Sights and History of Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät

The best attractions in Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät are the esker formations and the small and large water bodies intersecting them. Also worth your attention are the traces left by humans during various epochs.

Esker Kylmänsärkkä. Photo: Ari Meriruoko

Traces of Humans

There are traces left by humans everywhere in the Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät area. The structure of the forests shows that humans have used them for a long time. You can see the bases of tar-burning pits and traces of human settlement dating from the Stone Age. Historic and prehistoric dwellings were usually located on lakeshores. 

There are so-called Lappish graves along the hiking trails, i.e., the remains of old wild forest reindeer hunting pits. Traditionally the hunting of wild forest reindeer has been an important additional livelihood in remote areas.

History of Conservation

The act on the Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve was passed in 1990 when the Friendship Park was founded. It concerned the joining of the Maariansärkät and the Iso-Palonen Landscape Forests, established in 1970 and 1977 respectively. Forest management measures were widely carried out in the area just before the reserve was founded.

Pit Trap, Spear, and Deer Gun

Deer pits as relics

The first method used for hunting deer was the pit trap, that were once used for hunting wild forest reindeer. These round or oval pits are one to three metres in diameter and about one metre deep, and were dug in sandy esker soil along routes used by wild forest reindeer. The pits were covered with branches, peat and moss so that they would not be noticed by reindeer. There were often spears at the bottom, and the reindeer usually died immediately. The animal was drained of blood at the same time, so the meat did not go bad very soon.  Often the hunters also constructed narrowing fences, which herded the deer towards the traps.

Photo: Risto Sauso

Pit traps were dug along the routes that were frequented by the deer. Nowadays, depressions in the terrain are all that remains of the traps. They are most often found on the peaks of narrow ridges, on narrow isthmuses, and on mineral deposits that pass through mires.

Hunting deer on skis

The oldest weapons that were used in the winter hunting of deer were cross-bow and spear. In later times, a big and heavy deer gun was used.

In Kainuu, deer hunting was a task allotted to a few men and mostly conducted in autumn and winter. In cold weather, it was easy to keep the meat fresh until it was salted and cured. Deer were also hunted in early spring when the snow could support a skier and the wind and the sun of the spring helped to dry the meat quickly.

The basis of the annual cycle in Lappish villages

Until the 17th century, society in northern Finland was largely centred in Lapp villages, the southernmost of which were located in Kuusamo. The whole system of Lapp villages in the eastern areas of Northern Finland and the Kola Peninsula was formed to accommodate the arrangements made for deer hunting. In these areas they carried out joint deer hunting expeditions in the winter season, which took place up to three times over the course of autumn and winter.

As late as in the 17th century, deer hunting determined the annual cycle of the villages. The Sami people, especially the eastern Sami people, spent their winters in villages from where families dispersed to their summer sites to fish, pick berries, and hunt in the spring. The people of the winter village hunted the deer together. Sometimes people from various villages participated in the hunts. The joint hunts lasted as long as there was deer left to hunt.

Autumn, winter, and spring hunting

The first joint deer hunt took place in September before the mating season of the deer. Only male deer were hunted, as they had plenty of abdominal and back fat before mating.

The second hunt took place in late winter, when the snow became able to bear a skier. The hunters skied after the deer that moved in herds. When the weather favoured the skiers, the hunters often returned from their early spring hunt with a load of game.

The third joint hunt was organized in early spring when the deer were hunted on the fells. The meat from deer hunted in the spring was, for the most part, dried. In the fell hunt, the deer that attempted to climb higher to escape the hunters were herded towards the shooters who had stationed themselves on the fells in advance. Reindeer and sleighs were often used to help herd the deer towards the shooters.