Pohjoissuomalaiset maanviljelijät harjoittivat keskiajalla sekataloutta, arkeologia

Farmers in the north of Finland practised a mixed economy in medieval times

Farmers who lived in Finland in the Middle Ages and the early Modern Age (1400–1700) made very versatile use of their environment by practising a mixed economy. Domestic animals grazed on natural pastures, and bunches of tree branches and lichen were collected for them as feed. In addition to farming and animal husbandry, residents of Northern Finland engaged in hunting and fishing.

University of Oulu archaeologists, Academy Research Fellow Anna-Kaisa Salmi and post-doctoral researcher Maria Lahtinen studied the early stages of farming in the north by examining archaeological animal bone material from the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, the Tornio River Valley, and Rovaniemi. The animal bones were dated by using radiocarbon dating, and their diets were studied on the basis of the stable isotope content of the bones.

“On the basis of the animal bone materials farming and cattle raising were clearly only a part of the economy of the people in the Middle Ages and the early Modern Age. People's livelihood was based on the versatile utilisation of the environment – fishing, hunting, and raising cattle”, Anna-Kaisa Salmi says.

Stable isotope research shows that local natural environments such as alluvial meadows and peat grasslands, as well as forests, were utilised in a versatile manner in the feeding of cattle. “The stable isotope content of the bone of one cow resembles that of reindeer to such a degree that the cow had probably been fed lichen”, Maria Lahtinen says. Cattle most likely grazed exclusively in natural environments, which also seem to have supplied all of their winter feed.

The study included material from the Ylikylä dig in Rovaniemi. Photo: Karl Sandman/University of Oulu Archaeology Laboratory, 1982.


The animals had also adapted to the natural conditions that prevailed in the north. The cows were small, and the cattle was especially small in Rovaniemi. It was easier for small animals to survive the long winters on meagre nutrition.

The study marks the first time cattle farming in Northern Finland has been examined using stable isotope methods.

The study Farming in the extreme – Animal management in Late Medieval and Early Modern Northern Finland has been published in the American publication series Arctic Anthropology http://aa.uwpress.org/content/55/2/76.full.pdf+html

Last updated: 4.6.2019