Duchess Siobhán inghean uí Liatháin recounts her trip to a textile seminar in Finland, including a visit to an archaeological dig!
Back in October, I found myself truly emerging myself in history. I had flown to Finland to participate in a weekend-long seminar that focused on ancient textiles, techniques, and materials from the coasts of the Baltic Sea. I was surrounded by archaeologists and history enthusiasts like myself, all there to learn from those who have had their hands on the “real deal” and learn ways to create the items ourselves. And even though this seminar was amazing, it did not hold a torch to what happened to me 2 days prior.
One of my hostesses in Finland was the amazing Mistress Joutsenjärven Sahra. Lovers of Tablet weaving may know her as one of the co-authors of Applesies and Fox Noses – Finnish Tabletwoven Bands. One morning she asked me if I would like to visit an actual archaeological site where Iron Age items had been newly discovered. I just about fell out of my seat with excitement and a resounding YES PLEASE came quickly from my lips.
The drive to the site was not long but it was long enough for her to tell me that the place where we were going had been discovered in 2013. It is known as Ristimäki Hill in Ravattula village near Turku. The small hill was on private farm land and it was the farmer who noticed that there might be something in the ground that was not put there naturally. An archaeological team was called in and they were shocked at what they had found. What was discovered on this small hill was the remains of a late 12th century-early 13th century church. The church is, so far, the oldest in Finland and also the only one dating from the period before the creation of a Finnish parish system.
As we parked our car and started to walk the dirt road to the hill, I questioned whether we would get in trouble for walking on the private farm land. She told me that the site was protected by the Antiquities Act. This meant that visiting the site is possible within the framework of the Act and the Finnish “everyman’s right” (or in Finnish: jokamiehenoikeus). As long as we stuck to the road and did not disturb the site or surrounding area, we were allowed to visit. 200 meters down the road we turned left and there I was, standing in the middle of history.
Looking around, I saw taped off areas and tarps covering the ground. There was a team digging in few of the sites as well. I asked Sahra if they work all through the winter, as I pulled my wool jacket tighter because it had started to drizzle cold rain. She said no, they will soon stop digging and cover all open areas with tarps. I asked if security then comes and looks after the sites and I was shocked to learn that there was no security. The digging is donation-based and there was not enough money to pay for security. The archaeologists have to hope that no one comes and disturbs the sites. I also learned that publication is also donation-based and that even if they find amazing things in the ground, if there isn’t enough money to research it and publish, then it can sit in storage for months or even years.
Taking all that in, I walked over to where most of the people were and watched them carefully scrape and dig in the ground. Sahra also said that most of the people at this site were volunteers, probably from the local collages. There is one archaeologist in charge of the whole site, but everyone else is a volunteer. Just as I was thinking about how cool it would be if I could volunteer, there was a commotion in the digging area I was standing by. Sahra came over and asked a volunteer, in Finnish, what was happening, and she was told that they had just found a female bronze spiral apron. I just about fell over!
Here I was…in Finland because I love to recreate Finnish Iron Age aprons, and one was being discovered before my eyes. There are no words to properly describe my feelings but I can say I cried from being overjoyed. Sahra explained to the volunteers that I have made reproductions of aprons and because she said that to them, they brought up some of the spirals for me to look at. I was blown away at this opportunity I was given. I stood there staring at history and the source of my passion. It was magical.
I could not thank Mistress Sahra enough for taking me to this place and letting me experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The memories will stay with me for a lifetime.
If you want to read more about the excavation (sorry, it’s mostly in Finnish) you can go to www.ravattula.fi
All photos by Duchess Siobhán.