Estonians love an image of themselves as ancient forest people, but how would our neigbours Latvians define themselves?
In reality, however, this opinion of Estonians probably stems from bitterness from the knowledge that Tallinn is smaller than Riga and the northern part of Latvia is an ancient part of Estonia. But what kind of people were the Latvians in the old days? The research scientists of the Institute of Geology at Tallinn University of Technology in collaboration with their colleagues have attempted to find an answer to this question. It turns out that they were the lake people.
In the course of archaeological surveys in Latvia several settlements have been found on lakes, where the houses were built on rafts located on a lake. A settlement located on Lake Āraiši and inhabited by the Latgalian tribes in the late Iron Age (approximately in the years 800-1200), which has been partially reconstructed and works as a museum nowadays, has been investigated most thoroughly. It is believed that the Latgalian lake people drove off the Zemgalian tribes, who lived on land. In the interests of truth it should be noted that it has been suspected in Estonia that there have been such kind of floating villages on several lakes at some time, but no unequivocal evidence on it has been found.
In the research "Landscape change in central Latvia since the Iron Age: multi-proxy analysis of the vegetation impact of conflict, colonization and economic expansion during the last 2,000 years“ (recently published also in the magazine Vegetation History and Archaeobotany) completed by the research group of Atko Heinsalu, Director and Research Scientist of the Institute of Geology at Tallinn University of Technology, the research scientists wished to expand the image of those mysterious Latgalian lake people based on archaeological data by using lake sediment analysis. It was found that the lake people were the first ones who began intensive cultivation of land around Lake Āraiš by growing , among other things, plenty of rye and a little wheat and barley. It is noteworthy that the percentage of hop increased significantly at that time. Apparently those lake people brewed beer as well to alleviate the Nordic period of winter darkness. Also, in the late Iron Age the percentage of wild herbaceous grasses increased significantly, which indicates that the lake people were engaged in deforestation. The probably needed deforestation in order to create meadows, since significant increase in eutrophication of the lake indicates clearly that there were cattle sheds on the rafts, where domestic animals were kept.
The settlement on Lake Āraiši was abandoned in the 11th century due to enemy conquests or due to the fact that the water level of the lake rose significantly and constructing on the lake became uncomfortable.
It is to be hoped that in future the geologists will drill also the sediments of some Estonian lakes, as hopefully we are not inferior to Latvians and heroic lake people have inhabited our area as well.