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Rebala Bronze Age graves                            Source: Photo by Tarmo Lilles

Rebala Heritage Reserve, A Glimpse Into 5000 Years of Human History

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The Rebala Heritage Reserve is an extensive reserve filled with archaeological marvels from the Stone to the Viking Age and offers visitors a step into the long, rich history of the Estonia. The many extraordinary monuments and ruins offer a unique insight into the ancient and prehistoric past as the historical heritage covers more than 5000 years of human settlement.

The Glimpse into the History of Rebala Heritage Reserve

The history of the sites at the heritage reserve park reveals much of the history of Estonia and the Baltic region. The modern nation of Estonia was covered by glaciers during the last ice age . When the ice receded, hunter-gatherers, known as members of the Narva culture, moved into the area and gradually adopted farming and animal husbandry.

The location of Rebala Heritage Reserve, Estonia (Google Maps)

Little is known about the area in the Iron Age , but during the Bronze Age, which began around 1800-1700 BC, hill forts were built in the region. When the Vikings raided the Estonian coast around the 8 th century AD, they built forts and settlements and at this time much of northern Estonian belonged culturally, as well as politically, to the Viking world .

The archaeological park was formed in 1987 mainly as an archaeological preservation area. Estonia’s government have invested heavily in the reserve with the aid of international organizations .

Description of Rebala Heritage Reserve

The reserve is located around the village of Rebala, Harju County, in northern Estonia. In total it covers an area of 45 square miles (74 square kilometers) and there are over 300 archaeological sites in the reserve, the majority of them being small stone cist graves from the Bronze and early Iron Age .

The small coffins , with bodies or the bones of the dead interred in these graves, were made from stones and typically fashioned in a circular shape with many concentrated into one area. They were once covered by limestone slabs.

Example of a cup and ring stone ( Maigheach-gheal / CC BY SA 2.0 )

A large number of cup stones , dating to the stone age and later, have also been found. These petroglyphs consist of markings of a concave or spiral nature engraved into stone, which was an important motif in prehistoric art . They may also have been used to mark boundaries or ceremonial spaces . They are often found near the stone cist graves and it appears that they combined with the graves to form a prehistoric cultural landscape . Unlike other examples of cup and ring stones around Europe, the ones in the reserve are quite large and distinctive.

There have been a number of settlements and farms dating from the Stone Age to the Norse period. These were mainly private dwellings, but also forts, as well as a number of ancient farm fields. Viking villages can also be found in Rebala Heritage Reserve.

Viking settlement in Estonia (dmitrimaruta / Adobe Stock)

Viking settlement in Estonia ( dmitrimaruta / Adobe Stock)

Perhaps the greatest attraction at the site is the large Jõelähtme burial field with 35 cist graves on display. These were quite recently discovered in 1985 during a construction project. The burial ground was moved 60 feet (18 m) to make way for a new road in the 1990s.

New finds are constantly being made at Rebala, such as a number of new highly ornate cup stones that were excavated in 2013. There are great challenges to preserve such an extensive reserve given that there are many settlements and roads in the area.

Visiting Rebala Heritage Reserve

The Rebala Heritage Reserve is not far from the city of Tallinn, with plenty of accommodation available near the archaeological sites. The Jõelähtme museum is in the center of Rebala Heritage, with recreations of the past offering a view into the cultures of the inhabitants who lived in the area, and many artifacts are on display.

Touring the area in a car is possible as many of the attractions, such as the stone cists, are not far from a major road, although to get the most out of a trip to the heritage reserve, hiring a guide is advised.

Top image: Rebala Bronze Age graves                            Source: Photo by Tarmo Lilles

By Ed Whelan

References

Kraut, A. (2000). Archaeological heritage protection in Estonia . Archaeologia Polona, 38, 87-100

Available at: file:///C:/Users/board/Downloads/Archaeologia%20Polona%20vol.%2038,%20pp.%2087-100.pdf

Rammo, R., Kangert, N., & Tasuja, K. (2013). Landscape surveys and new monuments discovered in 2013

Available at:   http://www.arheoloogia.ee/ave2016/AVE2016_18_RAMMOjt_Uued-muistised.pdf

Urtāne, M. (2014). Archaeological site–environmental element

Available at: https://llufb.llu.lv/Raksti/Landscape_Architecture_Art/2014/Latvia-Univ-Agriculture_Landscape_Architecture_Art_VOL4_2014_5-9.pdf

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