Community of researchers and volunteers at Inari archaeological dig

26.8.2016
Early this August, archaeological excavations were conducted in Inari, Lapland, in an area where a war hospital stood during World War II. In addition to the researchers and students in the ‘Lapland’s Dark Heritage’ project, a group of volunteers took part in the dig for a week.

"My mother, who lives in Lapland, saw a post on Facebook announcing that volunteers were needed for the Inari dig. I signed up at once, but was put on the waiting list. Luckily somebody cancelled and I got to join,” explains Minna Rissanen from Leppävirta.

“I’ve hiked in the forests of Lapland quite a bit, and there’s always some war-time remains – sometimes it can be a little scary. That’s why I was excited to hear the site was a former German war hospital. I also wanted to see how archaeologists actually work. But the main reason was that I wanted to work on something like this in a group."

The dig could accommodate 12 volunteers each day from different parts of Finland and with different backgrounds. According to Rissanen, the shared interest in the dig was enough to weld the group into a tight team from the very beginning, and they began to lament the short duration of the project even before the week was out.

 “We were very surprised at how quickly and how many volunteers signed up for the dig," says Suzie Thomas, university lecturer in museology and a researcher in the project.

“Most volunteers signed up for the full week, even though it was possible to come for just a few days. We amassed an amazing group of volunteers, and our experiences in organising a public dig such as this have been exclusively positive.”

“Many of our volunteers were specifically interested in archaeology, and signed up to see archaeologists work up close. Others were more interested in World War II, and a few health care professionals came along because the site was a hospital,” adds Oula Seitsonen, an archaeologist.

Rainy week

The dig was not favoured by the weather, as it rained through the week, starting with heavy downpours that petered out to a drizzle later in the week.

“However, the rain did not dampen the mood at the dig, even though we feared it would. Professional archaeologists are used to working in the rain, but the wet weather did not seem to bother our volunteers either. We had scheduled the volunteers so that they worked two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, to help them cope with the heavy work of digging,” Seitsonen explains.

Minna Rissanen agrees.

 “We were sent a list of equipment to bring along in advance, and we all had good rain gear. We did have to erect some tents to protect the dig from the rain. The only thing we missed was the promised afternoon coffee that failed to materialise at the start of the week, but even that didn't make our spirits flag. Of course, I still don't know what it would be like to work at a dig in dry and sunny weather.”

Mutual benefit

The volunteers’ work was valuable for the researchers, who would have otherwise had to settle for a much smaller site. They discovered several objects, and even the researchers were occasionally surprised by what they unearthed. The volunteers were also useful in identifying the objects, particularly since some of them were very familiar with hospital equipment through their day jobs.

“My favourite part was trying to identify objects together with the researchers and guessing at their purpose,” Rissanen enthuses.

A busy week of fieldwork in Lapland created a community of researchers and volunteers, who are still keeping in touch. At the end of the dig, the volunteers announced to the researchers that they are now a team, ready to join them at a dig whenever they are needed.

“A week at the dig with the researchers taught us volunteers a great deal. I can now look at things from several perspectives and understand that even war can have some positive consequences, such as a better road network in Lapland,” says Rissanen.

“I also happen to know that after the dig, several volunteers went straight to the library to read more about archaeology, Lapland and World War II.”