Firecraft in ancient Finland?

A few years ago, I was listening in on a conversation between OZme and some Finnish guys about firelighting in ancient Finland. I remember OZme mentioning that little or no evidence has survived from ancient times to indicate which methods might have been used. This really got me wondering. In a place where winter can last half the year or more and where fire is crucial to survival, how did people get them going before matches, flint and steel etc.? Things like wooden bow drills, hand drills etc. would rot relatively quickly due to Finland’s harsh climate/seasonal extremes, so there’s no way to know if they were used. Is there any way, then, to find out what they may have used? I think I might have accidentally stumbled upon one possible answer.

One summer while breaking up rocks to build a fire ring, I noticed that after one rock-on-rock smash, I smelled something burning. At first, I looked around me because I thought the smell must have been coming from some fire nearby. Then I realized that the rocks I had been smashing must have created a spark! It’s absolutely conceivable, as the rocks contained both quartz and what I guess would be iron ore (I’m not a geologist, so forgive me). Having read many years ago that arctic peoples, specifically the Inuit in North America, used rocks of various types to create a spark for firelighting, I realized that this could certainly have been a method employed in Finland as well. Horse hoof fungus, aka tinder fungus, aka fomes fomentarius can be found throughout the country, and when processed properly, will take a spark and burn hot as a glowing ember, so the tinder element is there as well.

Perhaps we will never know exactly how people in ancient Finland started fires. Maybe they used several different methods. In any case, to my mind, I feel like I have possibly confirmed one of them.

If any readers have more info on this topic, I’d love to hear it!


22 comments on “Firecraft in ancient Finland?

  1. equusignis says:

    Interesting. As a child in Vietnam, I often played with rocks that were milky white and smooth as eroded by water (as I learned later) and struck them with other rocks that consistently made sparks. I don’t know what the other rocks were but perhaps there were minerals in there of the right composition for sparks. I never thought the sparks were enough to light a fire though it fascinated me. I suppose if you had a tinder that took even the smallest sparks then fire could come.

  2. I know that people used to travel hundreds of miles to find the right stones to make fire- I think that you are on the right track in that sense.

  3. Gary Fruland says:

    An interesting find on your part. I wanted to show you a find of mine on my property here 60 miles southwest of Chicago. I couldn’t figure out how to include the photo on the comment page so sent it this way. I enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work! Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2013 12:03:52 +0000 To:

  4. Chris Major says:

    The fist time I made fire without modern materials, I felt a connection to those past who have struggled with this out of necessity, I was simply playing without my life being dependant on it but I became tremendously invested in it, and the reward of heat and light generated by my own hands was truly a landmark.
    Nice read and a fascinating subject, I would also love to learn more!

  5. Ross Gilmore says:

    Here is one possible option, similar to what you were describing:

    I imagine it was a matter of extensive preparation, maintaining fires that were already in existence, and staying sheltered during cold weather. I imagine not much was done during the colder months. I know that is certainly the way in many small villages these days.

    • I remember reading your post on the Inuit using rocks to start fires. It reminded me of what I read in a book on the Netsilik Inuit in Canada back in the late 90s, which is where I first read about the technique.

      Agreed on all points. 🙂

  6. Duncan says:

    I bet with a little practice and a lot of patience, you could make fire with the sparks from the stones. I’ll be looking forward to the post about it.

  7. OZme says:

    Good one and very interesting. as you mentioned, it must have been friction or impact fire but the question is what? I was start to ruling out the possibility of impact spark because it seems to be very rear to find the rock which creates the spark. but since you have come across one, there is a possibility. just need to know which one.

  8. Ron says:

    It should be an interesting quest to see if you can retrace the sort of rock you used. Judging by your desription it could be some sort of flint, since that does give of that burning smell, especially if you hit a good, long lasting spark.
    I have been practicing with flint, but find it not easy to get good sparks, when using flint with markasit. But that might be, because there are no sharp edges on the latter one and I’m a little afraid to break it, since it’s the only one I got.
    Using a piece of an old file works too and gives that noticeable burning smell, too.
    Either way I’ll bring you a large Danish flint, this summer. Should last you a while to practice. Maybe I’ll bring a few and we could practice at a gathering??

    • Thanks for the comment, Ronny! 🙂 I don’t believe there is any natural flint in Finland, but there is quartz, for sure. I have used it to crate sparks with a traditional fire steel.

      I’d love to have a large piece of flint! I only have one small piece left now. I’m sure everyone would appreciate it if we could practice at the gathering. 🙂

  9. Skaukraft says:

    Pyrite is the rock you are looking for. It can be found on a few locations in Scandinavia, and was probably highly valued and treasured.

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