Suomen Luonto
English summaries 2/2002

Before the dawn of history
By Antti Halkka
Pages 411

Prehistory has left its mark on the Finnish landscape. Rock paintings, heaps of stones, and artefacts also tell us something about the relationship between ancient peoples and nature. Finland received its first human inhabitants even as the glacial ice was retreating, the Baltic then covering most of the peninsula that is now Finland. The earliest settlements dating from ten thousand years ago have been discovered in eastern Finland at Suomussalmi, and close to Lahti. Prehistoric Finns have left their mark on the landscape. There are now 18,000 registered ancient relics, rock paintings, piles of stones, bones and tools.

Archaeologist Petri Halinen says that the people representing the one-time Finnish hunting and trapping culture preferred to set up their camps and villages on shores because these offered better conditions for survival, as well as convenience. Halinen is the editor of The Finnish Archaeological Society´s Muinaistutkija magazine and an active field researcher. Last summer he inventoried sites in the neighbourhood of Muotkajärvi and Ounasjärvi in the Enontekiö region of northwestern Lapland. Relics were discovered on almost all the flat shores of this area.

Finland boasts around 70 rock paintings, one of these being the Vitträsk rock painting at Kirkkonummi, west of Helsinki. It was painted around 5000 years ago. The paint used was red ochre, possibly mixed with blood or urine. Common subjects of this kind of picture are man and the European elk (moose), which tends to indicate some kind of hunting rites. A new explanation for the depiction of elk has come from shamanism. The elk reflects the shaman´s alter ego, says archaeologist Antti Lahelma, of Lahti City Museum, who has made a special study of shamanism and rock paintings.

Most rock paintings occur on rocky shores in the Finnish lakeland, \\\"in the most beautiful places, on carefully chosen rock faces\\\", as rock painting site researcher Pekka Kivikäs succinctly puts it. There are around three thousand heaps of stones in Finland assembled during the Bronze Age. These are usually situated high up in rocky terrain.

From the standpoint of early man´s association with nature, the most interesting finds are bones and objects depicting animals, which reveal that large animals have been hunted and trapped. Deer traps are more permanent relics of the hunting and trapping culture which are visible in the landscape today. Prehistory ended when Christianity arrived and Finland´s written history began. Following the birth of this historical period, additional enigmatic constructions appeared in the Finnish landscape in the form of rings of stones resembling a maze, and Lappish stone idols. The latter have not been very actively studied, since even today they remain steeped in tradition and religious beliefs. In this respect they can be considered to constitute our past which continues to live.

Winter paddlers in Töölönlahti bay
By Mauri Leivo
Pages 2025

Töölönlahti bay is a great favourite with Helsinki residents wanting to catch some fresh air. From a train window it is also familiar to people living elsewhere. In winter hundreds of mallards gather round the open pools in the frozen bay. Especially during periods of heavy frost, people and ducks are brought closer together. The famous 19th century bird painter Magnus von Wright used as his models birds shot in Töölönlahti bay and offered for sale in Kauppatori, the market square in Helsinki. Binoculars had still to be invented, so that getting a bird´s eye view of the birds meant shooting a few first. Töölönlahti bay, which has shrunk since those days, still attracts birds and ornithologists, above all during winter. Several thousand mallards spend this season in Helsinki and Töölönlahti forms their most important site, to which people bring large amounts of food. Veikko Bertel, from Helsinki´s City Planning Department, relates that the city takes grain to the bay and that this is then distributed among the mallards by local residents.

Widgeon, teal, goosander, tufted duck and golden-eye can frequently be seen among the mallards in the bay. Less common visitors include the little grebe, red-breasted pochard, gadwall and wood duck. Gulls also constantly hang around the bay, not always to everyoneís glee. As skilful, fast fliers they harm the mallards by quickly gobbling up most of the food intended for the ducks.

In March the ducks begin to disappear in pairs to the shores of the bay to look for suitable nesting sites. Only a small proportion of the duck population wintering in the bay are able to actually nest there, forcing most pairs to move elsewhere to breed. All in all, Töölönlahti bay literally forms a welcome breathing space for city residents suffering from urban stress.

Naked against the frost
By Seppo Vuokko
Pages 3036

Here in the cold north broadleaf, or deciduous, trees survive best since they have learned to shed their leaves for the winter. In their winter costumes, they reveal their structural differences. The ability to lose leaves evolved in regions where a wet and dry period alternated. In such places a tree only survived if it could last over the dry period. Developing along the fringes of desert habitats, this trick also came in handy for conquering regions with cold winters. When the ground is frozen, no water can be extracted from it to replace evaporation through the tree´s leaves.

Broadleaved evergreens on which the leaves remain for one or more years occur in warm, wet parts of the globe. In Finland, a past cooling of the climate and the advance of the ice age pushed the leathery leaved forests into the so-called Mediterranean climate zone. Today such forests can be most conveniently seen in Madeira and Tenerife. In Finland itself the evergreen condition is restricted to dwarf shrubs which are protected from desiccation by snow. Evergreen conifer needles are small and thick, making it easier for the trees to develop efficient mechanisms combating evaporation.

When a tree is in winter condition, its bark is dense and the scars left by shed leaves are blocked with cork and wax. At the same time, however, it is necessary to prepare for rapid growth next spring. The buds, containing the materials for leaves and flowers, are sheathed in scales, which are modified leaves. These are saturated with resin, wax or some other substance closing down evaporation. Because the substances present in shoots are nature´s best plant nutrient, the shoots must be protected by foul-tasting or toxic chemicals. Animals have to resort to biting off a bud here and another there to prevent toxic substances building up in their bodies to a dangerous level.

The plant´s attempt to reach the light influences the form of its trunk and branches. Secondly, the colour and composition of the bark are good characteristics for recognising trees in their winter garb.

Just a bus ride out of town
By Jyri Mikkola
Pages 3841

Located right next to busy Helsinki, the Nuuksio (Noux) upland lakeland constitutes a unique mixture of wild terrain available to hundreds of thousands of metropolitan area Finns for outdoor recreation. It also contains the recently enlarged Nuuksio National Park. Long ago Nuuksio was a sea bed. Since those times, the sea has receded to a point some twenty kilometres further south and 123 metres lower in terms of altitude. It is believed that the rather unusual name of Nuuksio (in Swedish Noux, which is also sometimes used in English) stems from \\\"njucka\\\", the Saami (Lapp) name for the swan.

Nuuksio´s upland lakeland is located in Espoo, Vihti and Kirkkonummi and is distinguished from its surroundings by a predominance of upthrust bedrock and small lakes. It encloses more than 160 lakes and pools. In addition, there are almost a dozen small streams and brooks swelling to the size of a small river during the spring floods. The stream valleys contain rich species assemblages, ranging from beetles and molluscs to bracket fungi and mosses, some of which are not found at all outside Nuuksio.

Nuuksio´s forests have been felled since the 18th century, so that it cannot be called a wilderness in the classic sense. Only a fraction of the forests are in a natural state. The upland lakeland has also acquired a go-cart race track, two downhill ski centres, several hotels, and the giant Ämmässuo landfill. Each year the national park and its surrounding area are visited by some 800,000 people. These visitors hike, camp, or relax in caravans. The rather large number of visitors can be seen and heard; fortunately there are few cases of unacceptable disturbance. The main problem is thus the physical wear and tear on the environment. Gravelled hiking trails and duckboards have been laid in the national park but these remain inadequate as facilities for visitors. A Nuuksio National Park pamphlet published by Metsähallitus - the Forest and Park Service is nowadays also available in English from the visitor centre.

Teksti: Leigh Plester