Monuments of Stone and of the Sky. Archaeoastronomical investigations into ancient Finland

by Marianna Ridderstad

Institution: University of Helsinki
Year: 2015
Keywords: tähtitiede
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2079957
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/156952


Studies of ancient monuments and buildings have shown that many of them were astronomically oriented. The examination of the orientations of the structures constructed by past cultures can thus reveal previously unknown details of their astronomical knowledge, calendric practices and religious beliefs. In this thesis, the orientations of two types of structures from prehistoric and early historical Finland were investigated: the Giants Churches (GCs), which are large Neolithic (ca. 1800-3000 BCE) stone enclosures situated mainly on the ancient coast of Ostrobothnia, and the medieval stone churches of Finland (ca. 1300-1550 CE). The results of the studies showed that the axes and gates of the GCs pointed towards the directions of certain solar and lunar events, possibly even indicating the existence of a lunar or lunisolar seasonal pointer calendric system of the type that has been previously suggested for European Neolithic monuments. The small GCs were oriented differently from the large ones, and especially the very largest GCs had orientations towards some of the main solar events of the year. The studies also revealed that the GCs were positioned to face open views towards the eastern and south-eastern horizon, and that the cairns around them were often symmetrically placed with respect to each other and the enclosures of the GCs. The orientations of the stone churches were found to have been mainly towards the sunrises of the equinoxes as given by the various possible definitions of the equinox in medieval times. Part of the orientation distribution could also be related to the sunrises of the Easter Day, and some individual churches may have been targeted towards the sunrises of the feast days of their patron saints. Comparison of the monument orientations from the two very different periods of time and cultures, the Neolithic GC culture and the medieval Finland showed that while there were many similarities in the orientations themselves, the interpretations made of the orientations and their possible related belief systems necessarily have differences. Also, the uncertainties in the interpretations of the orientations of a distant illiterate culture, in this case the Neolithic GC culture, persist. The concrete use of pre-Christian myths in rituals at the time when the medieval Christian churches were at use illustrates the complexity of the situation of the vernacular religion in Finland in historical times. This complexity naturally has an effect on the interpretations made on how the medieval Finnish parish members may have interpreted the observed orientations of the stone churches. Thus, also the interpretations made of the meanings of the orientations in a literate culture relatively close in time, where one has written sources preserved, may bear uncertainties due to the complex situation of the vernacular religious practices and beliefs. The complexity of the religious situation and the related interpretations of the church orientations in medieval Finland indicate the existence of…