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Finland's antiquities

Antiquities and ancient relics are the traces and remains of past generations that have been preserved in the earth or under water. They tell about life, habitation, communications, trades and occupations, religion and the burial of the dead in the past. Some relics, such as cairns, sacrificial stones, rock paintings and hillforts are still visible in the landscape, while other relics are completely beneath the surface of the ground such as dwelling sites and former places of work and graves. The most common underwater objects are shipwrecks.

Prehistoric antiquities

The period before literacy is known as the prehistoric era. Only one site predating the Last Ice Age has been found in Finland Susiluola (Wolf Cave) at Kristiinankaupunki. Other antiquities date from the post-glacial period, the oldest ones being from ca. 9000 years ago. The prehistoric era ended in Western Finland around AD 1150 and in the eastern and northern parts of the country ca. AD 1300. Antiquities and finds are an important source on the earliest history of Finland.

Prehistoric relics include:
  • Dwelling sites 
  • Burial sites such as cairns, cremation cemeteries, so-called Lapp cairns and inhumation cemeteries
  • Stone structures such as rectangular and oval stone constructions, so-called giant's churches, and stone tables or platforms.
  • Ceremonial sites such as sacrificial stones, sharpening stones for swords, Lapp or Sámi sacrificial sites and sites for assizes and passing judgment.
  • Fortifications such as prehistoric hillforts.
  • Sources of supply for raw materials such as quarries
  • Cairn structures such as field-clearing cairns
  • Art and monuments, e.g. rock painting sites
  • Places of work such as hunting pits and ancient fields
  • Places of manufacture such as iron foundries

Some 16,000 prehistoric sites and antiquities are known from Finland. They are situated in all parts of the country: Stone Age (9000-1500 BC) dwelling sites have been found in all regions of Finland. The best-known Bronze Age (1500-500 BC) relics are burial cairns, which are mainly situated near the coast, but dwelling sites and cairns have also been found in the inland areas. Iron Age (500 BC to 1100/1300 AD) relics have been found in southwestern Finland, Ostrobothnia, Häme and Savo.
Sacrificial stone from Riihipelto in Sauvo.
According to tradition, the cups in sacrificial stones were filled with items such as grain in hope of good crop. Photograph by Eeva Raike, National Board of Antiquities

Relics from historically documented times

Relics of the historical era date from medieval or more recent times. The oldest historical relics are from the 13th century and the most recent ones from as late as the 20th century. Written documents and maps have also survived from historically documented times; they provide help for the identification, search and study of antiquities.

The spectrum of historical relics is wide and they can be divided into following groups:
  • The cultural or occupation layers of old towns (founded before the 18th century)
  • The relics of settlement history in the countryside such as abandoned village sites, and the sites of manor houses
  • Relics of trading history such as the sites of mills, tar-burning pits and iron smelting furnaces
  • Relics of industrial history such as blast furnaces, mines, lime kilns etc.
  • Relics related overland and waterborne traffic and shipping such as old road foundations, milestones, canals and landmarks
  • Church-related relics such as the sites of churches and deserted graveyards
  • Castles, fortresses and other relics of military history such as
  • Other relics from the historic era such as stone labyrinths ("jatulintarha"), stone ovens, also known as "Russian ovens", stone and rock engravings, sites mentioned in stories and legends etc.
Walls of the Svartholma fortress in Loviisa. Photo: Marianna Niukkanen
Part of ruined wall at the18th century Svartholma fortress in Loviisa. Photograph by Marianna Niukkanen, National Board of Antiquities

Underwater cultural heritage

Underwater traces of past human activity are called underwater cultural heritage. Historical wrecks of ships and other vessels, parts of them and their cargo make up the larger part of the underwater cultural heritage. Together with their surroundings underwater sites form a maritime cultural landscape. Cultural heritage and environmental conservation often go hand in hand and contribute to one another. According to the Antiquities Act, the wrecks of ships and other vessels discovered in the sea or in inland waters, which can be considered to have sunk over one hundred years ago, or parts thereof, are officially protected.

Sites of the underwater cultural heritage can be roughly divided into the following types:
  • Wrecks of ships, boats, and dug-out canoes
  • Underwater structures such as harbours and defence works, and fishery structures
  • Harbour sites
  • Places of shipwreck (moveable items or parts of a cargo and/or the remains of a ship)
  • Places of naval battles (wrecks of military vessels and related items)
  • Dwelling sites and submerged graveyards
  • Places of sacrifice
  • Individual finds
The wreck of the Vrouw Maria. Drawing by Tiina Miettinen.
The Vrouw Maria was shipwrecked in the outer archipelago of Nauvo in 1771. Drawing by Tiina Miettinen, National Board of Antiquities


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Last updated 3.2.2017
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