Research at the Department of Archaeology

Our research activities focus on the Iron Age and recorded history, and we conduct our research in Finland and the Baltic Sea region. Our department is also an active participant in research that focuses on the medieval era of the City of Turku. In addition, we are developing the use of methods that stem from the natural sciences in archaeological research. We also aim to integrate our students into our research projects.

Our research topics and areas include the following:

  • Ceramics from the Stone Age and Early Metal Age
  • The settlement patterns and development during the Iron Age
  • Early church sites: Koroistenniemi in Turku and Ristimäki in Ravattula, Kaarina
  • The development of Finland’s oldest cities, and the related archaeological discoveries
  • Relics of Turku Cathedral and the Cathedral’s cult of saints
  • The use of wooden materials between 1100 and 1600 AD.

Our research projects

Ristimäki in Ravattula: Finland’s oldest church site

The ruins of Finland’s oldest known church are located along the River Aura in Kaarina, on Ristimäki hill in the village of Ravattula. Discovered in August 2013, the church was used during the turn of the 1100s and 1200s, right at the turn of the Crusades and the Middle Ages, a time before Finland contained any organised congregations. The site is the oldest known and only church in Finland that can shed new light on this historic era. In addition to the church’s stone foundation, a large churchyard and the stone foundation of the fence that circled the hill have been discovered on the site.

Between 2010 and 2016, the site was surveyed by the Department of Archaeology from the University of Turku, led by archaeologist Juha Ruohonen.

These efforts were funded by the University as well as with various grants provided by foundations and donations from private individuals. Between 2017 and 2019, the materials that were gathered from the digs will be subjected to a multidisciplinary analysis with the support of the Alfred Kordelin Foundation.

At the dawn of the Middle Ages: the bishop’s see in Koroinen, Turku and Christian culture in Finland in the 1200s

The goal of the research project is to comprehensively analyse the archaeological and historic materials gathered from the bishop’s see in Koroinen, the most important early historical site in Finland, and to establish a chronology for the site. The project will compare the findings made in Koroinen with other international discoveries and utilise the latest research methodologies and critical source analysis methods.

The project’s research group includes archaeologists Janne Harjula (Docent), Visa Immonen (Professor) and Tanja Ratilainen (PhL), as well as historian Kirsi Salonen (Professor). The project will also involve national and international experts from various fields.

Archaeological research at Aimala Church

During the Middle Ages, the villages of Lempäälä and Vesilahti formed a joint parish whose church was estimated to be located in the village of Aimala. Based on stories collected during the 1700s, the church had burned down by the beginning of the 1400s, after which the parish split into two and established new churches in other locations. At the end of the 1800s, some speculated that the stones from the church’s foundations had been reused in the foundations of a nearby barn. Despite these stories and the human bones that were later discovered in the area, no active efforts were made to search for the location of Aimala Church. Based on preliminary digs made in May 2017, the Medieval church grounds of Aimala have now been discovered, but no signs of the church building itself have been found in the small research area as of yet. These research efforts are set to continue whenever the opportunity presents itself, in collaboration with the Lempäälä-Seura (Lempäälä Society).

The project’s researcher is Juha Ruohonen, University Teacher of Archaeology.

The Partala project

This project utilises archaeological methods to study the material culture of the royal estate in Partala, established in 1556 in the administrative parish of Juva. Scarce information is available on the prosperous farmhouses located in inner Finland, as most archaeological research that focuses on the turn of the medieval and modern period has mainly been conducted in Finland’s coastal regions. In 2015 and 2016, preliminary archaeological digs were made in the area where Partala’s main building was located. In 2017, the site was excavated, and the surrounding fields were surveyed for buildings that date back to the 1500s and 1800s. The materials that have been discovered so far have proven to be extremely versatile, as the earliest findings date back to the 1200s or 1300s, and the latest to the 1900s. A publication is being prepared on the materials with a planned publication date of spring 2019. The project’s research assistants include students of archaeology and local enthusiasts as well as other interested parties. The project includes several partners and is managed by the Municipality of Juva.

The archaeological portion of the project is led by Juha Ruohonen, University Teacher of Archaeology at the University of Turku.

CaJu: assessing the archaeological materials from the Casagrande Block and Julin plot as well as their research history

The purpose of this research project is to create a comprehensive report on the archaeological digs made in the Casagrande Block, located in the city centre of Turku, and the materials that were discovered there. Several research projects have been conducted in the area since the 1960s, but no overarching assessment has ever been made on the quality, contents and scientific potential of the materials that have been found there. The area is an especially interesting research site due to the hundreds of graves that have been discovered there, as well as the ruins of the Church of the Holy Spirit that dates back to the 1500s. The excavated findings and the remains of the church have proven to be a rich source of information on the area’s earliest settlers and the lives they lived. However, due to the lack of a proper basic assessment, the Casagrande Block has not received the attention that it deserves from a research standpoint.

The CaJu project focuses especially on the archaeological digs that have been made in the so-called Julin plot. Our goal is to evaluate the documentation, stored samples and findings from the excavations conducted in the 1960s and 1980s to assess their scope, quality, use in current research, and possible research potential.

The project’s staff includes Liisa Seppänen (Docent of Urban Archaeology) and Hanna Haverinen (BA).

The ‘Relics of Turku Cathedral’ project

The purpose of this research project is to utilise modern research methods to describe and study the relics that were used by cultists in Turku Cathedral during the Middle Ages (circa 1200–1560) as well as the wrappers and containers that were used to store, present and protect these relics. The project also aims to discover more information about the relics used at other medieval congregations, chapels and churches.

The goal of the research is to utilise modern means and methods to enhance any known current information as well as to discover new information on the relics used in Finland: their origin, date, quality, impurities, handling materials, “forgeries” from the era, textual questions, ethnic background, the possible illnesses and physiological injuries that they caused, the technical and professional quality of the containers and protection materials used, as well as other questions.

The Carvers of Change: The Use of Wood in Northeast Europe between 1100 and 1600

Wood was an integral part of premodern life in the northern coniferous zone. This cross-disciplinary research project focuses on the use of wood and the changes in its use in northeast Europe from the 1100s to the 1600s. The project analyses the long-term changes in the role that wood has played, both from a concrete and metaphorical standpoint: from raw forest material to household and market products, from a humble block of wood to a holy carving. How are these movements and changes connected to ancient ways of life and the interplay between humans, animals, the environment and the supernatural? This project is part of a brand-new, environment-centric perspective of the humanities, and it focuses on complex material networks that combine local and global phenomena, economies, social practices and political discourses. The research group includes plant scientists, archaeologists, art historians and historians.

Recent publications

Joki ja turkulaiset 1600-luvulla (2021)

Kalmistopiiri : hautausten ja ihmisjäännösten arkeologian sekä osteologian sivusto.
Toropainen Veli Pekka
(Article in trade journal or blog post (D1))