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The Bronze Age cairn cemetery of Sammallahdenmäki in Lappi was the first Finnish archaeological site to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in December 1999. Sammallahdenmäki was chosen to the list as the finest Western Bronze Age site in Finland and Scandinavia.
The Sammallahdenmäki site is located in Lower Satakunta in the village of Kivikylä, Lappi parish. The site consists of a cluster of 33 stone cairns spread out over an area nearly one kilometre in length. West of the cairn area lies Lake Saarnijärvi. Now partly overgrown, the lake was an inlet of the Baltic Sea during the Bronze Age (1500–500 BC). The burial cairns of Sammallahdenmäki bear witness to the region’s rich Bronze Age culture and long history of settlement. The best-known individual monument in the cluster is the Kirkonlaattia (“Church Floor”), a nearly level, quadrangular stone structure with horizontal dimensions of some 16 x 19 metres and a height of 50 centimetres. Another unique grave structure at Sammallahdenmäki is the Huilun pitkä raunio (“the long cairn of Huilu”), a long, wall-like burial cairn surrounded by a stone wall. Other, less unique burial structures in the area include low cairns with concentric stone circles and the familiar type of round cairns.
The first archaeological investigations at Sammallahdenmäki were carried out by Volter Högman in 1891. Högman excavated four of the cairns: the Kirkonlaattia, the Huilun pitkä raunio, and two smaller graves. No artefacts were discovered, but the Kirkonlaattia produced a quantity of charcoal as well as a 3.5 metre long wall made of stone flags, thought to be an incomplete cist or the remains of one. The Huilun pitkä raunio was found to be a grave built in several phases, as shown by the concentric circles patterns discovered within the structure. The two other cairns were found to contain burnt bone.
A typical feature of the Sammallahdenmäki cairns are the stone cists, boxlike structures formed by stone flags standing on edge and forming end and side walls or only one or the other. The cist may have originally contained a body in a wooden coffin, or the dead person may have been wrapped in animal skins. On the other hand, the cist may also have served as a receptacle for the ashes of a cremation burial. Remains of cists are still visible in some of the unexcavated cairns as well as in one cairn reconstructed after Högman’s investigations.
Sammallahdenmäki is an exceptionally valuable example of Finland’s Bronze Age culture because it presents the ancient monuments in a well-preserved natural milieu. The area contains nearly all known types of Bronze Age cairns known from Finland and the surroundings still have an air of the original archipelago landscape with its lichen-covered cliffs and gnarled, weather-beaten pines.
The Sammallahdenmäki cairn area is surrounded by a protection zone established by the provincial government in 1995. Forestry operations are allowed within the protection zone. As a World Heritage site Sammallahdenmäki is an important tourist attraction. This sets certain requirements on management. The National Board of Antiquities has prepared a management and use plan for the whole extensive area in cooperation with the local land owners and representatives of the township and environmental authorities.
The overall objective of the plan is to keep the Sammallahti cairns free of covering vegetation maintain an unimpeded view from cairn to cairn and, if possible, also to Lake Saarnijärvi. The underbrush is sparse on Sammallahdenmäki Hill, but over the years trees, particularly pines, have grown on the largest cairns. Tree roots destroy the structure of the cairns and the litter formed by the fallen needles allows other plants to take root. For this reason, trees growing on or near the cairns have been felled and new saplings are removed annually.
Most of the Sammallahdenmäki Bronze Age monument and its protection zone is covered by forest. A patch-specific forest management plan drafted for the area takes into account the requirements of site protection. The forest is treated partly as parkland and urban forest, partly as commercial forest. The measures proposed in the forest management plan form a part of the general maintenance of the archaeological monument area. When necessary, the measures may be carried out in the order of urgency that best suits the landowner. Forested areas lying within the protection zones of archaeological monuments are managed with care so that they can also serve as examples of Finnish forestry expertise. Thinning is done by hand as needed in vulnerable areas, but machines can be used during the winter when frost hardens the ground surface. The necessary driving lanes are planned beforehand utilising existing forest tracks to keep visible environmental damage to a minimum. Before thinning, the lower growth is cleared where necessary to avoid scarring the landscape. Forest regeneration measures specifically stress landscape considerations. Large-area regeneration felling is avoided but small clear-cut plots that follow the terrain are possible. Most regeneration, however, is through shelterwood felling. In connection with regeneration, light ground surface preparation may be carried out to insure that the seedlings take hold. The forest management plan covers a period of five years. Forestry operations are generally the responsibility of the landowner and the local forestry society.
How to get there:
Direction signs guide the visitor to Sammallahdenmäki from Highway 12 (Rauma–Huittinen). At the township of Lappi, the route turns north along Road 2070. After ca. 3.5 km the route turns left along a side road marked by a direction sign. The route ends at an information sign.