efe-epaPunkalaidun (Finland)

Pine tar has long been used in Scandinavia to protect buildings and even as a medicine, but its production would be in danger of dying out were it not for dedicated craftsmen who keep the tradition alive, as captured in images by an epa photojournalist on the ground.

In the small central Finnish community of Punkalaidun, Tar Pit Master Valdemar "Valte" Nummelin can be seen instructing a young apprentice in the ancient art of tar making, seen in epa photographs released Thursday.

Instructor and disciple, along with volunteers, concentrically stack pine logs in a pit, cover them with moss and peat, then carefully light the pyre that will go on to burn over three days.

The peat covering helps to regulate the amount of oxygen that can enter into the smoldering pit.

The pit lighting ceremony is like a summer carnival for the village.

As the ashes gradually degrade, the pit master applies pressure to slowly form some 500 liters of dark, aromatic, sticky tar.

The end product will be used to coat historic buildings such as ancient churches covered by wooden tiles.

The tar is so effective that it is the only substance approved for use in officially protected Finnish buildings.

Wooden heritage boat builders also find the substance invaluable to finish and protect traditional boats.

For many Finns, however, pine tar also has wide-ranging household applications; from curing minor skin irritations to more serious ailments such as psoriasis.

It can be used to flavor sweets, ice creams, liquor and even in a shampoo that reputedly prevents dandruff.

But the old way of working with tar is under threat. Traditionally, tar pit masters sourced slightly damaged wood from loggers who worked on foot and naturally came across suitable trunks during the course of their working day.

This wood, known as 'tervas,' is best spotted up close where the logger can see the natural state of the dying and damaged pine wood surface.

However, modern loggers sit in cabins on high motorized harvesters and have so little contact with the forest that they no longer see suitable wood. Consequently, there hasn’t been enough wood to produce tar in the area for seven years.

Another challenge is the complexity of European Union legislation for the registration of pine tar exports.

Fortunately, heritage activists founded "Long live Tar!," a society that both supports the pine tar heritage and funds the all-important registration requirements.

The Yli-Kirra Outdoor Agricultural Museum in Punkalaidun preserves the old ways of working and farming.

As part of the museums’ activities, they burn a pine tar pit every four years if possible to keep up the required skills alive.

Yli-Kirra has many volunteers and committed professionals who help find suitable material and gather to build pits.

The burning of the pine wood in a pit produces charcoal and tar.

The images released by epa show Master Nummelin overseeing the burning of his last pit.

He has been a tar pit master for exactly half of his 80 years.

Luckily, he has committed apprentice Valtteri Ylosjarvi who will continue his work.