Kenya > Finland
Interviewee: Liisa Seppänen
What is the relationship between politics and archaeology in Finland?
Seemingly, the relationship between politics and archaeology in Finland is weak today. However, the decisions related to the higher education and finance of universities and cultural institutions (National Board of Antiquities responsible for the maintenance of archaeological and cultural heritage in Finland and state supported museums practicing archaeological research) affect directly to archaeology. Today, the influence is mainly negative.
In the past, the influence has been more positive. For example, archaeology as an academic discipline was established at the same time with the rise of national romanticism, seeking “real Finnishness” and the beginning of “the Golden Age” of Finland since the late 19th century. The beginnings of and more professional and systematic antiquarian and archaeological activities started in 1870 with the establishment of the Finnish Antiquarian Society. The purpose of the society was to start the archaeological research of Finnish history, and to raise public national interest towards Finnish archaeological heritage and its protection. Prehistoric and medieval Finnishness became even more relevant to the intellectual defence of the nation during the period of Russian administrative pressure in 1890–1905, before Finland became independent in 1917.
The politics has affected the archaeological education in many ways. For example, in the 1920s, the donation was made to establish a professorship of historical archaeology in Turku University. However, the political movement related to the language strife opposed the person who was the candidate for the office and university decided to cancel the whole process. It was not until the 1990s when historical archaeology became more widely acknowledged as a subject in archaeology in Turku University. Also, the establishment of the department of archaeology in Oulu University was caused by the actions related to improvement of unemployment situation in northern Finland in the 1960s and 1970s when the state supported archaeological excavations employed people without work. There were many archaeological projects justified with employment aspect and a need for the archaeological education in northern Finland resulted in establishing the department in Oulu University.
Therefore, I would say that the politics and societal and ideological changes and acts in the academic and institutional sphere related to archaeology have been and are closely connected and mirror each other.
How do local communities relate to archaeological sites and archaeological investigations conducted in their areas and artefacts found from their land?
It really depends on individuals and their values and ideas. I would say that today the attitudes are mainly positive. Some communities have even adopted archaeological sites (on the permission of authorities) and they take care of them. Many people find archaeology, archaeological excavations and archaeological findings interesting and intriguing and they volunteer on excavations. In recent years, archaeological treasure hunting and metal detecting have become very popular hobbies to some people and this causes many challenges to professional archaeologists and authorities responsible for cultural heritage. Collaboration between local communities and individuals on local level (including politicians) is very important today and needs more and more resources which archaeology is unfortunately short of. However, archaeology is not considered important or even interesting by everybody – there are also people who could not care less about past and consider archaeological investigations meaningless and waste of time and resources. We could affect these attitudes by providing more information about archaeology and including archaeological courses in schools, too.
How global is the outlook of Finnish archaeology? Where are your archaeologists working?
When we consider the number of Finnish archaeologists (only three small departments, professors and universities providing archaeological education), I would say that it has been surprisingly global. Especially, Helsinki University has had many international research projects in Africa, South America and Near East. Not to mention classical archaeology, which has been based on international research. However, there are not that many foreign archaeologists working on Finnish material and projects based in Finland. The archaeologists in Finland are mainly working in museums, private archaeological companies and in the National Board of Antiquities or archaeological research projects in universities funded by external funding. Some Finnish archaeologists are working in Norway, Sweden, England and Italy, too.
What is the biggest problem in Finnish archaeology right now? And the biggest opportunity/hope?
I would say that the biggest problem is education, lack of money and other resources, collaboration and understanding about the potential of archaeological research (beyond archaeology). All these are related to general values related to the meaning of archaeological heritage. The biggest hope is that economy gets better and there would be wider understanding about archaeology in general in society.
Unfortunately, it seems that I personally see more problems than promises. Perhaps, the biggest opportunities are in international collaboration – hopefully in the future the collaboration is related to archaeological sites and material in Finland, too.
PhD, Adjunct professor in urban archaeology in Turku University, Finland.
Presently, I am working in a project related to old urban excavations (from 1960s and 1980s) in Turku. Furthermore, I am editing a couple of books related to archaeology, writing articles and supervising students doing their MA thesis.
Questions from Emmanuel Ndiema
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