In Ruukki, northern Ostrobothnia, North-West Finland skeletal remains were found in a tar-burning pit in 1996. The individuals had been buried in a half-meter deep without grave goods, clothes or coffins, giving an impression of a hasty burial. There is no information about the identity of the individuals or their relatives. However, during the forensic investigation it was quite soon understood that the remains were historic.
Tar-burning pits were common in Finland from the late 16th to early 20th century, and Northern Ostrobothnia was an important area for tar production from the 17th to early 19th century. Historically, the Great Famines between 1695–1697 and 1866–1868 starved to death almost one third of the population, along with concurrent epidemies.
In this project we aim to identify via human DNA analyses the genetic background of the individuals and investigate their pathogen burden. According to the regional church records at least typhus, dysentery, measles, smallpox, typhoid fever, whooping cough and scarlet fever rampaged the area, with high mortality rates. Moreover, we use radiocarbon dating to estimate the time of burial of these individuals and stable isotope analyses to analyze their diet.