Research uncovers hidden treasures

Marine archaeology got its first kick-start in Finland in 1948, with the discovery of an old warship wreck off the city of Kotka, at a depth of about 17 metres. It was found to be the frigate Sankt Nikolai, which had sunk during the sea battles of 1789-1790. The discovery aroused great enthusiasm.

Shipwrecks are still one of the main themes of marine archaeological research. Wrecks can be studied from many different perspectives. They provide information about, among other things, former shipbuilding techniques and marine warfare. Wrecks also tell us about maritime trade or even about the export of luxury goods to St. Petersburg.

The Finnish coast is a treasure trove for shipwreck researchers

In many ways, the Finnish coastline is a treasure trove for the shipwreck researcher. Over the ages, there has been busy shipping traffic in the Baltic Sea and many ships have been wrecked due to the difficulty of navigating the Finnish coast. The shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea are also exceptionally well-preserved because the species of marine wood-eating mollusc, i.e. the so-called shipworm (Teredo navalis), does not occur here.

Hundreds of wrecks have been found in the marine areas of Finland and discoveries are still being made. In addition to wrecks, marine archaeologists research, among other things, underwater barriers and old harbour sites. Inland waters have also been investigated in the waters close to ancient rock paintings.

A diver illuminates the cannon in its gun-carriage on the deck of the Dutch frigate Huis de Warmelo.

Maritime archaeology is studied at universities and the Finnish Heritage Agency

Maritime archaeological research is largely carried out in universities, through individual research projects, as well as in doctoral researches. The themes of the ongoing dissertation research are naval battlegrounds, pottery from medieval wrecks, and the comparisons of shipwrecked cargoes with their archival records. Prehistoric sites are also currently being researched in Estonia, such as the stilt house dwellings in Koorküla, Valgjärvi.

Current projects at the University of Helsinki are related to 18th-century shipwrecks and marine rescue. Another theme studies so-called Russian leather, i.e. valuable leather hides that were transported in the 18th century as cargo from Saint Petersburg to Europe. Also, the archaeological cultural heritage of swamps and submerged prehistoric dwellings have been studied.

The Finnish Heritage Agency investigates marine archaeological sites from the perspective of their conservation. Archaeological inventories are carried out in areas where seabed related construction activities are planned. The purpose of such inventories is to find previously unknown archaeological remains, to inspect known sites and to define and demarcate them again, as needed.

The diver prepares to dig a test pit at a submerged stone age settlement site in Savitaipale.

International and multidisciplinary research addresses current topics

Marine archaeological research is by its very nature both multidisciplinary and international. Global trends and current themes are reflected in Finnish maritime archaeology.

Topical issues include the survival of wrecks which sank in the Baltic Sea in the 21st century, and so-called ship traps, i.e. geographical areas with an exceptionally large number of wrecks.

The current research is also developing methods for both 3D-documentation and the modelling of shipwrecks. These represent so-called non-interference research methods where the object under study is neither touched nor altered.

Other topical topics include the development of underwater wreck parks for recreation, as well as research which serves marine spatial planning activities.