THE NATIONAL LIBRARY
of Finland Bulletin 2013
The National Library of Finland Bulletin 2013

  Home

Mikko Huhtamies


Four centuries of land surveying in Finland

From land records to land reform

The first visualisations of Finland were created in the 1400s and 1500s by exploring expeditions in connection with the invention of printing. When Claudius Clavus published a rather lumpy map of the Nordic countries in 1427, the map featured Finland merely as a misspelled name with a lower case initial letter, finlandi. The first actual visualisations of Finland were published in the 1500s in the renowned atlases by Olaus Magnus, Jacob Ziegler, Gerard Mercator, Lucas Waghenaer and Abraham Ortelius. A map of the Kingdom of Sweden, based on an accurate survey by Anders Bureus, was published in 1626. While the map included a general outline of Finland, the territory remained uncharted. The task of charting the area required the training of domestic (Swedish) land surveyors. Bureus (Bure after ennoblement) took charge of the matter.

Karta öfver Skandinavien

The first land surveyor in Finland was named Olof Gangius. He was fully Swedish and came to Finland 380 years ago, in 1633. His arrival led to the launch of land surveying and mapping operations in Finland and created a foundation for the current National Land Survey of Finland.

The responsibilities of the first land surveyors in the Great Power Era of Sweden (1620–1670) were related to taxation. Enhancing taxation was a precondition for the survival of Sweden, as the country endeavoured to Europeanise its superpower policies, science and economy. Land surveyors began to survey rural land areas and to conduct mapping for the purpose of controlling taxation and the extensive abandonment of land. Updated maps were gradually compiled on the basis of the data in what were called geometric land record maps.

The 1700s saw an aspiration to develop the economic conditions in Finland after the destruction of several wars. The objective was to generate a detailed map of Finland. Parish specific maps were connected to cover more extensive areas through celestial position fixing. The method formed the early core of modern geodetic mapping.

Besides conducting mapping, land surveyors studied the possibilities of mining operations in Northern Finland, made inventories of historical relics and participated in clearing rapids. The latter activity was aimed to improve traffic connections, especially for timber transport. The original plan to connect Lake Päijänne to Helsinki proved technically unfeasible and was never realised.

The design of a South North heavy goods transport route leading to Helsinki was a significant catalyst to the launching of the largest construction project in the Nordic countries, the Suomenlinna sea fortress (or Viapori as contemporary Finns knew it). The extensive construction site sparked the growth of Helsinki. The resulting huge demand for construction equipment, labour and agricultural products additionally initiated a technological rise in the Uusimaa region and in the southern parts of the Häme region. It also marked the beginning of the great land reform known as isojako ('great division'). The reform ended the centuries long policy of joint land ownership, expanded narrow strips of cultivated field into larger ones, and created the preconditions for rational agriculture and an early form of capitalism.

From military to social surveying

Finland, the former Eastern part of Sweden, became the Western buffer of Russia in the era of autonomy (1809–1916). The focus point of land surveying shifted from land reform to security and political functions and the enhancement of the logistics of St Petersburg.

Connections to Russia were improved by mapping overland and sea routes between St Petersburg and Helsinki and by defining geodetic grid references in the Gulf of Finland area. The empire enhanced its control over its Western border states by measuring an extensive chain of survey triangulations through them. The chain, known as the Struve Geodetic Arc, stretches from the Black Sea to the Arctic Ocean, through the Western parts of Russia and Finland. It is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

For the sawmill owners in St Petersburg, the border between Russia and 'Old Finland' (later the region of Viipuri) was an obstacle that restricted timber deliveries from the Eastern parts of Finland. It is therefore hardly surprising that Old Finland was annexed to the "new" autonomous Finland as early as in 1812. The land surveyors redeemed donated estates (the non independent farms previously owned by Russian nobility) in Old Finland and gave them free status. Any surplus land was given to the State of Finland. This helped to create the technological foundation for the forestry industry in Eastern Finland.

In the era of autonomy, people feared that the slash and burn method would wipe out the Finnish forests. Additionally, the prevailing climate theory suggested that the climate would grow colder and leave the forests desolate. To clarify the matter, the Director of the Board of the National Land Survey of Finland, C. W. Gyldén, compiled a thematic map of Finnish forests and showed such fears to be unfounded. The map was the first inventory of Finnish forest resources and an early predecessor to the extremely accurate modern laser scanning method.

Land surveying operations advanced towards the remote outskirts of Finland in the late 1800s, alongside the progress in railway construction and a northward shift of the forestry break even point. Large forest areas were divided between private and state owners and sawmills. At the same time, crown owned forest crofts were made private holdings. The emerging regional preconditions for forestry were secured by ensuring the availability of raw materials and permanent labour.

In the late era of autonomy, radical land management reform measures were implemented in order to improve the position of the part of the population that did not own farms. However, the reform was interrupted by the world war, food shortage and social upheaval in Russia and Finland.

From reconstruction to mobile technology

The National Land Survey of Finland was founded in 1917, primarily for the purposes of fully mapping the area of independent Finland, creating a land survey administration and including Northern Finland in the land consolidation project which had begun in the era of autonomy. The mapping of the Northern areas of the country continued during the term of Chairman Kyösti Haataja after Finland had obtained a connection to the Arctic Ocean via Petsamo. Administrative task distribution was specified. The Finnish Geodetic Institute resigned from the National Land Survey of Finland in 1918.

Even though the war disrupted land surveying from 1939 to 1944, technological developments made during the war accelerated the surveying work once peace had been established. The most important technical innovation of the time was aerial photography. The greatest challenge facing land surveyors proved to be settlement. Urbanisation motivated municipal land surveying operations. Besides urbanisation, a rise in the value of plots and large construction projects required greater accuracy which could only be achieved through new measuring equipment.

Basic mapping played an important role in the post war reconstruction in the period from 1948 to 1977. Geodetic measurements and measuring tower construction continued throughout the country until the 1980s. New technologies also emerged, providing faster and more accurate measuring methods. Nevertheless, surveying work remained physically demanding due to the heavy weight of the equipment.

The emergence of information technology revolutionised the field. The digitisation of maps began in the early 1970s. Digitisation resulted in geographical information databases. The National Land Survey of Finland developed the management, transfer and application of digital geographic information. Maps evolved into accurate but simple and unadorned geographical print outs adapted to their purpose. A big technological breakthrough in the 1990s introduced computers to the workplace. The mid 1990s saw the emergence of home computers, and pocket computers have become a reality in the 21st century.

The exploitation of geographic information systems has significantly changed the nature of mobile applications. Were it not for the transferred and digitised information originally collected on site by land surveyors over the centuries, we would lack geographic information altogether.

Mikko Huhtamies, PhD, Finnish and Nordic history, University of Helsinki













Print this article (PDF) Print entire issue (PDF)