Suomen Luonto
English summaries 3/2000

Signs of Neanderthal man unearthed in Finland
by Juha Valste and Antti Halkka

Pages 4-11

For a long time, the oldest known signs of people in Finland post-dated the latest Ice Age, making them less than 10,000 years old. Now, at Susiluola, in Kristiinankaupunki, western Finland, stone implements and signs of fire have been discovered which are around 120,000 years old. These indicate that people have existed here during the Eem interglacial warmer period between two ice ages. All the human forms as old as these in Central and southern Europe have been Neanderthals.

Tales have long been told about Susiluola (it’s name - for some obscure reason - means "wolf cave" in Finnish). The old folk were convinced that Susiluola had been inhabited by mankind sometime during the Stone Age. Recently, a curious local inhabitant was given permission to excavate the cave. The National Board of Antiquities had no money to fund this operation, no available staff, and in fact little interest in the project.

Digging deeply into the cave floor deposits, amateur geologists soon unearthed blackened stones and roughly made stone implements. They immediately abandoned their project, gracefully making way for a thorough professional scientific examination of the cave strata. Thus far, the site has yielded approximately 30 stone implements and over a hundred fragments produced during their shaping. There are no rock types in the area from which it would be an easy job to manufacture weapons and tools. Some of the artefacts have been carved from red shale.

There are many layers in the deposits on the cave floor, some of which constitute original floor surfaces, whereas others have been built up from stones and earth transported there by either water or ice. Pollen and spores from trees and other kinds of plants have been found in the strata associated with human occupation. These sub-fossils tell us that the climate 120,000 years ago was rather warm, in other words similar to what it is today.

Susiluola represents the first Neanderthal dwelling site that has even been found in Fennoscandia. Not unnaturally, it has caused a sensation among anthropologists and geologists in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Black grouse display grounds are falling silent
By Jouko Kuosmanen

Pages 20-25

Twenty years ago there would be 200 black grouse living near the author’s home, even in a bad winter. These were divided into five flocks. Now there are only 25-30 black grouse, congregating in two flocks, left. Where has the rest of the population disappeared to, and why?

In short, it can be said that all of Finland’s game bird populations have dwindled. Over the last 35 years, 60 % of our capercaillies, 50 % of our willow grouse, 40 % of our black grouse and even one-third of our hazel hens, have been lost. Estimating numbers is hampered by the marked fluctuations in the abundance of such birds from one year to the next. Like mammalogists with their voles, Finnish ornithologists refer to ‘good years’ and ‘bad years’. In a ‘good year’ there may be as many as five times the number of game bird individuals as in a ‘bad year’. Despite this distortion, the decline in numbers is an obvious and proven fact.

The main reason for these losses are the changes suffered by the forests. Preparatory and regeneration cutting are mechanised operations, for regeneration purposes the area is clear-cut, and the size of these shaven areas is rather large. There are hardly any old-growth forests at all left. Cattle are not grazed in the forests during summer and people do not use hay cut from forest meadows and fields as animal fodder. Birch groves have been felled, to be restocked with spruce. The final straw that effectively "broke the birds’ back" has been efficient hunting practices. Hunters, virtually without exception, are extremely partial to game birds and are more than happy to bag them.

Sixty-five days in the wilderness
by Jouni Laaksonen

Pages 38-41

Together with his friend Markus Rask, Jouni Laaksonen had for years dreamed of wandering through the Lappish wildernesses. Their dream became a reality at the end of the last Millennium, when they spent 65 days alone in the wilds, hiking and skiing a total of 900 kilometres in northern Finland. On their journey they crossed a road 5 times and purchased food in two villages. Daily, the men skied for 6-8 hours. For once, at the beginning of November it was still raining in Lapland, with little snow on the ground. At the start of their journey the would-be skiers were obliged to carry both their skis and their other paraphernalia. After a few days a blizzard put in an appearance and the relieved pair were able to put down their skis and use them for the purpose for which they were intended.

In variable conditions, they roved through all the extensive wilderness areas of the northern part of Lapland. The northern winter twilight descended, after which, here hundreds of kilometres above the Arctic Circle, the sun did not rise at all. While skiing, the explorers were able to admire spectacular examples of the northern lights, or aurora borealis. As the year, century, and millennium changed, their tent stood at the top of Halti fell, Finland’s highest point.

Laaksonen and Rask seldom encountered other people in the lonely wilds. When they did, these would comprise border guards, reindeer herdsmen, or fellow hikers and skiers. In winter the wilds are empty for one who keeps off the beaten track and away from the most heavily used wilderness cabins. For the intrepid travellers, life’s essentials came to the fore. Anything unnecessary or artificial quickly lost its significance.

Timber construction high rise buildings appear in Finland
By Heikki Kirstinä

Pages 58-59

Finland is considered a land of forests and wood. Yet apartment buildings here have regularly been constructed from concrete and brick, and over the last forty years of concrete alone. Today wood is finally starting to compete with concrete as a building material.

For a long time, timber construction was thwarted by an old-fashioned Finnish law on fire prevention and safety in buildings. Centuries ago, city fires scared decision-makers into completely prohibiting the use of wood in apartment buildings. Suddenly, thanks to new technology, it is possible to erect such buildings which, at the same time, are fire safe.

A timber construction high rise building is in many ways more economical than its concrete alternative. The raw materials grow in the Finnish forests, no heavy foundations have to be laid, and large cranes are not necessary for the erection. Heavy vehicles for haulage purposes are also dispensed with. Wood is a lovely, natural and breathing building material.