Nationally significant archaeological sites VARK

A three-year project by the Finnish Heritage Agency to define the most significant archaeological sites in continental Finland. The project will be completed in 2023.

The goal is to prepare a list that the Finnish Government can approve as the inventory referred to in the national land use guidelines based on the Land Use and Building Act.

The inventory sites must be acknowledged as one of the starting points of land use planning.

The aim is to prepare a compendium that provides as good an overview as possible of the antiquity of Finland’s land areas (excluding the province of Åland).

The assessment and selection of sites will be carried out based on information in the Ancient Relics Register. As part of the inventory, terrain inspections have been carried out on sites with outdated or inaccurate data.

The project will be conducted in collaboration with regional museums-in-charge and Metsähallitus. The steering group includes the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, the University of Helsinki, the Archaeological Society of Finland, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of the Environment.

VARK sites provide an impression of Finnish archaeological cultural heritage that is comprehensive both historically and regionally as well as in terms of monument types. The assessment of the sites focuses on examining the archaeological or cultural and historical significance of each site, i.e. how well the site depicts the phenomena, processes and events associated with its time period.

The assessment will also involve determining how well the site had been preserved, its value in terms of research and whether the site is particularly characteristic or rare for the region or at the national level. Additionally, the assessment will include an evaluation of the site’s archaeological diversity and its environment and landscape.

In Finland, ancient monuments are protected by the Antiquities Act (295/1963), which applies to both prehistorical and historical sites. There is no defined age limit for ancient monuments, and decisions on whether to grant funding to 19th and 20th century sites are usually made on a case-by-case basis.

The most recent consistent group of ancient monuments is defence structures dating back to the First World War. The Act protects a site immediately upon its discovery, without the need for a separate protection decision.

In addition to the ancient monuments protected by the Antiquities Act, archaeological cultural heritage also includes other archaeologised sites, meaning structures that have been abandoned or are in the process of falling into ruins despite their relatively young age. These so-called other archaeological cultural heritage sites include defence structures dating back to the Second World War and shipwrecks that are less than 100 years old.

While these other archaeological cultural heritage sites are not subject to the Antiquities Act, they can still be protected under the Land Use and Building Act. In specific cases, these types of structures may also be selected as VARK sites.

The preservation of nationally significant archaeological sites is to be ensured under all circumstances. Land use planning is expected to support the protection of the sites. VARK sites may be subject to stricter criteria concerning the granting of disturbance and research permits than other sites.

Questions of protection related to VARK sites fall under the purview of either the Finnish Heritage Agency or the protection authorities of regional museums-in-charge. The Finnish Heritage Agency remains solely responsible for permit matters related to the sites.

Project Manager Teija Tiitinen, tel. +358 (0)295 33 6293