Åland is an autonomous and unilingually Swedish-speaking province of Finland. The landscape consists of more than 6,500 islands. The main island is inhabited by 90 percent of the population. With time many of the islands have been connected with each other by bridges and banks, while others have been depopulated so that 27,000 inhabitants now live on just 65 islands.
Åland is part of the European Union. Exempt from EU tax regulations, Åland’s economy thrives on duty-free trade from numerous ferryboat lines between Finland, Sweden and the Baltic countries. Tourism provides the bulk of jobs and some 40 percent of revenues. Annually more than two million travellers visit Åland.
Several hundred thousand years ago Åland was covered with a four kilometres thick layer of ice which pressed down the land. Ever since the ice age ended, about 10,000 years ago, the land has been rising. Åland emerged slowly from the bottom of the sea, and the land elevation continues even today about five millimetres yearly. Due to the land elevation islets become peninsulas and ocean bays become lakes.
Only two islands existed 7,000 years ago when the very first human beings set foot on Åland from the east. They were seal hunters coming seasonally in skin rafts or on the ice. These first Ålanders moved their huts nearer the shore as the water level receded. The permanent habitation came 5,300 years ago from the west and south-west. These Scandinavians mastered primitive agriculture and cattle raising.