Ylikylä – medieval Rovaniemi   

The roots of solid peasant settlement in Rovaniemi go back to the time over a thousand years ago. Old stories remember present-day Ylikylä, a large cape bordering the Ounasjoki delta, as Karelian people’s important dwelling and trading place from the late Iron Age and the beginning of the Middle Ages. Jacob Fellman (1906) tells about the Karelian village as follows: ”In heathen times, Rovaniemi was such a big village that before the Christian Faith came, it was divided into two villages, Ylikylä and Alakylä. Even when the Birkarls came, a large village was located behind the Maunu house, on the place which is now called Martinkangas. According to tradition, a most prosperous village, as it was at that time, could send as many as 250 bows to hunt and war; it was as densely populated as an entity of several villages is still among the Fisher Karelians on the coasts of the White Sea.” 

Archaelogist Hjalmar Appelgren (1881) writes about the village as follows: ”As the number of population had to such a great extent increased that they no more had any space on Cape Korkalonniemi, they moved to another cape called Rovaniemi, seven kilometres upstream the River Ounasjoki. The village that sprang up here is still called Ylikylä, while the village on Korkalonniemi has been called Alakylä. Rovaniemi was very densely populated. According to an old story, the buildings were so close together that when a cat climbed up on the roof of the Ämmälä house at one end of the village, it did not come down until by Ditch Hannioja. On the other side of the ditch, it climbed up again and walked along roofs as far as Kerttulanautio.” 

A pollen sample taken and analyzed in Ylikylä in 1995 gives information about changes in vegetation, pasturing and cultivation. The spruce came to the area as early as about 1840 BC, but it did not become permanent there until about 750–530 BC (Hicks 1996). Even if, on the basis of stone object finds, there have been people in Ylikylä as early as the Stone Age, active marks of use of fire go back to the Early Metal Age, to the time about 2500 years ago. Man could clear dwelling and pasturing space by means of fire, too. Variety of weeds refers to keeping of cattle and cultivation in the time after the year AD 1250, but their roots may also go back to the Middle Ages or the Iron Age. In addition to Korkalo, settlement was concentrated in Ylikylä, which was natural from the viewpoints of  trading and traffic connections. No doubt, it was just the confluence of the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki Rivers where Birkarls and Karelian tradesmen had disagreements over prerogatives with each other. 

The archaeological studies

Faculty of History of Oulu University performed archaelogical excavations of an area of about 2200 m² altogether in Ylikylä during the years 1978–1979 and 1982 (Koivunen 1978, Kostet & Närhi 1980, Närhi 1984, Paavola 1984 and 1996). The largest solid excavation areas were opened on the so-called Aho plot and in Muuskonniemi north of Hannioja. Plenty of foundations of burnt and mouldered buildings, cellar pits as well as 20 ancient hearths were found on the Aho plot. The biggest timber building seems to have been about 8 x 5 metres wide. As many as 18 radiocarbon datings have been made of the burnt buildings, and the oldest floor-like wooden layer goes back to about AD 1040–1260. As to the two iron manufacture furnaces, they go back to the 16th century.  Tin buttons, pieces of copper and casting moulds telling about tin and copper works were also found. Even in the 15th century, the village was destroyed many times, during the hostilities of the long Russian War (1570–95, so-called rappasota, robbery war) in 1578 and 1589, as well as in a Karelian attack in 1611 (Outakoski 1965, Vahtola 1996).  

The most important finds were a piece of a Viking Age horseshoe-shaped brooch and the bone mountings of a crossbow stock, among others. Arrowheads of hand- and crossbows, knifeblades, awls, needles, hooks, keys, locks, steels, wolverine tooth pendants and pieces of bone objects are at least partly products from the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Era. Thimbles, rings, buttons, brooches, pieces of chalk pipes, pottery, hundreds of window glass pieces, glass beads, ferrules and many iron objects were imported articles chiefly from the 17th–19th centuries. Pieces of wood, bone and horn objects must mainly be from household articles made in Ylikylä. Among the most distant articles may be pieces of Rhine hard clay pottery. 47 coins were also found, the oldest of which goes back to the 15th century. Of the individual things, the most peculiar one is maybe a bronze belt decoration with two fighting riders depicted on it. It is obvious that it was imported from the east in the 16th century.

The other signs of the past

The oldest chapel site in Rovaniemi was searched for in excavations in Muuskonniemi in the year 1982. It is known that in 1611 the enemy burnt Rovaniemi Lutheran Chapel, which may, on the basis of a written reference and tradition, have had a precursor in Ylikylä (Paavola 1984). The site of the chapel was not found in the excavation area (about 600 m²), but there were plenty of articles and remnants of structures of various ages. The oldest coin finds go back to the 16th century. The assortment of finds is equivalent to the material from the Aho plot: iron arrowheads, knives, flint and steels, window and drinking glass, red-burning clay pottery, porcelain, pieces of metal vessels, clay stuffings, slag, bone and some Stone Age finds were included in it.

Only in the years 1959 and 1961 has corresponding material been earlier found in Rovaniemi, i.e. in the excavations of Korkalonniemi, where documentation remained insufficient. In addition, excavations related to recorded history archaelogy were performed as instructional excavations of Oulu University on the lands of the Oinas farm in Paavalniemi in 1983. According to the data recorded by Jacob Fellman in the 1820’s, a chapel and village-like settlement could possibly be located on this site as early as the Catholic Era. It is told that a couple of bifurcate iron candlesticks, a key of the “old church”, iron hinges and bones were found on the site (among others, Appelgren 1881). The material and remnants of structures found in the excavations (about 105 m²)  refer to the 18th century (Paavola 1984). The research materials of Korkalonniemi and Paavalniemi are of vital importance when the birth and development of South-Lappish peasant settlement history are being studied.

Hannu Kotivuori. The Provincial Museum of Lapland

  • Appelgren, Hj. 1881. Muinaisjäännöksiä ja Tarinoita Kemin kihlakunnan itäisissä osissa. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja V.
  • Fellman, J. 1906. Anteckningar under min vistelse i Lappmarken. I–IV.
  • Hicks, S. 1996. Rovaniemen varhainen asutushistoria siitepölyanalyysin valossa. Rovaniemen historia vuoteen 1721.
  • Koivunen, P. 1978. Ylikylän ja Nivankylän arkeologiset tutkimukset. Faravid 2.
  • Kostet, J. & Närhi, K. 1980. Arkeologiset tutkimukset Ylikylässä Rovaniemen maalaiskunnassa kesällä 1979. Alustava raportti. Faravid 3.
  • Kotivuori, H. 1996. Pyytäjistä kaskenraivaajiksi. Rovaniemen asutus noin 6000 eKr.–1300 jKr. Rovaniemen historia vuoteen 1721. Jyväskylä.
  • Närhi, K. 1984. Rovaniemen maalaiskunnan Ylikylän tutkimukset. Historiallisen ajan arkeologia Suomessa. Turun maakuntamuseo. Raportteja 6.
  • Outakoski, A. 1965. Rovaniemen historia I.
  • Paavola, K. 1984. Historiallisen ajan maaseutuarkeologiaa Rovaniemen maalaiskunnassa. Faravid 8.
  • Paavola, K. 1996. Kissalla mitattu kylä. Ylikylän kaivaukset vuosina 1978–79 ja 1982. Rovaniemen historia vuoteen 1721.
  • Vahtola, J. 1996. Kiinteän asutuksen synnystä kappeliseurakunnan perustamiseen. Rovaniemen historia vuoteen 1721.


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