WOLF CAVE - Varggrottan - Susiluola

A Pre-Ice Age Archaeological Find in Lappfjärd, Finland

by Ralf Norrman

This article, which describes the background of the discovery and the investigations, was published for the first time in Swedish in Studia Archaeologica Ostrobothniensia 1993-1997, Vasa 1999, ISSN 0782-3649. It is edited for the WWW and republished with kind permission of Eva-Liisa Norrman the wife of the late Ralf Norrman.

Whose merit?

Who have we to thank for the Paleolithic find in the Wolf Cave to oversee the beginning of an investigation?

The answer is simple — the credit is held by two people: partly by the geological archaeologically interested Kalervo Uusitalo and partly by geologist Dr. Heikki Hirvas. Both played an essential role, each in his own way.

Uusitalo said (Vasabladet 19.10.1997) that he "nagged" himself to an excavation of the Wolf cave. For several years he had attempted to persuade experts to take a look at the Wolf Cave.

Heikki Hirvas
Heikki Hirvas
Photo: © Mikael Herrgård

But archaeologists were not interested. Finally he got a nibble. Geologist Heikki Hirvas visited the cave in January 1996. In May the same year, excavation began.

At the time (Jan. 1996) the visit almost didn’t happen, said Uusitalo in a Vbl interview. Hirvas later related that he was very doubtful. If he had not already booked a railway ticket he would have backed out.

With the results in hand, we can state it was on the verge of a catastrophy here. The alternative to an archaeological and geological excavation was not that the place would remain uninvestigated, but that it would be destroyed. There was a plan to empty the cave of all the gravel and earth and create some sort of commercial tourist trap.

Vasabladet had visited the Wolf Cave together with Kalervo Uusitalo in May 1995. "The cave conceals traces of the Stone Age?" headlined a Vbl report of 16 May 1995.

Tool Find in Excavation

During the first summer, work began to examine the excavation and a lucky event happened during that phase. They began to excavate the cave in 1996 and had uncovered about 64 square meters when an alert observer noticed a worked stone tool in the excavated material. Work was stopped and Hirvas contacted archaeologists who, up until then, didn’t have the slightest interest. Their opinion changed and they took over the main responsibility for continuing the excavation.

Chief Superintendent Paula Purhonen of the National Board of Antiquities apologized in Vbl 16.10.1997 that they didn’t take part in the work from the beginning. "Archaeologists can be blamed for their attitude that what is not known to us is the same as non-existent ", she said, and is thankful that geologists didn’t follow the example of the archaeologists.

Those who are involved with archaeology research can learn from this episode that it is better to make one visit too much than too late and secondly, that the amateurs interested in archaeology (and in this case interested in geology), are a valuable resource that one ought to make good use of. If Hirvas had not happened to decide to go to the Wolf Cave in January 1996 despite everything else, perhaps the tool finds today would lie among all the other filling in some parking place, forgotten forever.

Finland’s Largest CaveSusiluola

According to Hirvas the Wolf Cave is Finland’s largest cave (Vbl 16.10.1997).

"The Wolf Cave is Finland’s largest cave, at least 400 square meters, 18 meters deep and 25 meters long. The crevice in the primary rock is horizontal, and Hirvas assumes that it can extend to the top of the Vargberget (The Wolf Hill). The cave opening can be up to about a billion years old, but how old the cave is, no one can say."

During the summer 1997 excavations about one hundred stone tools with various flake scars were revealed. The predominant stone is Jotun sandstone; objects out of quartz were not frequent. Hans-Peter Schulz wrote in 1998 that the encountered archaeological lithics were fine-grained Jotun sandstone (c. 80 %), quartz, vulcanite and quartzite.

The Wolf Cave
Photo: © Olle Haavisto

Excavating continued the summer of 1998 and the research team consisted of Section Head Heikki Hirvas; FL. Pekka Huhta; Research Assistant Pentti Hakala from the Geological Survey of Finland; Prof. Mikael Fortelius; FD Juha-Pekka Lunkka; and FM Pirkko Ukkonen from the division for geology and paleontology of the Department of Geology; Högne Jungner from the C14 laboratory at Helsingfors University, also Chief Superintendent Paula Purhonen and Hans-Peter Schulz, MA from the National Board of Antiquities (Syd-Österbotten 9.6.1998).

At the same time as the press conference that was arranged 8.6.1999, the excavation leader Hans-Peter Schulz said the yield of found objects for 1997 was ca 70, whereby 25 clearly were created by human hands, which was determined through an artifact morphological investigation.

In 1997 they had examined an area of only 4.5 square meters. The discovery was found in the lowest layer. They found a stratification in the layers in the cave, and the three uppermost layers were empty. The upper layers are considerably younger than the lower ones.

Which Interglacial?

Soon it was clear that the find was Pre-Ice Age, beginning speculation from which interglacial they originated. The find must be at least 74,000 years old, but could it be older? And if so, how much older?

Neanderthal modelsDuring 1997 there was speculation of a much earlier date, but the main candidate now is the Eem Interglacial (130,000-120,000 BP). Also research still has not eliminated the possibility that the find could be from Saale I-II (220,000-200,000) or from the Holstein Interglacial (340,000-300,000 years ago). "The principal tool maker" is Homo neanderthalensis, " also the tool does not represent the classic mousterien- and levallois- technique, but more represents the pebble tools-implements, in particular Clacton-tools."

Models of Neandertals by Eirik Granqvist
Photo: © Staffan Storteir

 

Method of Dating

In an article in Populär Arkeologi (Nr. 3 1998, 3-7) Hans-Peter Schulz reports that a stratification in the deposit was found in the cave. The deposit consisted of 6 different layers. In 1997 a pollen test was taken from the 4th and possibly 5th layers, wrote Schulz. Analysis of the pollen confirmed an old age for these layers, because the pollen from such plants has not been found in Österbotten since the Ice Age. Schulz mentioned copper beech and a species of heath (Bruckenthalia) and meant that these plants point to the Holstein Interglacial (340,000-300,000 BP).

During excavation in the summer of 1998 samples for thermoluminescense analysis were taken. With the method of thermoluminescence one can determine when the particles of earth had last been subjected to sunlight.

Traces of fauna were found in layer 1 (the surface layer) and were accordingly younger than 8000 years. According to Vbl 9.6.1998 Pirkko Ukkonen was amazed that the seal bones (some with C14 dates to 2500 BP) were preserved so well in the upper layer. According to her, this indicates that the cave has preserved animal bones well.

The archaeological finds are from layers IV-VI, wrote Schulz. One of the most interesting finds indicated that, as a result of trampling by humans or animals , there is a pavement in layer IV. Through trampling the stones are tightly aligned to each other which has been noted in Central European caves.

In the Wolf Cave adjacent to the edge of the stone floor was found a deposit layer with "flakes, charcoal and small bits of burned stones, which indicates human activity". (p.6). Four likely hearth remains were discovered, of which only two are reliable.

They have sought to date the archeological finds through an analysis of the platform remnants. Schulz wrote:
A rapid, aimed blow results in a platform remnant at the tool which cannot be formed as an effect of sediments, pressure, frost, fire or weathering and which can be verified by the traits:

- platform remnant with point of percussion

- bulb; reflection of the percussion at the ventral surface

- concentric ripples, Wallner-lines

The tool finds from the Wolf Cave can be divided into tools of pebble(9% whereof 3 are possible one-sided chopping tools), retouched flakes(21%), cores (10%) and flakes (60%). Prominent is that 80% ofthe flakes have a primary dorsal surface and that only 20% exhibits negative dorsal surfaces. This holds true for both the retouched as the rest of the flakes.

The number of tool finds from the Wolf cave is too small to allow a statistical comparison, says Schultz.

A comparison with the starting point from the structure of percussion points and flakes (after a method by D. Schäfer 1997. Development of blankattributes of preupper paleolithic flakes) clearly shows conformity with the Central European older paleolithic finding inventory from Bilzingsleben, Clacton on Sea, Memleben, Verteszöllös, Wallendorf and Wangen. With this comparison, the so-called "trend-structure" has been used, that is, determining the thickness of the flakes, the form of platform remnants, angle of blow , primary/faceted platform remnants, occurrence of primary/negative dorsal surfaces.

Yet there is still a problem with the dating, Schulz points out. Also, if the working technique points to oldest paleolithic time we have to remember that finds are few. The Wolf Cave is a geograhically isolated place concerning such early inhabitants, and the Jotun sandstone as a raw material is new for researchers. "The old" technique may have persisted longer here in the North than in Central Europe.

Schulz closed his article in Populär Arkeologi by pointing out that many years ago people in Central Europe found the remains of a neanderthal man who lived more than 250,000 years ago. "With this background one can perhaps guess that these visitors to the Wolf Cave were an earlier edition of the neanderthal man."

 

Visitors Forbidden

Since the summer of 1998 visitors to the cave have not been allowed. (Interview with Hans-Peter Schulz, Vbl 7.7.1998, see also Vbl 8.12.1998). The National Board of Antiquities justifies this as a risk because the great amount of material carried away from the cave has created the risk of a collapse of the cave's roof. (The roof of the cave was reinforced in 2002/ed). Also there is a risk of contamination (the excavation relies on scientific methods, such as for dating and they are worried that visitors could hazard the sampling.)

Hans-Peter Schulz said in an interview in Vbl (7.7.1998) that in 1997 the cave was visited by 5,000 tourists and that the numbers in 1998 exceeded that.

 

References:

  • Anon. "Svårtolkade fynd från Varggrottan: Inga gäster får längre gå i Grottmannens hem" ("Difficult to interpret finds from the Wolf Cave: Visitors can no longer go into the caveman's home.") Vasabladet 8.12.1998.
  • Ekman, Mats. "Här är den ´riktiga´grottmannen: Kalervo Uusitalo tjatade tills geologerna kom till Varggrottan. Tror stenfynden bara är början." ("Here is the "true" caveman: Kalervo Uusitalo nags untilgeologists come to the Wolf Cave. Thinks the stone find is only the beginning.") Vasabladet 19.10.1997.
  • --- "Grotta döljer spår av stenåldern?" ("Cave hid traces of the Stone Age?") Vasabladet 16.5.1995.
  • Kjellberg, Johan. "Stenarna är en världssensation. Människor tillverkade verktygen I Varggrottan för minst 74.000 år sedan. Forskarna entusiastiska." ("The stones are a world sensation. People made tools in the Wolf Cave at least 74,000 years ago. Researchers enthusiastic.") Vasabladet 16.10.1997.
  • Nyström, Helge. "Varggrottan får inte bli turistfälla: Arkeologerna betackar sig för Grottmannens stugby och Visitors Center." ("The Wolf Cave will not be a tourist trap. Archaeologists say that Caveman's Cottage Village and Visitors Center are not for us." ) Vasabladet 7.7.1998.
  • Ritaoja, Linda: "Neanderthalare I Varggrottan: Nu är forskare säkra." ("Neanderthals in the Wolf Cave: Now researchers are sure.") Syd-Österbotten 9.6.1998.
  • Schulz, Hans-Peter: "De tog skydd I Varggrottan: De första spåren av människor i Norden är mer än hundratusen år gamla." ("They took shelter in the Wolf Cave. The first traceof humans in the North is more than 100,000 years old.") Populär Arkeologi Nr. 3 (1998).

Translation by June Pelo 2002

Edited for WWW by Staffan Storteir

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In Swedish: VARGGROTTAN En föristida fyndplats i Lappfjärd

Building of reinforcement constructions in June 2002

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