The history of the Geopark is scented by tar

The Lauhanvuori - Hämeenkangas Geopark area has a long history of tar burning. Kauhajoki in particular was known as a long-standing tar parish, and there have been a huge number of tar pits in the area's forests. What was tar production all about and how was it reflected in the nature and people of the area?

Hundreds of years old industry

There was tar burning in the area as early as the settlement period. In the second half of the 17th century, the demand for tar increased as sailing ship traffic picked up. The sailing ships were built of wood, which was treated with tar for protection against weather.

Tar burning became one of the most important industries in the region for almost a couple of hundred years. The wars of the late 18th century increased the need for tar, which also raised its price. This marked the beginning of the heyday of tar burning, which lasted until the Finnish War in the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the area’s numerous tar graves are inherited from the heyday.

Tar burning was profitable for its producers. With the development of technology, more tar could be produced with less effort. Production became even more efficient so that tar burning had to be restricted. Increased wood use was feared to deplete forests. The state imposed tar quotas. However, the locals did not care about the restrictions, but burned as much tar as they could. There was plenty of forest too.

After the end of the war in the early 19th century, the demand and price of tar fell. In particular, the proliferation of metal-hulled steamships reduced the demand for tar as the reign of tarred sailing ships in the world’s seas came to an end. By the end of the 19th century, the importance of tar burning as an industry had waned.


There was no slack in the manufacture of tar

Tar production began with the peeling of pines. They were debarked for several years, but still so that the tree did not die. When the trees were ready to be felled, they were driven to a tar grave where they were cut into slats.

The tar pit was a funnel-shaped clay-compacted pit where the slats were stacked. The pit masters were responsible for the stacking. They were respected professionals because a well-laid pit produced more tar. After the stacking, there was a feast. The tomb was then set on fire and burned without flames for about a week, at which time the tomb had to be tightly guarded.

Because some of the tar pits were a longer distance from the home farm, people spent  several days there at the time of tar burning. In connection with tar pits, there was often a  sauna nearby with a simple stove and a convertible for sleeping.

Precise data on total tar production are not available, but can be estimated, for example, from the number of tar pits. There are more than 750 tar pits in Kauhajoki alone. Not all tar pits are even known, as they have been left under fields, roads and buildings.



Text: Laura Tauriainen / Luova toimisto Ranka


Main image: Aarne Laitakari / Geologian tutkimuskeskus, Vanhat kuvat nro 5347

Colour images: tar burning in  Seitseminen National Park 2009, Tiina Hakkarainen / Metsähallitus

Tar burner at the tar pit of Mr. A. Uuro 1937, Tar burning in  Kauhajoki 1926 ja 1932:  Alfred Niemistö