One of the many unique environments of Finland is its inland with waterways and lakes. The Saimaa Lake complex in the eastern part of Finland has constituted one of the major inland water systems throughout our prehistory. In the earlier stages, the water level of the small lakes was relatively low. Due to the post-glacial land uplift and lake tilting, the Saimaa basin continued to transgress in the southeast direction and thus inundating the earlier lakeshores. Circa 6000 years ago, the Ancient Lake Saimaa reached its maximum extent, nearly 9000 km2 in size which culminated in the outburst of the Vuoksi river in the south c 4000 cal BC.Because of this, the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic sites predating the transgression are to be found under water and in wetlands surrounding the lake. An experimental project was launched at the turn of the millennium with the aim of finding submerged sites by means of underwater archaeology. A few new observations were made under shallow water and in lake mud in the municipality of Taipalsaari and the results make it the most likely to discover new, submerged and paludified sites in the region.
The new project ‘Lost inland landscapes’ by the University of Helsinki is both ambitious and innovative. New techniques and experiences in wetland and underwater archaeology make it possible to find hitherto unknown prehistoric sites on wetlands as well as on the lakebed in the SE Saimaa area. The experiences for example from the southern shore of the Lake Vättern in Sweden are encouraging and it is highly possible that something similar has survived on the lakebed and shallow shores of the Lake Saimaa. On dryland conditions, practically all the organic materials from the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic periods have deteriorated, but in wet environments fairly much of them might have survived. If succeeded the project may produce scientifically highly important new information on the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic periods in Finland. The project is both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary while it is based on the methods of several different disciplines. To study and interpret these lost inland landscapes for the first time more extensively, with new technologies and new research questions, would not only provide unique new information about human responses to the environmental change over time as well as in achieving new knowledge on the more general trends in Finnish prehistory.
Starting in 2015, a desk-based evaluation work constitutes the basis for planning the activities of the project and archaeological field work. A field work period in wetland and shoreline areas was conducted in the SE Lake Saimaa area during the summer. The field workers concentrated on the archaeologically potential hot-spots detected already by way of preliminary desk-based analysis. There was a pause in the project in 2016. In the field work season of 2017, small-scale wetland excavations and an underwater survey will be carried out. If new wetland sites had already been located the previous year, geophysical prospection, coring and test pitting will be conducted at the most prominent wetland and underwater areas in the same year. During non-field work seasons, desk based research will be conducted until the proposed project end in 2018. A small workshop for fellow researchers and the reference group members will be held at the University of Helsinki twice during the project period; the first during the first half of the beginning year 2015 and another during the first half of the final year 2018.