Sep 17, 2015

Learn about life and livelihood in the Finnish Archipelago online!

This is a post about an exiting online-class which is arranged by the Open University in Turku. The course is intended for adult students. No previous knowledge of the subject or previous degree or academic studies are required, but a good demand of English is needed. The course awards 5 credits which can be included as part of an academic degree in history, anthropology or ethnology.

1. Hunters from Iniö with eider ducks after a succesful hunt.

The area of the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland boasts the world’s largest
archipelago. There sea between the Swedish capital of Stockholm, Åland and the medieval
Finnish town of Åbo (Fin. Turku) is dotted with some 70 000 islands. There is an
abundance of birdlife and the sea is teeming with Baltic herring. The people living in
the archipelago area have enjoyed the bounties of the sea and planted crops on the
fertile islands.

2. Winter dragnetfishing for herring in Nagu.
Economic activities ranged from cattle and sheep breeding on the larger
islands to small scale farming and fishing on the smaller ones. Boatbuilding and sailing
were important for the people living on the islands. Islanders would annually fill their
boats with agricultural produce and herring and sail to either Stockholm or Åbo to do
trade, sometimes even venturing as far as to Tallinn in Estonia. Autumn storm gales and
broken ice would isolate communities for long periods of time.

3. Boathouses and a pier at Högsåra.

The material culture and the social structure of this predominantly Swedish speaking area remained relatively unchanged well in to the 20th century. Primitive economies such as sealing, bird hunting
and egg collecting remained important in the outer archipelago up until the Second World
War. Nature dictated the terms how people would live and sustain themselves in the

The online course starts on October 5th 2015, enrolments no later than September 28th. More information about the course is available here;

1. Image 376,  Iniö Local History Photo Archive.
2. Nagu Local History Photo Archive.
2. SM004584B.

Aug 4, 2015

Finnish Birch Bark Axe Sheath - Educational Video

Birch bark is the most versatile material natural material available in the Northern Forests. In Finland birch bark has been used for a variety of different purposes. It has been used to make containers, boxes, pack-packs, shoes, sheaths , rope, as net floats and as roofing material.
1. Finnish man harvesting birch bark in 1927.

Birch bark has been so important in the Nordic countries that it has its own name to distinguish it from the bark of other trees. It is called näver in Swedish and tuohi in Finnish. Birch bark was typically harvested of living trees in June- July as the bark is easy to cut loose from the trunk. The use of birch bark was at one time so popular that it was in fact almost impossible to find birches with intact bark close to villages and settlements. 
2. Braiding birch bark.

Harvesting birch bark will not kill the tree unless the important inner bark has been damaged. The birch will continue growing after the bark is removed and eventually grow a dark, thick layer of stiff birch bark on the scarred trunk, called Kårt-näver in Swedish. This type of birch bark is not suited for crafts, but could be used as resilient roofing-material. 

3. Folded birch bark axe blade cover.
Birch cannot be harvested without permission and should be done with discretion, avoiding trees that grow in scenic and open locations. Knowing how to use and harvest birch bark is an important skill for the modern hiker due to its versatility. Birch bark can quickly be made to replace missing cups or even replace a lost axe sheath. In Finland there are at least two known models of birch bark axe sheats; the quick, folded model and the more time consuming plaited model.

4. Folded birch bark sheath on a Billnäs 12/3.

Birch bark was the most common material used for making sheaths for axes in Finland. Axes were mostly carried in hand when travelling in the forest. Sometimes it was necessary to strap axes on backpacks and this was an obvious safety issue that made it necessary to cover the blade. Carpenters would also carry a toolkit containing several specialized axes and unprotected edges would quickly become dull and damaged.  

5. A plaited birch bark axe sheath in the Pargas Local History Museum.

 A educational video on how to make a quick, folded axe is available by clicking on the image below. 

How to make a birch bark axe sheat


1.   KK1482:414 - Ethnographic collections of the National Board of Antiquities in Finland.
2.  KK1739:203 - Ethnographic collections of the National Board of Antiquities in Finland.
3-5 Marcus Lepola.

"Själen" – Seal Hunting in the Northern Baltic Sea

Foreword The following post is intended as a more academic source of information on traditional sealing in Finland and the Northern Baltic...