7000-Year-Old Pits at Tainiaro Could Be the Northernmost Stone Age Cemetery Site

7000-Year-Old Pits at Tainiaro Could Be the Northernmost Stone Age Cemetery Site

One of the pits at Tainiaro
Photo: Tuija Laurén, Finnish Heritage Agency, Antiquity Publications Ltd.

Might the pits, dating back almost 7000 years, discovered in the archaeological site of Tainiaro in Northern Finland, be considered the northernmost Stone Age burial ground? A new study is exploring this possibility.1

Tainiaro is an archaeological site situated on the banks of the Simojoki River, south of Finnish Lapland, located just 80 kilometers (approximately 50 miles) below the Arctic Circle. This site, residing within the expansive boreal forests of Finland, was discovered serendipitously by workers excavating sand in 1959. However, the primary archaeological excavations and comprehensive studies of the site were conducted thirty years later.

Within the excavations conducted at Tainiaro, over 32,000 archaeological findings have been unearthed to date. However, there has never been a definitive conclusion regarding whether the pits discovered at the site can be interpreted as graves or not.

The majority of findings at Tainiaro consist of stone artifacts and unworked stones, with a small portion comprising ceramics and burnt animal bones.

Tainiaro
Tainiaro
Photo: Aki Hakonen, Antiquity Publications Ltd.

Upon careful examination of the field drawings from previous excavations, researchers identified 127 potential pits of varying forms at Tainiaro. A majority of the rectangular pits yielded lithic fragments and burnt animal bones. Additionally, traces of red ochre paint were found in small quantities within 23 of the pits.

The inherent acidity of the soil in northern Fennoscandia presents a significant challenge for preserving organic materials over extended periods. In this environment, organic remnants like teeth and bones, seldom endure beyond a few millennia. As a consequence, conducting in-depth osteoarchaeological analyses on such organic remains within this particular region becomes notably intricate and restricted.

The fragility of organic material in this environment creates a significant gap in the ability to directly scrutinize ancient biological remnants. Therefore, scholars and archaeologists working in northern Fennoscandia often resort to alternative methodologies to advance their hypotheses and interpretations. Comparative analysis stands as a key approach utilized to bridge this gap in direct examination. By leveraging available data, referencing similar archaeological finds from other regions or periods with more favorable preservation conditions, scholars can establish parallels and draw inferences to support their hypotheses. This is precisely what researchers did in a study published in Antiquity last week.

According to the study led by Aki Hakonen, Noora Perälä, Samuel Vaneeckhout, Jari Okkonen from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Oulu, along with independent researcher Tuija Laurén, it is proposed that Tainiaro should be regarded as a cemetery site. The researchers state that this conclusion was reached based on morphological comparisons and a reevaluation of existing findings.

Specifically, the pits containing red ochre at Tainiaro align in size with the average dimensions of other ochre-containing graves in Finland. According to the researchers, upon considering graves that accommodate more than one inhumation, a more pronounced correlation emerges between the pits found at Tainiaro and the burial sites in other northern European cemeteries.

Stone Age in Northern Fennoscandia

Fennoscandia refers to the geographical region in Northern Europe, encompassing the Scandinavian Peninsula, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Geologically, it is often associated with the Baltic Shield, an extensive area of exposed Precambrian rocks.2

Fennoscandia
Fennoscandia

In the early periods of Fennoscandia, people sustained themselves through hunting and gathering activities. Archaeological findings indicate that during this period, people developed hunting techniques and engaged in hunting using stone tools. However, it is known that permanent settlements were limited during this era, and people generally led a nomadic lifestyle.

With the retreat of the Ice Age, during the Mesolithic period, inhabitants of Fennoscandia continued their livelihoods based on hunting and gathering. In this era, people in the northern regions stood out as seasonal hunter-gatherer-fisher groups. These groups sustained their lives based on natural resources.

Archaeological evidence reveals that during the Mesolithic period, people developed hunting techniques and utilized distinctive tools for fishing, in addition to stone tools.

The region underwent significant changes during the Neolithic period. People in Northern Fennoscandia began constructing permanent residences and exhibiting signs of sedentarism during this era. The increased use of pottery and the emergence of permanent settlement units like villages are notable characteristics of the Neolithic period.

  1. Hakonen, A., Perälä, N., Vaneeckhout, S., Laurén, T., & Okkonen, J. (2023). A large fifth-millennium BC cemetery in the subarctic north of the Baltic Sea? Antiquity, 97(396), 1402-1419^
  2. GORBATSCHEV, Roland; BOGDANOVA, Svetlana. Frontiers in the Baltic shieldPrecambrian Research, 1993, 64.1-4: 3-21^
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