Rock paintings

Hiking in Finland


Jouni Laaksonen 16.9.2019

I recently wrote two posts about the interesting history you can see along hiking trails, here and here. Here’s one more post about the same subject. This time I concentrate on rock paintings, which are in many ways the most interesting history there is – messages from our ancestors from thousands of years ago!

In fact it’s not completely clear why they made rock paintings. They very probably were part of a shamanistic ceremony where hunters prayed for good hunting luck, or thanked for good catch. Though there may have been other, for example artistic or communicative meanings as well.

At least in Finland rock paintings almost invariably are situated alongside water routes, in vertical cliffs rising straight from a lake. Either the shaman stood on a simple wooden boat, or he stood on ice in winter, and the red figures are at about chest height. During the previous millennia there were no roads, and rivers and lakes were the most important highways. The red paint can often be seen from a boat or canoe, and the painted cliffs may have acted also as beacons, signposts at water route junctions.

However, very probably the most important reason for rock paintings was shamanistic and had to do with hunting. Finnish rock paintings are painted some 3500 to 7000 years ago, and hunting and fishing were essential ways to get something to eat, and to survive back then. The most common figures are humans, elk and deer.

Over one hundred specific rock paintings are known in Finland, and some may yet be waiting to be found. A complete list with pictures of each painting site can be found at Ismo Luukkonen’s pages This site is in Finnish, but there is an interesting map (click ‘kartta – map’ on upper left corner of the front page), and you can see pictures of individual rock paintings.

How on earth did Rock Age people invent a paint that lasts for thousands of years? Also good luck and geology and chemistry have their roles in this. I’ll tell more about this some other time. Now let’s concentrate on top rock painting sites in Finland.

Top four

Many of the rock paintings are small and simple, and it’s quite easy to highlight top three sites. In no particular order they are:

With around one hundred individual figures in each of these, these rock paintings are the largest in Nordic countries. 



There’s a nice path to Astuvansalmi rock paintings, and there’s a wooden platform below the painted cliff to make it easy to look at the Rock Age art. Walking there and back makes 4,5 km.

Hiking in Finland

If you have a possibility to visit Astuvansalmi by canoe or boat, you see this. Do you see a huge human face in the cliff? Sleeping, almost smiling.

Hiking in Finland

Here he is, our rock giant. No wonder this cliff was deemed so holy that they wanted to paint shamanistic figures in it.



Hiking in Finland

Saraakallio is not so easy to see, for there’s no platform and the path is not marked. It’s possible to walk to Saraakallio paintings, but you have to find your way yourself.



Hiking in Finland

Värikallio is situated in Hossa National ParkHossa National Park. There’s a well-marked trail to the cliff, and a metallic platform which allows you to walk right beside the paintings. Without the platform this wouldn’t be possible, for these paintings are in a vertical cliff that rises from a lake. Walking the circular route that goes via Värikallio makes 8 km. (The platform in the pic is wooden, for this pic was taken in 2015. The old wooden platform was replaced with a sturdy metallic platform in 2016.)

Hiking in Finland

The typical triangular headed human figures of Värikallio.



I want to point out a fourth one. This one does not contain so many individual figures as those three above, and thus it’s not as significant, but from a hiker’s point of view this one is very interesting.

Kolovesi National Park is a paradise for canoeists – and Saimaa ringed seals. The nature is beautiful, but there are also three rock paintings. If you paddle the wonderful three to four day circuit around this lake park, you can visit all three rock paintings. (I’ll write a blog post of this canoeing trip some day, but a proper description of the national park, rock paintings and the canoeing route you’ll find in Hiking in Finland.)

When we paddled in Kolovesi NP with my wife, we knew where the three rock paintings are situated. Still, we had difficulties to find the first one, Havukkavuori.

Hiking in Finland

It’s no wonder the prominent Havukkavuori was selected as the place where to paint red figures.

It’s here: map link. We came from north and paddled past the point marked on the map and saw nothing. What is wrong? After a few hundreds of meters we turned back and tried again, and now we saw it. The red elk was some ten meters higher than water level! Only then we remembered that the water level of most lakes in Eastern Finland sank about ten meters some 6000 years ago. Reason for this is Ice Age and land upthrust, which changed the flowing directions of some rivers, but I’m not going to that deeper this time. Maybe some other time.

So, indeed there was a cute rock painting when you knew to look farther up on the cliff:

Hiking in Finland

This same water level thing applies to other Kolovesi rock paintings, and to Astuvansalmi and Saraakallio, too. Värikallio at Hossa is different: there the water level is the same as it was when the paintings were done.

3 thoughts on “Rock paintings

  1. Fascinating.

    Rock paintings are a feature of remove areas where I live as well, except that they were done by Native Americans. Most predate contact with European Americans, although not all of them. Some have a real element of mystery to them. I always find myself pausing to examine them longer than perhaps I meant to, when I run across them.


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