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Origin of Finland

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About 12,000 years ago Finland was almost totally buried under a continental ice sheet. As the ice sheet melted, the earth's crust began to rise. This process continues, mostly along the Gulf of Bothnia. The ice sheet melted a little later along the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Among the oldest remains of human activity in this area are tools found in water such as a fishnet, a bone ice pick, and a sleight runner, which may have belonged to seasonal fishermen of the so-called Kunda culture of Estonia (ca 7,200 BC). A dwelling place dating back to that early period has been discovered in southern Finland, near Lahti.

Between 6,500 and 4,200 BC the so-called Suomusjärvi culture existed in the southern coastal region of Finland. About 350 dwelling places have been found there. The ax appeared at the end of the period.

About 5,000 BC the climate in Finland became damp and warm causing groves of hazel, elm and oak and linden trees to grow. Today such trees are found only in southern Finland. Then the Stone Age culture in Finland reached its highest level. The cultivation of grain had not yet taken place during this transitional phase. The feature of this new culture was the production of earthenware. The different Neolithic periods are dated on the basis of ceramic forms and ornamentation.

During ca 3,300-2,800 BC, the so-called Comb-Ceramic period, the number of dwelling places increased. This culture extended from the Vistula River to the Arctic Ocean and all the way to Siberia. The western boundary ran from the River Kemi southward across the Baltic Sea to the Vistula River in East Prussia. Amber was brought to Finland from the Vistula region.

The Comb-Ceramic time has yielded the most abundant finds of the Stone Age of Finland. The name of the culture was derived from the fact that the tall pottery vessels have round bases which are decorated with a comb-like stamp. Early inhabitants were able to travel far distances on skis or sledges. The boats were small and lined with leather and capable enough to travel as far as Sweden.

The Comb-Ceramic culture was followed by the so-called Battle-Ax culture (ca 2,300-2,000 BC), also known as the Cord-Ceramic culture. The Battle-Ax culture received its name from the boat-shaped battle axes prevalent then. The people were excellent sailors and maintained active relations with Sweden, whose people practiced the same culture.

During the period from 500 BC to Christ's birth, called the pre-Roman Iron Age, bronze objects ceased to appear in archaeological finds. But iron objects were found as well as ceramic finds. New settlers arrived about the time of Christ's birth and they practiced agriculture with implements of iron. The so-called resettlement theory concerning the arrival of the Finns was advanced and became prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century. This theory included the idea that the Finns landed on the southern coast and gradually moved eastward to Lake Ladoga. The resettlement theory was thought to disprove the earlier tribal migration theory that the Finns moved into Finland over the Karelia Isthmus - meaning that the country was settled from the east to the west. The question arises as to when the inhabitants of this country acquired a racial composition approximating that of the present day, also as to when the Finnish language has been spoken here. Although a certain continuity persists from the earliest inhabitants of Finland, it is rash to claim they were Finns. Finland's population was augmented by migrants moving in at different times from different directions.

Genetic research indicates that the genes carried by the Finnish population are ¾ European and ¼ Uralian or Siberian. The differences between the inhabitants of the eastern and western parts of the country as well as between the Finnish- and Swedish-speaking inhabitants are slight. Over the centuries the Finnish nation has become highly homogeneous. In Estonia, on the southern side of the Gulf of Finland, there is a slightly higher proportion of western genes. Across the eastern border, in East Karelia, the results are similar to those obtained in Finland.

The Origin of the Finns and Their Arrival in Finland

Genetically, the population of Finland is predominantly western. But the Finnish language has eastern roots and differs from the Indo-European languages spoken by most of the peoples of Europe. Finnish belongs to the Finno-Ugric sub-family of Uralic languages in eastern Europe and western Siberia. It has no connection to the Indo-European family or with any other family of languages. Finno-Ugric tongues are spoken by about 23 million people. Included among them are the Finns, Estonians and Hungarians. The other sub-division of Uralic languages includes Samoyedic, which is spoken in northern Russia. Finnish is much less closely related to Hungarian than English is to Russian.

But Finnish and Estonian are so much alike that the Finns and Estonians can, to some extent, understand each other's speech. The Finns and Hungarians are not blood relatives, whereas the Finns and the Estonians are quite closely related. The theory is that in the remote past, somewhere, there must have lived a people who spoke the common Finno-Ugrian parent tongue, and that the present racial differences among the nations belonging to the Finno-Ugrian linguistic family came about through their intermixture with alien strains.

The primordial home of the parent race is generally situated somewhere in central Russia, around the middle course of the Volga. It was in this region that the forebears of the Finns and the Hungarians parted about 3,000 BC. After that, two more partings took place. In the first of them the Finnish-Volgan group was formed. This group split into three about 1,500 BC. The westernmost group, the early proto-Finns, settled on the southern and southeastern sides of the Gulf of Finland and became exposed to influences from Indo-European languages. The other two groups were the Balts (forebears of the Latvians and Lithuanians) and the Germans. This evolutionary stage, during which the Finns developed into a seafaring nation, is evidenced by many ancient loan words in the Finnish language, eg. Finnish = kuningas; Gothic = kuningaz, both of which mean "king."

Philologists concede that early proto-Finns may have inhabited both sides of the Gulf of Finland as early as ca 1,500 BC. Contacts with the Balts and Germans could have taken place inside the territory of present-day Finland. With regard to German contacts, this is evident because Finnish contains far more ancient German words than does the Estonian language. Evidence of Baltic contacts is found in the names of some Finnish tribes. The name Häme (Tavastia), referring to a tribe and province in the Finnish interior, and the name the Lapps call themselves, Sabme, derive from the ancient Baltic sämä. This is the basis for the name Soome = Suomi which originally referred to one of the Finnish tribes but later was adopted by the Finnish people as the name of their country. The form Soome is still used in Estonia today.

The Lapps were first to break from the proto-Finns about 1,000 BC. They lived in isolation in their far northern environment and were deprived of cultural contacts with people living close to the Baltic Sea.

During the first Christian chiliad, late Proto-Finnish was divided into the present Baltic Finnish languages. First, a division took place in western and eastern as well as northern and southern groups. The latter division was important to the shaping of the Finnish language, which became separated from Estonian. The eastern group of early proto-Finns migrated along the eastern side of the Gulf of Finland. The Karelian tribe thus originated. The so-called ancient Karelian tongue spoken by these people developed on the eastern side of Finland's historical boundary into the Karelian that has been classified as a separate Baltic Finnish language, perhaps for political reasons. There are no less than eight of these languages, but two are almost extinct. Only Finnish and Estonian have developed into a versatile literary language. It is presently thought that a Uralic language was spoken in Finland since the beginning of human culture in the region about 9,000 years ago.

As to the question of western and eastern genes of the Finnish population, no answer can be provided. It is possible that the early proto-Finnish population already bore two types of genes. It is also possible that the country was settled by racially deviate groups or people of mixed origin. The aboriginal inhabitants of Lapland who inhabit territory in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, differ from the Finns genetically and speak a different language. The language of the Lapps is so fragmented that even in Finland there are three different groups speaking Lappish who have difficulty understanding each other.


The Development of Fixed Settlements

The birth of Christ is an important turning point in the evolution of prehistoric Finland. It marked the beginning of the Roman Iron Age (to ca 400 BC) which established the culture based on metal in Finland and strengthened the settlement of the coastal region. The central area extended from just east of present-day Helsinki west along the shore of the Gulf of Finland, crossed the water to the Åland Islands and then continued up the eastern shore of the Gulf of Bothnia to the narrowest portion of the gulf. Few dwelling sites are known, but they were generally located close to the burial grounds. Favorite sites were the lush mouth of rivers.

In 100 AD Roman historian Tacitus portrayed a primitive people called Fenni, which description does not fit the Finns, but does fit the Lapps, as well as the Stone Age man of Finland. Present-day Norwegians call the Lapps Finner. Finland is the name applied to the country by western nations, but the Finns call their country Suomi; the vernacular for Finn = suomalainen.

At the end of the 8th century the Vikings of Denmark and Norway started plundering expeditions westward, while the Vikings of Sweden turned east hoping to establish trade contact with the Arabian sphere. The traders who traveled over the eastern route, called Varangians in Russia, founded colonies along the way and formed the ruling class among the Slavic and Finno-Ugrian peoples. The enterprise of the Varangian chiefs led to the founding of a Russian state in 862 AD.

The southern coast of Finland had direct contact with the international trade route east which crossed the Baltic via Åland Island and followed the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland to the Neva River up to Lake Ladoga. From there, streams led to the Upper Dnieper, making it possible to reach the Black Sea, Constantinople and Arabian lands. The influence of the eastern trade route helped in the progress of settlement of Finland.

The oldest Iron Age archeological finds in Karelia are western Finnish in type. Differences existed during the Iron Age and these are differences in intellectual folk culture as well as in dialects. It is assumed that proto-Finns originally migrated to Karelia around the Gulf of Finland from near Lake Peipsi. It was by the mixture of these elements that the Finnish tribe known as Karelians originated. In spite of eastern influences, the Karelian culture remained western in character. A clear boundary, which appears in burial customs, separates the Karelians living on the western side of Lake Ladoga from the population on the eastern side.

The Åland Islands were colonized by Sweden as early as the sixth century. About 1,400 Arabian coins have been found in the islands, probably brought back by islanders on expeditions to distant lands in the east. Very few such coins have been found on the Finnish mainland.

During the crusades of the 1200's Swedish colonists were transported to an area on the Finnish coast that was known as Nyland = New Land (Finnish= Uusimaa). Starting in 1250 colonization activity grew to a mass movement. Somewhat later the eastern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia began to attract Swedish settlers. As a result of the Swedish colonization activity of the early Middle Ages, a Swedish zone of settlers was established in the province of Nyland and along the Bothnian coast. This was in addition to the Åland Islands which had been anciently inhabited by Swedes. This Swedish zone which extended about 30 kilometers inland from the coast, remained unchanged until recent decades.

The Peace Treaty of Pähkinäsaari which ended the crusades is the first written document drawn up between Sweden and Russia in which the eastern border of Finland is defined. It remained formally in effect until the signing of the Peace of Täipsinä (1595). The boundary line drawn at Pähkinäsaari established Finland's historical eastern border in the southern part of the Karelian Isthmus until 1940.

The system of church assessments set up in the 13th and 14th centuries provides a good picture of the early medieval Finnish society and its economy. In the ancient Finnish districts of southwestern Finland, agriculture had made such progress that tithes could be collected in crops and livestock, in addition to which an extra portion of rye was claimed by the local priest. The pioneer Swedish settlements along the coast practiced dairy farming and tithes were paid by them in grain and butter. The Swedish system of church dues spread throughout all the provinces. Fishing and sealing were important means of livelihood, in addition to agriculture and they were subject to levies. The interior of the country was not subject to canonical tithes. Instead, the farms were required to pay various kinds of dues to the bishop, priest and church.

The coexistence of Finnish and Swedish customs was characteristic of medieval Finland. But south of the Gulf of Finland, Germans forced the natives into submission and serfdom. The Swedes managed to impose their rule on the Finns, but could not enslave them.

Culture of the Late Medieval Era

During the late Middle Ages, medieval culture blossomed in Finland. The Finns embraced the Catholic culture. The Church was responsible for maintaining public education as well as caring for the sick and the poor. Eighty stone churches were built by the close of the Middle Ages. To this day they bear witness to the peaceful works and aspirations of those times. Some remnants of medieval literature in Latin, and partly Swedish, were salvaged. The first book printed for Finland has been described as the most beautiful volume in the history of Finnish books. It came out in 1488 in Latin and was called Missale Aboense (Missal for the Diocese of Åbo (Turku)). No literary records in the Finnish language from the Middle Ages have been found.

The Finnish nobility was not a rigidly exclusive caste but constantly received fresh blood through immigration and marriage, especially from Sweden. The lords of the castles were members of the upper nobility of Sweden and sometimes aristocrats from Denmark or Germany. Many nobles held a great deal of land, but did not farm large estates. The land consisted of small farms from which they collected annual rent. The Church also owned land. Compared with most other European countries, there were few farmers in Finland who did not own the land they farmed. Most estates of the nobility were in the southwest and southern provinces. But none were in Savo of Ostrobothnia.

By the end of the Middle Ages there were six towns in Finland; Turku and Viipuri were the largest. As late as the 14th century, the majority of merchants in the towns were Germans. In contrast to the peasants of continental Europe, the farmers of Sweden-Finland were free men.

Extracts from "A History of Finland" by Eino Jutikkala and Kauko Pirinen

June Pelo


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