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The Development of the Landscape

Finland was settled in pace with the retreat of the continental ice at the end of the Ice Age c. 10.000 years ago. The millennia of human settlement have transformed the environment. Houses have been built, and forest has been cleared both for field and for pasture. The changing conditions have been advantageous for the immigration of new species of plants and animals.

Forest thinning in Rapola, Valkeakoski. Photo: Olli Soininen.



Forest thinning in Rapola, Valkeakoski.
Photo: Olli Soininen

The development of the current landscape began as the ice and meltwater retreated from the ground surface.  The bare ground was initially colonized by bushes, shrubs, and grasses.  The development of the present vegetation type began c. 3000 years ago with a cooling of the climate and an increase in precipitation.

People first arrived in Finland during the Mesolithic Stone Age (c. 7200–4200 BC).  The Stone Age landscape was pristine, with only occasional signs of human activity, such as occupation sites and trap lines.  At the end of the Neolithic Stone Age (c. 4200–1500 BC) small clearances were cultivated, cattle was grazed, and permanent houses were built.

During the Bronze Age (c. 1500/1300–500 BC), cattle breeding and slash-and-burn cultivation altered the vegetation.  The landscape became more open as a result of forest clearance, and the areas of human settlement became clearly circumscribed wholes.  The dead were buried in large cairns designed to be conspicuous.

The central occupation areas saw the development of a new element of the cultural landscape as villages made up of several individual households emerged during the Iron Age (c. 500 BC–AD 1150/1300).  In the hinterland, scattered single farms still continued their existence.  Settlement location in the Iron Age was influenced by travel routes over land and water, as well as the character of the subsoil.  Agriculture required suitably light clay or silt subsoil.

Population growth and expansion during the Middle Ages increased the cultivated acreage and expanded the settled area; traffic hubs developed into settlement foci.  The position of the foci  was consolidated by the centralization of administrative and ecclesiastic activities.  Many of these occupation centres still exist.

Industrialization began in the second half of the 16th century and led to increased landscape modification, as industrial communities exploited the forests and the rivers as their sources of energy.  In addition to agricultural villages, industrial settlements localised the population.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw the emergence of large occupation centres, where industry and the services were  the main means of livelihood.  Modern man continues to modify the landscape to suit his purposes at an increasing speed.  Pristine landscapes have practically disappeared from the cities.


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