Oulun yliopiston arkeologian professori Vesa-Pekka Hervaa kiehtovat ankeat paikat, kuten rauniot tai autiot tai palaneet talot. Kuva: Heli Paaso-Rantala

The past is present in the present

Lapland's Dark Heritage is a project that examines the traces that wartime cooperation between Finland and Germany left in the mental landscape of Northern Finland.

Text by Heli Paaso-Rantala

In the Second World War German soldiers were stationed in Finnish Lapland while waging their own war against the Soviet Union. The wartime relations with the Germans have been difficult for Finns, and the issue has often been completely silenced. Vesa-Pekka Herva, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oulu, has tackled the topic in the Lapland's Dark Heritage project.

"We have wanted to grasp the topic that has been left, or been kept - in the margins."

"The setup in the cooperation between Finland and Germany has been very split, which makes it a topic that is difficult to handle. We are interested in what the attitude has been after the war", says Vesa-Pekka Herva.

He has studied the lives shared by Finns and Germans as part of the Lapland's Dark Heritage project funded by the Academy of Finland. The study also includes "alternative" ways of utilising the cultural heritage, such as the search and collection of objects related to the war and the mapping of German installations.

In the research project a public excavation was arranged in the summer 2016 and 2017 in Inari. The director of excavation Oula Seitsonen from the University of Helsinki is standing the second on the left. Photo: Vesa-Pekka Herva


The research is multidisciplinary and in addition to archaeology, it utilises the points of view of sociology, anthropology, and history.

Herva says that research related to the Germans and the Second World War is linked with his own research interests, in that one of the focal points of his activities is in the study of the archaeology and cultural heritage of the historical period and the recent past.  Cultural tradition is also an angle examined in the project.

"Usually the idea behind researching cultural heritage is to ascertain how the past is present in the present day: how the past is portrayed, interpreted, and used for different purposes in the present."

Public excavations in Inari shed light on experiences of the Germans in Lapland

Public excavations in connection with the research project have been organised in the summers of 2016 and 2017 in Inari. The public excavations held this past summer received additional funding from the University of Helsinki. Herva says that project is a joint effort of the universities of Oulu and Helsinki.

In 2016 the research group and a group of volunteer diggers excavated the remains of a German military hospital in Inari. This year they were digging at a German military base. Herva says that the purpose of both excavations was community archaeological research in which research is conducted in cooperation with non-professional volunteers

The director of excavation Oula Seitsonen examines the kitchen building which has been found in Inari on the relics of the prison camp of the German. Photo: Vesa-Pekka Herva

As the relationship between the Finns and the Germans was difficult during the war, the topic is challenging for many. According to Herva public excavations are one way in which people can process the Finns' wartime relationship with the Germans.

He says that some people showed up at the public excavations without taking part in the dig, but who nevertheless wanted to discuss the topic and share their memories with Herva and the research group.

The purpose of the public excavations was to search for objects which they found that were connected with the everyday activities of the camps, ranging from hospital equipment to liquor bottles.  The group put a special focus on excavating rubbish pits, because waste in particular made it possible to tackle larger questions on how the Germans had experienced an environment that was very alien to them and how they operated in that environment.

"With respect to the excavations, the project studies wartime, while the other parts of the project involve the study of matters related to cultural heritage, such as the traces that the presence of German forces had left behind in the mental landscape and living environment of the people of the north."

Read more:

Project site


Main photo: Vesa-Pekka Herva, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oulu is fascinated by gloomy places, such as ruins of buildings, or abandoned or burned houses. Photo: Heli Paaso-Rantala

Last updated: 27.3.2018