Rowhouses on the coast of the Arctic Ocean

The northern corner of Lake Pulmankijärvi (in the Sami language Puolbmagjavri) in Utsjoki, which slumbers among birch slopes, belongs to Norway and the southern part of it belongs to Finland. This ancient fiord of the Arctic Ocean is about 10 kilometres long and 1,0–1,5 kilometres broad. Its almost rectangular shape and the freshwater mysis (Mysis relicta), which can be found as an Ice Age relic in some deep Finnish lakes (Palmén & Nurminen 1974), tell about the fiord history of the lake. Instead, arctic charr and flatfish run to Lake Pulmankijärvi through the Rivers Tenojoki and Polmakelva, so they are not Ice Age relics (Luhta 1997, Niemelä & Julkunen & Erkinaro 1999). The River Ylä-Pulmankijoki, which winds between running fine sand banks, empties its waters into the southern end of the lake, so there are traces of settlement of thousands of years, pitfalls, hearths as well as sod hut and cottage sites on its raised beaches. Present-day settlement is concentrated on the Finnish-side part of the lake, its southern and western shores.

As the surface of the Arctic Ocean has during millennia lowered on its present-day height, about 14,8 metres above sea level, narrow terraces have been shaped on the western bank. The terraces of the glasifluvial delta of the River Kalttasjoki (in the Sami language Kalddašjohka), which empties into the lake from the west, are even 200 metres wide, elsewhere mostly 5–10 metres wide. It has been estimated (Mansikkamäki 1965) that the uppermost bank terrace of the sea stage at the mouth of the River Kalttasjoki at the height of 80 metres above sea level, goes back about 10 000 years. The 14C radiocarbon dating (Hela-372, 7905±85) of a sample of a hearth, which was at the height of 48,2 metres above sea level, and which I excavated in the connection of the inventory of the year 2000, is on its part from about 6810 calBC. So, the age of the hearth seems to be about 8760 years. In Utsjoki, it is so far the oldest dating going back to the Mesolithic period. There has been a Stone Age dwelling place (Utsjoki 220a) there, because a lot of quartzite and quartz material was found in the hearth and its surroundings. The pieces of burnt bones that were found in the hearth could not be determined in a bone research.

Long-standing habitation

Some possible four-sided dwelling sites and one six-sided hut site with a stoned hearth (Utsjoki 220b) in the middle of it  from the historic times  were found in the slope that is below the place where the hearth was found. About 300 metres farther in the north, at the height of 36,3 metres above sea level, a row of three or four rectangular dwellings were found in the researches of the year 1988. The width of the rectangular depressions, which were about 20 centimetres deep, is 3–4 x 4 metres (Utsjoki 124) on the average. They are of the same general shape as their equivalents north of the River Kalttasjoki. Eight dwelling sites (Utsjoki 210) built in a dense row on two successive terraces were found there in 1999.

After the inspection I performed with Markku Torvinen, a researcher of National Board of Antiquities, in summer 2000, I investigated for three days one of these dwelling sites, which is at the height of 34,0 metres above sea level. The investigated area (5,5 m²) of the hut site is at least a half of the whole area, which has been at least 3,7 metres long and 2,2 metres broad. However, the exact length of the dwelling could not be distinguished. On the basis of the height differences between the hut ground and edge embankments, the dwelling site has been dug 15–35 centimetres below the ground level. On the side of the shore, waves have pushed the wall of the dwelling partly above the original floor. In the area of Varangerfjord, the rise of sea level, so-called tapes-transgression, took place in about 5600–4000 BC. (Donner & Eronen & Jungner 1977). The tapes-maximum of Lake Pulmanki-järvi obviously reached below the dug dwelling site, to the height 34–31 metres below sea level (cf.  Mansikkaniemi 1965).

During the first phase of settlement, the floor was a rough gravel surface. There was a stone-edged, rectangular hearth parallel with the longitudinal axis in the dwelling.  They were mainly pieces and cements of quartz that were found in the ground. Later, the dwelling had been improved by making a new hearth circle 80 x 140 centimetres wide crosswise above the older one.  Besides, an even and tight layer of fist-sized stones had been spread on the bottom. Above the stones, there was a thin sand layer, the finds of which were quartzite unlike ones from the lower layer. It is obvious that the floor had been made tighter because of the variation in the surface of the water in the fiord.  A floor structure stoned in a corresponding way is known at least from a Stone Age dwelling site in Vuopaja, Inari and from some east-Karelian rectangular dwelling grounds (see Itkonen 1913). The find material from the Pulmankijärvi dwelling, a flatheaded quartzite arrowhead, for instance, proves that the ground is from the Early Metal Age.

The hearth contained a lot of coal and its radiocarbon dating (Hel-4487, 3720±80) gives it the height of 34,0 metres above sea level and to the new phase of use of the dwelling site the dating about 2000 calBC., i.e. about 4000 years. The building has obviously been a turf hut (in Norwegian tuft), which has rested on supporting poles and a ridge pole. Beneath the turfs, birch bark was probably used for insulation. During the late Stone Age and Early Metal Age, many corresponding dwelling groups could be seen in the area of Varangerfjord.

The seaside contacts and the economy

In dwellings of so-called Gressbakken style, which were even 30–50 m² large in floor areas, door embrasures and usually two stone-edged hearths on the middle line of the hut could be distinguished (e.g. Olsen 1994). The use of this type of building seems to have come to its end at the beginning of the Early Metal Age. The depressions of Lake Pulmankijärvi seem to resemble more a dwelling ground of so-called Mortensnes type, which came into being at the beginning of the Christian Era, than the above-mentioned type. They are also rectangular, deep and 20–30 m² wide in floor area, and usually no separate door place can be distinguished in them. It is obvious that the researched Pulmankijärvi building is an intermediate form between these types, square or rectangular in ground, without a clear door place. The four-sided grounds on the upper terrace must also be researched, before their structures or wholes can be estimated more clearly.

It is obvious that the same people wintered on the banks of ancient Pulmankifiord who in spring caught salmon and hunted deer in the Ala-Jalve region, among others. In accordance with their catching cycle, they must also have moved around the then Arctic coast, at the mouth of the River Tenojoki. About four families or about 20–30 close relatives could live in one community, in a row of four huts. Both archaelogical and geological additional researches should be performed at Lake Pulmankijärvi to date the shore stages and objects.

Hannu Kotivuori, The Provincial Museum of Lapland


  • Donner, J. & Eronen, M. & Jungner, H. 1977. The dating of the Holocene relative sea-level  changes in Finmark, North Norway. Nordisk geografisk Tiddskrift 31.
  • Luhta, V. 1997. Inarin Lapin luonto- ja lintukohdeopas. Pohjois-Lapin Matkailu Oy. Oulu.
  • Itkonen, I. 1913. Tietoja Inarin kirkonkylän seudun muinaisuudesta. Suomen Museo 1913.
  • Mansikkaniemi, H. 1965. Main features of the glacial and postglacial development of  Pulmanki valley in northernmost Finland. Turun yliopiston maantieteen laitoksen julkaisuja 38.
  • Niemelä, E. & Julkunen, M. & Erkinaro, J. 1999. Densities of the juvenile Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) in the subarctic Teno River watercourse, northern Finland. Boreal Environment Research 4.
  • Olsen, B. 1994. Bosetning og samfunn i Finnmarks forhistorie. Oslo.
  • Palmén, E. & Nurminen, M. (toim.). 1974.  Eläinten maailma. Otavan iso eläintietosanakirja 1. Keuruu.