also dated one barley grain found in Raseborg, southern Finland.
This grain and the other earliest grains found in mainland Finland date back some 3,500 years, some 1,500 years behind Aland according to current knowledge,” Vanhanen explains.
In prior studies, it has been extremely difficult to demonstrate that the hunter-gatherer population would have adopted farming during recorded history, let alone in the Stone Age. Research on ancient DNA has in recent years proven that the spread of agriculture in Europe was almost exclusively down to migrants.
“We find it possible that this population, which was primarily specialized in marine hunting, continued to grow plants as the practice provided the community with social significance.”From time to time, an abundance of pig bones is found at Pitted Ware sites, even though pigs were not an important part of their daily nourishment.
For instance, the bones of more than 30 pigs were found in a grave located on the island of Gotland.“Members of the Pitted Ware culture may have held ritual feasts where pigs and cereal products were consumed. It’s not inconceivable that grains might even have been used to brew beer, but the evidence is yet to be found,” Vanhanen continues.
Grain-age determined through radiocarbon dating
The research relies primarily on archaeobotanical methodology, which helps examine plant remains preserved in archaeological sites.
In this study, soil samples were collected from the sites, from which plant remains were extracted using a flotation method. The plant remains are charred; in other words, the grains and seeds have turned into carbon after having come to contact with fire.
Plant remains can be identified by examining them through a microscope and comparing them to modern plant parts. The age of individual grains can be determined with radiocarbon dating, based on the fractionation of the radioactive carbon-14 isotope. This way, the age of a grain aged several millennia can be determined with a precision of a few centuries.