15 December 2010

The Kaali Craters

On a colorless, overcast day on the island of Saaremaa, we traveled up from Kuressaare to the tiny hamlet of Kaali. The town is unremarkable except for one feature - the Kaali meteorite craters. There are nine of them, in all, with one major crater in the center. It is one of the last - if not the last - major meteorite collisions in Earth's history and has inspired a number of legends and tales. The impact was comparable to the Hiroshima atomic bomb, and flattened the forest in a four mile radius around the blast. The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, mentions the blast and the island - it became known as "the sun's grave." It is apparently a huge attraction, but when we visited we found an empty village and almost virgin snow surrounding the impact site. Walking up to the edge of the crater, it was obvious that less than a handful of people had been there in the past week or so. The picture above is of Rebecca scaling the crater's edge, through deep, powdery snow.
The exact moment of impact is a debatable fact - people believe that it occurred sometime between 7,500 and 4,000 years ago. Between 600 BC and 100 AD, a wall was constructed around the lake (part of which is shown above), and the remains of ritual sacrifices dating from that period were uncovered in the 1970's. The sacrifices apparently continued until the eighteenth century. The place has retained an important significance in local mythology up until the present.
The actual crater was smaller, perhaps, than we were expecting. It was such a dismal day, with so little color, that the patch of ice where the crater sits appeared to be little more than a stretch of treeless snow in the flat light. It was deserted and quiet.
After a while in the woods, we followed the simple track back to the village where our car was parked. Along the way we saw few people - though we did see an old lady on one of these push-sleighs, which is something like a pair of skis attached to a chair. One foot remains on the track while the other pushes. We've seen them a few times on Saaremaa, and they seem like a great way to get around.

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