Researchers at the University of Oulu solve the mystery of the Käymäjärvi Stone

Archaeology and history researchers at the University of Oulu have solved the mystery of the so-called Käymäjärvi Stone, which has puzzled scholars of ancient history for over 300 years.

At the end of the 17th century, a significant discovery was made in Pajala, in Swedish Lapland: a stone was found which was considered to be a centuries-old runic stone and even evidence of the location of civilisation’s birthplace on the northern edge of Europe.

In the latest research, the stone has turned out to be a naturally moulded limestone boulder, and the patterns on its surface are the result of different geological processes, not runic inscriptions. In the research, the stone was analysed in relation to the local geology and landscape, and the earlier observations and interpretations made about the stone were connected with the larger context. The research combines geological, archaeological and historical research methods.

“The issue here is not just the stone itself, but rather how the significance of northern areas has been understood in relation to prehistoric times and the large narratives of history”, explains Professor of Archaeology Vesa-Pekka Herva, who leads the research group at the University of Oulu. Since the times of ancient Greece, the North has been conceived by Europeans as an unknown and magical land.

“The story of the Käymäjärvi Stone sheds an important light on, for example, the historical roots of the current mining and land use disputes in Lapland, at a time when the threats and possibilities arising from climate change have lifted Arctic areas into the centre of global economic and political discussion.”

In Finland, people have only recently started to become aware of these problems which have deep historical roots – roots which this research group has investigated by studying the Käymäjärvi Stone. Although it has turned out to be simply a rare natural phenomenon, the Käymäjärvi Stone is a fascinating and important example of the significance of cultural heritage as part of wider societal discussion throughout the ages.

The Käymäjärvi Stone has interested researchers and the general public ever since the 17th century. At one time, the discovery caught the interest of King Kaarle XI, and he funded a research expedition to the North on the recommendation of Professor Olof Rudbeck, a top researcher at the time. In 1731, French scientist Pierre Louis Maupertuis and Swedish Professor Anders Celsius also visited the location of the stone, but were unable to resolve the question of whether it was an unusual natural phenomenon or the world’s oldest writing.

The research has been published in the esteemed Cambridge Archaeological Journal and can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774318000197

 

Photo:

The stone, located in Käymäjärvi village in Pajala, Sweden, was considered to be a centuries-old runic stone. Researchers from the University of Oulu have established that the lines on the stone have been formed by natural processes.

Last updated: 23.5.2018