Human impact on shaping the landscape

On the North-Estonian limestone plateaus, the history of human colonisation can be traced back about 10 000 years. Most of the stone-age settlements were located close to the North-Estonian Klint and near the rivers, areas favourable for agriculture and fishing

On the Harju plateau, ancient settlements existed on both sides of the Pirita River, in the Lehmja oak forest, near the east coast of Lake Ülemiste and in Rebala. Rebala is one of the oldest villages of Estonia, and gave its name to ancient Rävala county and to Reval (the ancient name of Tallinn). The largest stone coffin graveyard in Estonia is in Muuksi, with 80 graves.

Settlements on the Viru plateau are among the oldest in Estonia. The Mesolithic settlements near Kunda and Narva date from the 7000 B.C. The Kunda site gave its name to the archaeologically distinct Kunda culture. The ruins of old settlements are found on Hiiemägi Hill, at the eastern margin of the present town of Kunda, and in Lammasmägi Hill, which was inhabited as an island in an ancient lake. The largest grave fields are in Lahemaa, west of Palmse and near Kunda, Pada Valley and Lüganuse. One of the densest grave fields has been located in the territory of the present town of Kohtla-Järve.

Old fortifications on the Harju plateau include the Iru stronghold at the Pirita River, the Ohtu stronghold south of Keila, the Kuusalu Pajulinn and the Muuksi stronghold. Varbola Jaanilinn in the central part of the plateau is one of the largest strongholds. Another well-known stronghold site — Lohu or Loone Jaanilinn is situated nearby, on the east bank of the Keila River. The best known strongholds on the Viru plateau are Kloodi or Pahnimägi, the Pada strongholds, Purtse Taramägi, Tarakallas and Alulinn. The Viru plateau is rich in finds of old treasures.

Human activity has shaped the natural soils and plant cover of the North Estonian limestone plateaus. Primary small fields were replaced by larger fields during Neolithic slash-and-burn agriculture and more recently, by even larger, fertilised fields. From the Harju and Viru plateaus, colonisation moved slowly southward, and settlements were established on the Pandivere Upland. Open landscapes are characteristic of all the above mentioned regions. This landscape pattern has resulted from the interaction of man and nature, over the course of thousands of years.

The landscape of the North-Estonian limestone plateaus has many sites related to cultural and historical events. Old churches have been preserved in Jõelähtme, Hageri, Haljala, Kadrina, Viru-Jaagupi, Ambla and elsewhere. Many of the manors in Saue, Kolga, Riisipere, Palmse, Aaspere, Sagadi, Rägavere, Kiltsi and Jäneda have been recently restored and function as museums and tourist attractions. Other old sites include old stone bridges, water mills, post offices, etc.

The Kiiu Tower is one of the two tower-like strongholds in Estonia. Another one is located at Vao, near Kiltsi on the Pandivere Upland. The bastions of the Paldiski fortifications near Paldiski, dating back to the early 19th Century, were established by Czar Peter I of Russia. The Herman and Ivangorod castles face each other across the Narva River.

The ruins of the old Tarvanpea stronghold of the German Order on Rakvere Vallimägi (107 m a.s.l.), part of the Kloodi–Koeravere esker field, have become the symbol of Rakvere. North of the castle, the slopes of Vallimägi are covered by a stand of oak forest, a reminant of large oak forests that covered northern Estonia in ancient times.

On the Viru plateau, Toila was one of the most significant cultural centres before the Second World War. The Toila mansion, a residence of the President of the Estonian Republic in the 1930s, is situated on a high klint terrace and surrounded by the Toila-Oru Park.

Limestone usage
The limestone strata have been studied in detail. Within the boundaries of the North-Estonian limestone plateau, the chronostratigraphic subdivision, based on fossil distribution, includes 16 Ordovician stages and three Silurian stages. Lithostratigraphic subdivisions include several formations and members. The main mineral resources of the Ordovician strata are oil shale and limestone. The limestone of the Väo Formation in the Lasnamägi and Uhaku stages is a traditional building stone.

It has been used for construction of castles, mansions, factories and smaller buildings, and for several buildings in Tallinn and Narva. It is also used as a raw material for cement in the Kunda cement factory. Earlier in history, local limestone strata were used for extracting lime by burning the limestone.

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