Lemmenjoki's Deer Pits

Lemmenjoki´s Deer PIts location in FinlandNorthern Lapland Region
Municipalities of Inari (www.inari.fi)
Lemmenjoki National Park
The area is managed by Metsähallitus


Early Deer Hunting Methods

In ancient times, the wild reindeer was the most important game and food source for the people of Lemmenjoki. In the early Stone Age, deer were mainly hunted with spears as well as bows and arrows. The earliest hunting methods usually rested on cornering the animals into places where the stalkers could shoot them effectively. The Lemmenjoki area's terrain with its heath forests and steep riversides lent itself well to deer hunting. Hunting with a bow and arrow continued throughout the prehistoric era and was also practised later on alongside other hunting methods.

Some 8,000 years ago, the climate warmed and the area's flora and fauna became more diverse. The increasing amounts of available food also enabled population growth in the Inari area. More efficient hunting methods were developed to meet the needs of the growing population, and the technique of hunting deer with the aid of fences was adopted. The deer were driven to enclosures where they were killed with spears. It is possible that a technique where the deer were driven into the river and then hunted down in the water with spears and bows was also used in Lemmenjoki.

Pit Traps

The earliest recorded pit traps in Finland date back to the early Stone Age, but pit traps played a very important role in the lives of arctic communities particularly in the late Stone Age and early Metal Age (approx. 3000 BC–200 AD). By the Iron Age, pit trap hunting gradually began to dwindle. In addition to digging single pit traps, the traps could be dug in groupings of dozens, if not hundreds of pits. Pit trap chains were often dug by the edges of forests, along the migration routes that the deer used to move from summer pastures to the winter pastures in pine heaths. Leading fences were also often erected to herd the deer towards the pit chain. Fences were also built between the pits to stop the deer from escaping the traps. The deer were driven towards the pits along a route running parallel to the pit chain then frightened from the sides to run towards the pits. The pit traps could also be dug on a spit or across a neck of land, crosswise to the direction the deer would travel. With this method, the kill remained limited as the deer running at the end of the herd could cross the pits safely as they filled up. In chase hunting, the deer would fall into the pits, not being able to get up quickly enough or at all. The chasers killed the deer that had fallen into the pits with spears.

Between Lake Härkäjärvi and Lake Sotkäjärvi in Lemmenjoki lies one of Finland's largest pit trap systems. The trap chain includes 261 pits, measuring just over three kilometres long. To the north of the Härkäkoski Rapids, in the immediate vicinity of the Härkäkoski Rental Hut, there is a roughly 500-metre-long trap chain. The other trap chains in the area are significantly shorter. In Lemmenjoki, there are 31 separate trap chains, with a combined 975 pits.

Halinen, P. 2004. Ihminen Lemmenjoella. Esi- ja varhaishistoria. In L. Kajala (Ed.) 2004. Lemmenjoki – Suomen suurin kansallispuisto. Vantaa: Metsähallitus 335 pages.

This is the webpage www.nationalparks.fi/lemmenjokisdeerpits