River valleys have been favoured places for settlements since the prehistoric times. Also at Lemmenjoki there are signs of human activities from hundreds of years ago. In the National Park area have been found about 1200 pitfalls, which were used for hunting the Wild Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) until the 1800s. Njurkulahti Nature Trail goes past a group of pitfalls.
As the Wild Forest Reindeer were getting few in numbers, and the Sámi people with their reindeer moved to the area in the 1800s, became reindeer herding more common in Lemmenjoki River Valley. At the same time, the first permanent settlements appeared. In the village of Njurkulahti, the main source of livelihood today is still reindeer herding, in addition to tourism. This can be clearly seen in the village scene and in different constructions. Most of the National Park area belongs to Sallivaara Local Reindeer Herding Co-operative, which has about 7500 reindeer.
Nowadays most of the people going to the park are hikers. Metsähallitus takes care of the constructions for hikers, guidance and supervision. The aim is to maintain the National Park as a wilderness-like conservation area also in the future.
How did Lemmenjoki ("Love River" in Finnish) get its name?
The vegetation in Lemmenjoki River Valley is more lush and luxuriant than in the surrounding areas, and therefore it has been thought of as a warmer region. In Sámi language, Leammi means "Warm". Somewhere along the way, people began to call it Lemmenjoki.
The Grouds of Kaapin Jouni
The Grounds of Kaapin Jouni at the northern end of Lake Sotkajärvi in Lemmenjoki are a significant landmark in the area. It is the old homestead of a famous Sámi family. The most well-known man of the family, Jouni Aikio, better known as Kaapin Jouni (1875–1956), was the "reindeer lord" of his time, the head and patriarch of his family. Before Kaapin Jouni, the site was the home of the founder of the homestead known as Menes-Antti or Karhu-Antti ("Bear Antti"), Antti Juhaninpoika Morottaja (1853–1907). The homestead was established in the late 19th century and has remained occupied ever since. The last member of the founding family moved away from the homestead in the spring of 2004.
The building complex tells the story of the diverse Sámi way of life – particularly the phase when the people began to shift towards fixed dwellings. The Grounds of Kaapin Jouni are important to the Sámi people; the site is part of the Lemmenjoki area's Sámi cultural landscape. To date, there are very few protected Sámi cultural landscapes and architectural sites, which is why the site is also significant on a national scale.
The state purchased the Grounds of Kaapin Jouni in 2002, and the site is situated in its entirety in Lemmenjoki National Park. There are very few sites of cultural historical value in the vast Lemmenjoki National Park. Other historically valuable buildings in the park are found at the old Sallivaara reindeer round-up site, the gold-digging area and the small cottage on the Grounds of Matti Musta. The Grounds of Kaapin Jouni are a significant addition to the whole of Lemmenjoki National Park.
A maintenance team has been appointed to the site to manage the restoration, use and maintenance of the homestead and its buildings, with the objective of preserving the area's valuable Sámi cultural history and traditional landscape. The old items and artefacts preserved from the homestead have been inventoried. Under the supervision of the Sámi Museum, the items have been cleaned, photographed and listed as part of the museum's collection. Metsähallitus signed the homestead's inventory over to the Sámi Museum Foundation in the spring of 2008.
Lemmenjoki's Deer Pits
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.
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 1200 pits.
Halinen, P. 2004. Ihminen Lemmenjoella. Esi- ja varhaishistoria. In L. Kajala (Ed.) 2004. Lemmenjoki – Suomen suurin kansallispuisto. Vantaa: Metsähallitus 335 pages.
The History of Gold in Lemmenjoki
Gold digging in Lemmenjoki
The first gold fever attracted diggers to Lemmenjoki already in the beginning of the last century. The actual gold rush, however, was after the war in 1940s, when at the best time there were more than hundred claims in the area. Mechanical gold digging was tried for the first time in the beginning of the 1950s. Today there are roughly as many diggers as during the gold rush, but the use of digging machines has changed the process. The marked trail from Ravadasjärvi via Jäkälä-äytsi to Kultahamina goes through claims of different ages.
There are still 30 claims and 25 mining patents. There are about a hundred people during the summer digging gold in the area. Read more about areas' gold history below.
The First Gold Rush at River Ivalojoki
The history of gold in Inari dates back to the mid-19th century, when an expedition sent by the Senate of the then Grand Duchy of Finland made the first strikes at the Luttojoki and Ivalojoki rivers in the southern reaches of the Inari municipality. In the summer of 1869, two sailors, Jakob Ervast from Oulu and Nils Lepistö from Raahe, arrived at River Ivalojoki. In the course of a few weeks, the men panned two kilogrammes of gold from the river. This strike led to the first gold rush in Inari – during the peak years in 1871–1872, an estimated 500–600 persons stayed at River Ivalojoki for the purposes of prospecting for gold. The epicentre of gold prospecting was the Kultala Gold Village on the north shore of the Saariporttikoski Rapids, a Crown Station originally built to serve as a base for Crown officials. The Crown Station stayed in operation from 1870 to 1900. Some of its buildings have been restored, and the main building is open to visitors.
At the turn of the century, gold prospecting in Inari concentrated on the branches of River Ivalojoki and Laanila. At the time, River Lemmenjoki was still uncharted territory for gold prospectors with the exception of a few odd ones, but in the early years of the 20th century, rumours of big strikes began to attract more prospectors to the area. In 1902, more than 70 claims were established by the river. The strikes remained sparse, however, and the prospectors soon lost interest. Lemmenjoki was left in peace for another few decades.
Gold Fever Rising at Lemmenjoki
In the summer of 1945, three brothers from the Ranttila farm by River Inarijoki – Niilo, Uula and Veikko Ranttila – set out towards Lemmenjoki to find gold. Following the advice given by the "reindeer lord" Kaapin Jouni (aka Jouni Aikio), the brothers focussed their search on the lower reaches of River Morgamoja, right by the mouth of River Vaijoki. They did find a fair amount of gold, and more prospectors arrived at River Lemmenjoki the following summer. Rumours of big strikes escalated, and the discoveries were publicised in the papers – the production company Suomi Filmi even made a short film about gold panning that was distributed to cinemas around Finland. Interviewed in the late 1940s, Niilo Ranttila reported the following:
"I didn't have to do much in winter, as there was plenty of gold. In the best weeks of 1948, I panned a couple of kilos a week. But it's not as if we were left in peace, as the rumours and the stories in the papers kept drawing men to Lemmenjoki."
The flurry of activity at Lemmenjoki increased, and as the 1940s drew to a close, the number of claims by the river approached one hundred. At the end of the decade, Heikki Kokko, Matti Kullervo Korhonen, Jaakko Isola and Jukka Pellinen, amongst others, settled by River Lemmenjoki, later becoming some of Lemmenjoki's most legendary gold prospectors. Prospecting for gold spread from the Morgamoja tributary to its environs and smaller branches of Lemmenjoki: to Ruittuäytsi, Jäkälä-äytsi and Miessijoki.
In 1949, the Gold Prospectors' Association of Finnish Lapland was established at the Pellinen Hut (i.e. the Morgamoja Kultala Hut) to advocate the interests of Lemmenjoki's gold prospectors. The need for cooperation between the prospectors was obvious, and bringing order to a community ridden with problems and disputes was welcomed. The joining fee was two grammes of gold, and the annual membership fees were also collected in gold. The association managed to improve the connections in the Lemmenjoki area – for instance, two air fields for the transport of goods were cleared in the area, and regular boat traffic on River Lemmenjoki commenced. To this day, the association remains an important advocate for Lapland's gold prospectors.
The National Park Is Established and the Excavators Start Rolling In
The 1950s brought about changes that would have long-lasting effects on gold prospecting at Lemmenjoki. Up until the 50s, gold had been dug by the man-and-spade method, but in 1951, Kullervo Korhonen brought the first digging machine to Lemmenjoki's gold fields. The world market price for gold plummeted in the early 1950s and the experiment proved short-lived. As a reminder, Korhonen was left with considerable debt. But the machines had come to Lemmenjoki to stay. Another significant change was the establishing of Lemmenjoki National Park in 1956. The gold area was not included in the national park but was surrounded by it. The Gold Prospectors' Association was not opposed to the national park as long as it did not hinder prospecting. Life by River Lemmenjoki in the early 1950s was hectic, but not all prospectors struck it rich.
"The distribution of luck and skill took a heavy toll on the number of Lemmenjoki's gold diggers. For many hopefuls, the mean living earned by this backbreaking labour was not enough to afford the very necessities of life. They left the gold fields disappointed. Yrjö Hummarkoski and Arvi Koivisto left a sign at Puskuoja, saying, 'The funfair has left town. You may keep whatever you find.' Today, the Tivoli Hut serves as a reminder of this comment." (Tivoli = Finnish for funfair)
Serving Life Sentences
The gold areas were attached to Lemmenjoki National Park when the park was expanded in 1971. During the same decade, automated gold mining gathered new speed despite the area's national park status. Large droves of prospectors had left Lemmenjoki during the 1950s, but the toughest prospectors, the so-called Lemmenjoki "lifers", had hung on.
"Jaakko Isola became a hermit at Miessi after his mates had vanished from around him; the second chairman of the Gold Prospectors' Association, Jukka Pellinen, was killed in a gun fight; Heikki Kokko ended up getting married; Niilo Raumala stuck it out at Pusku; Heikki Pihlajamäki was busy creating his own reign at Miessi; Veikko Nevalainen took to growing lettuce and rhubarb at his claim by Jäkälä-äytsi; Matti Kullervo Korhonen escaped his excavator debt and hopped across the ocean; and Yrjö Korhonen marched up to Lemmenjoki along the excavator tracks and became a new legend."
In addition to these well-known lifers, a few odd gold prospectors were scouting Lemmenjoki's gold brooks, but the quiet years would go on for a long time. The era of lifers at Lemmenjoki came to an end in the 1980s when, one after the other, the first-generation gold prospectors left the gold fields – some retiring to rest at home and some at the prospectors' lot on the Inari churchyard.
Gold Mining at Lemmenjoki Today
The arrival of a new generation of gold prospectors at Lemmenjoki was witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time, prospecting had received a lot of media coverage, and gold digging contests were a popular sport. Global economic trends were once again pointing to a sharp rise in the price of gold on world markets, making prospecting more profitable. At this stage, the nature of the game had already changed, and automated mining had broken through for good. The mechanisation of gold mining led to conflict between gold prospectors and the values of nature conservation. The 1990s saw many disputes and court cases related to the Nature Conservation Act and the Mining Act; at times, the prospectors were up against nature conservationists and, at others, Metsähallitus.
Today, there are 25 mining concessions as well as some thirty spade diggers' claims and panning permits in the Lemmenjoki area. Automated gold mining produces a good twenty kilogrammes and spade digging just over a kilogramme of gold per year. During the summer season, roughly one hundred people stay at Lemmenjoki to prospect for gold.
The current Mining Act came into force in 2011. The act puts an end to automated gold mining in Lemmenjoki National Park. The prospectors working with excavators have to clean and landscape the digging site. In 2020, another chapter will close in Lemmenjoki's gold-hunting history with the end of automated mining. Man-and-spade prospectors will keep going.
Quotations from the book "Lemmenjoki – The largest national park in Finland".
The photos are from Viljo Mäkipuro and Jukka Pellinen, Gold Museum collections.
Kajala, L. (Ed.) 2004. Lemmenjoki – Suomen suurin kansallispuisto / The largest national park in Finland. Vantaa: Metsähallitus.
Kummala, S. & Ärrälä, I. (Eds.) 2011. Onnen hippuja. Aikalaiskuvaa Lemmenjoen kultamailta. Helsinki: Törmä-Ärrälä Oy.
Stigzelius, H. 1987. Kultakuume. Lapin kullan historia. Suomen matkailuliitto. Jyväskylä: Gummerus.