For as long as she can remember, archaeologist Tiina Äikäs has been interested in history. “When I was a kid, I raked through my father's bookshelf for historical novels. An interest in the past is inbuilt in me,” says the researcher from the University of Oulu.
She was drawn to studies in archaeology, as the field seemed like a concrete way to explore the past. “Archaeologists have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of material culture. I already got a small taste of this in upper secondary school, when I had an opportunity to spend three weeks at an excavation site in Lübeck through my father's cousin's friend who was an archaeologist”, Äikäs recalls.
At a later date, Äikäs came to another important realisation on German soil. “After my thesis, I was not at all sure whether to become a researcher. I ended up working for the international affairs unit of the local University of Applied Sciences in Magdeburg for three months. The head of the unit happened to remember that I was an archaeologist and asked me if I wanted to go and see the sites with the local archaeologist. I can vividly remember the moment we were standing in the rain and saw a few dark spots on the ground. I was excited. There had been poles there: a house had located there in ancient times!” she recalls.
She could feel the excitement in every part of her body, which sealed her decision: Äikäs soon returned to Oulu and started working on her doctoral dissertation.
Offerings were brought to the sieidi
Äikäs is fascinated by Sámi offering sites. The sacred place of Sámi culture, the sieidi rock, was thought to be a living creature with which negotiations could be made. Offerings were brought to the sieidi rocks, such as parts of fish or game catches. “If you give me fish, I will bring some of the catch to you,” she describes.
For three summers, Äikäs studied offering places at excavations in Lapland. “Finding the sites was a challenge in itself. Some were clearly marked on the map, the others were only known by a landmark, such as ‘located on the cape’. Sometimes the description was clear, such as ‘a rock with a hole large enough for a man to pass through’. Occasionally, the locals guided us to the right place.”
The oldest bones found at the excavations could be dated back to the 1000s. Later on, Äikäs and her colleagues have stated in their studies on sieidi rocks that people have made offerings to them since the 6th century.
“We want to respect the fact that offerings belong to the place of sacrifice.”
“At the beginning, people offered game animals, followed by reindeer and deer bones as their livelihood changed. On the other hand, we could not conclude much from the appearance of the findings. The fresh-looking fish bones found at one excavation ended up being the oldest findings there.”
Bones could be examined on the spot, and findings that were picked up were later returned to the place where they had been found. “We want to respect the fact that offerings belong to the place of sacrifice.”
The Taatsi sieidi in Kittilä, Finland's Lapland, is one of the sieidi rocks of the Sámi people that are still in use. People leave items such as coins and candles on the rocks. This proves that there are still people who want to keep the ancient traditions alive, and these traditions are important to them.
Photo: Anssi Malinen
The fascinating thing about the sieidi rocks is that some of them are still in use.
“This really is the case. The Taatsi sieidi in Kittilä is an example of such a place. Coins, pendants and candles have been left there. In other words, there are groups of people who want to continue these ancient traditions in some way. These traditions are important to them”, Äikäs says.
Äikäs’s research topic has expanded from history to today. The fact that research can be conducted by interviewing people when necessary brings a different perspective to the study of present times.
How to combine motherhood and archaeology
Äikäs enjoys the interdisciplinary cooperation enabled by archaeology. In addition to archaeology, she has studied geoinformatics in the field of geography, which has brought an additional perspective to her research in the form of spatial data analyses. Experts from different fields, such as researchers specialising in DNA and isotope analysis, work in close cooperation with the archaeologist at excavation sites.
“As a discipline, archaeology lies neatly between different disciplines. In some countries, it is classified as a natural science, while in the others, it belongs to the field of humanities”, Äikäs points out.
The researcher's work is never boring, as in addition to offering sites, Äikäs studies industrial sites and the significance of their use.
“I've always liked to have a couple of projects underway the same time. I remember how I used to worry that I might run out of subjects to write about. Well, that certainly hasn't happened. Even now, I have a long list of subjects to look forward to.”
Tiina Äikäs appreciates the interdisciplinary cooperation enabled by archaeology and has studied geoinformatics in addition to her own field. At excavation sites, the archaeologist works in close cooperation with experts from different fields.. Photo: Mikko Törmänen
She is also working on a couple of articles – simultaneously, of course. One is on industrial archaeology and the other one deals with how to combine motherhood with archaeology. Well, how can that be done?
“Of course, support networks mean everything, and in our case, that includes both my parents and my husband’s parents. Everyday arrangements in our own family have also been made easier by the fact that, for example, my husband and children were able to travel to Norway with me when I was in research exchange in Tromsø.”
Archaeology has been passed on to Äikäs’s children already in breast milk. “Both children have already announced that they will become archaeologists in the future,” she says.
Sometimes a romantic holiday can also hover on the brink of work. “I was hiking with my partner in Lapland. Even that ended up being a bit of a search for sieidi rocks. We have a shared interest in archaeology”, the archaeologist laughs.
Text: Kati Valjus
Last updated: 20.3.2020