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The Gymnasium excavations 2017-2018 in Turku

Kari Uotila 5.3.2018

The archeological research is focused on the medieval city center of Turku, on the riverside, near the medieval market place. Since the 14th century the area has been the focus for commerce in Turku. From the end of the 14th century onwards, brick and mortar houses were built here. During the middle ages the area had many trading houses that belonged to German families. The oldest historical documents of the area are from the 16th and 17th centuries. During that time one of these houses was the town house of one of Sweden’s leading families (Marshal Evert Horn). During the 17th and 18th centuries the houses were owned by the same merchant families. The old medieval town was destroyed in the fire of 1827, a fire that destroyed almost the whole town. After the fire the 400 – 500 year old buildings were demolished, the old streets were covered over and the whole town got a new town plan.

This destroyed town has been excavated by archeologists for decades. The recently uncovered part is uncommonly extensive and the remains of buildings have survived exceptionally well. The fate of the ruins is still unknown. The school that is situated on the same property will be needing its gymnasium back and if so the ruins will be covered up again.

For the archeologists the discovery of the ruins hasn’t exactly been a surprise because the buildings on these properties have been dug up for decades. When the present gymnasium was built in 1904 – 1905, archeologist Juhani Rinne studied the site. It is possible that he noticed parts of the buildings now being excavated and decided to cover them up with a thick layer of lime plaster for future archeologists.

The reason for the present archeological excavation is the fact that the present building is sinking, and sinking unevenly. This is partly due to the closeness of the river and to its movements, but also because of the foundations of the building from the early 20th century. Most of the walls have been build directly on the old ruins and the rest partly on an archeological soil layer. About 70 – 80 % of the building was built right on top of the old ruins and the rest on the soil.

At the excavation site most of a 300 m2 building has been excavated, and about 450 m3 of different filling layers has been removed. Some of these layers are from the 19th and 20th centuries when the area was a yard. Most of the filling layers are from after the fire of 1827. At that time the vaults under the brick houses were broken in and filled with the debris from the floors above. These filling layers are about 2 – 3 m thick. The filling is usually in the middle parts of the basement with empty space at the sides and under the vaults. It isn’t until several meters of filling layers is removed that the layers from the time the building was in use can be reached. At the same time the ruins of the deliberately destroyed buildings start to emerge. The examination and conservation of these ruins is a challenge.

The rooms and corridors of the two lower levels of two town houses has been excavated (basement and lower living floor). The houses are right next to the medieval street, a street that runs partly under the present building. This medieval street was about 3 m wide and the houses next to it 2 – 3 stories high brick buildings.

The archeological discovery data is relatively small, because up until now the excavation has mostly been composted of removing demolition and filling layers. The most recent discovery is a box of pastilles from the 1930’s with the picture of Olympic athlete Paavo Nurmi on the cover. The oldest ones are coins and pieces of pottery from the middle ages. The largest group of findings are building related things, such as roof tiles, ceramic tiles, whitewashed walls and limestone window seats.

Different parts of brick and mortar buildings has been excavated from an area of more than 200 m2 in size. On site laser scanning is used for documentation. With this technology, you can quickly document different parts of the structures in a field situation. If you used traditional means of documentation the project would take months, but by using laser scanning technology the documentation can be done in a few hours. This is the largest city excavation in Finland done by using this method.

Muuritutkimus is the archeological firm responsible for this excavation. The firm consists of a group of 8 -12 people, who has been working at the site since October 2017.

(translation Camilla Adolfsson)


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Muuritutkimus Company – was founded in 1995. Its annual turnover has been 1 M€ euros and the total staff has exceeded 200 people in past 23 years.

The company's business sectors include archaeological excavations and their scientific results and visualizations and laser scanning heritage sites.

The company has completed archaeological excavations in the years 1996-2017. These included the medieval castles of Turku, Hämeen linna and Raasepori; ruins of Kuusisto, Kajaani and Liinmaa; the medieval towns of Naantali, Rauma, Porvoo, Ulvila and Turku; the monastery and church of Naantali and medieval manorhouses.

The company has also been developing heritage documentation for the laserscanning with Riegl vz-1000.


Key personnel

Kari Uotila is the director of Muuritutkimus company and adj. prof (docent) in the University of Helsinki since 2013 and University of Turku since 2001.

He has written one monogram (PhD-theses) and is the main editor of five books. He has authored and co-authored some 90 scientific articles mainly in Finnish, English and Swedish. Some of the articles are written together with 50 other researchers.

He has been a chair of the Finnish Medieval Archaeology society during the years 2003-2006, the president of Castella Maris Baltici –research group 2009-2012 and is a member of the EAA Helsinki 2012 organisation and scientific committees 2010-2012. He is on the editorial board of two archaeological referee series.

Copyright © Muuritutkimus ky 2004- | Updated: 11.11.2016 | Editor: Kari Uotila

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