Monday, 18 June 2012

Rolling Stones, Finnish Style

Stonehenge, the statues on Easter island, the Mayan pyramids... These monuments all have two things in common: they involve really big stones and elicit awe of the "wow, how did they do that?" kind.

Finland has its very own stone-based monuments to human achievement, perseverance and ingenuity. Yet they are largely unknown or at least unsung.

These monuments can be found in the Finnish countryside.

Dotted around virtually every field in Finland are very large rocks rising from the ground. They are not there because Finnish farmers are keen patrons of the Arts, with a particular penchant for Monumental Art. These stones were simply left there by nature when the ice melted at the end of the ice-age.

Stone in Finnish field
Actually, those big stones are not the monuments to human endeavour I am referring to. The really extraordinary thing is that there are so few of these stones in the fields. If one looks at the edges of the fields or indeed in the nearby forests, there are stones EVERYWHERE. Little stones, medium stones, big stones and ENORMOUS stones.

Stones in Finnish forest
In order to create some agricultural land to grow food during the short and unpredictable Finnish summers, the original farmers had to clear the land not only of trees but also of all those stones. This must have been a monumental task in the days before mechanical equipment and dynamite. And that's the stone work we should be in awe of.

In a modest way, I got some small indication of the effort involved when I had to dig a hole roughly 2m long x 1m wide x 60cm deep (6 1/2 ft x 3 ft x 2 ft) in the garden of a Finnish summer house (mökki). [Not to get rid of a body I hasten to add: if you really have to know, it was hole in which to bury the content of the mökki's outhouse. Oh the romance of the Finnish countryside!]

Digging that hole took me HOURS of toil because there were stones absolutely everywhere. And these were fairly small stones, the biggest being about the size of a basketball. I can't begin to imagine how hard it must have been for the early Finnish farmers to clear their fields.

Despite the amazing efforts of the Finnish farmers though, a few stones do remain in the fields. I always assumed that these were simply too big to shift, but I discovered that these stones are actually called Napakivi (pole/navel stone) or tonttukivi (elf stone), and are believed to been put there or left there as some sort of fertility symbols. I am not sure I buy that theory: it sounds to me like post-rationalisation. I reckon the reality was more like: "Hei, Jukka-Pekka, I don't think we can move this one, perkele! Let's just leave it there and call it something special so no one questions our sisu."

This, however, should not detract from the amazing achievements of those unsung early Finnish farmers in transforming the inhospitable land they found when they first arrived (see "How the Finns came to Finland") into something that produces, amongst others, the best strawberries I have ever eaten anywhere in the world.

On that basis, I believe the Finns have earned their place along the Mayans, the Stonehengers and the Easter Islanders in the pantheon of master stone shifters.


  1. '"Hei, Jukka-Pekka, I don't think we can move this one, perkele! Let's just leave it there and call it something special so no one questions our sisu."'

    Hilarious. :)

    And I agree; Finnish strawberries are unbelievably good. There's nothing like heading to the tori to buy some in the summer.

    1. That was my favourite part of this post too :)
      great piece, Olli!

  2. Well, the ice age washed away the top soil which could also help to explain the higher incidence of stones. It also left some hiidenkirnus, Salpausselät, etc.

    1. Not just a thin layer of soil. As a consequence, when agriculture began, the stones had to be removed from the to-be farmlands. They were dug out and placed in heaps nearby, away from the farmland. Before the explosives were available, the bigger boulders were just left where they were. In more densely populated areas, stone walls were constructed from these stones, because it was a practical way to arrange them. Another consequence of the ice age is the rising land. You can also easily distinguish the patterns of what used to be islands and what used to be sea- or lakebeds. Usually the islands are the rocky hills and seabeds the flat areas of the fields.

  3. Actually, the stones return every year and need to be extracted from the soil. Though the bedrock is pretty solid, chips fragment out every now and then. Due to the freezing & melting cycle, those chips slowly rise up and make their way under your garden.

    So you need to do some hard rock collecting annually to ensure a good harvest.

  4. My fave part of the post: "Not to get rid of a body". When I read it, I wanted to ask you, "Oh yeahhh?!!!!" HE HE HE HE HE HE HEHHH...