Archaeological excavations in Aboa Vetus


Aboa Vetus (Old Turku) is the side of the museum focusing on history, especially on the Finnish Middle Ages. The ruins excavated in the Convent Quarter originate from the Middle Ages. In the midst of these ruins, museum visitors progress through the permanent exhibition, which focuses on the 15th century. The artefacts on display originate from the excavations carried out in the town quarter where the museum actually sits.

The east side of the centre of Turku is the town's oldest district, the quarters of which are the Cathedral Quarter and the Convent Quarter. In the Middle Ages, the area was a bustling centre of administrative, commercial and ecclesiastical life. The town's residential areas were also concentrated on the east bank of the river. This medieval district is one of the country's most historically significant areas, the stratification of which is fascinating and uniquely rich.

Here, on the banks of the River Aura and in such locations as the Convent Quarter, archaeological excavations and research have been carried out for at least a hundred years. While this has been happening, research methods, the museum collection and information about the townscape have been developing and accumulating. The ruins in the Aboa Vetus Museum were discovered beneath the ground. Through the ages, all kinds of things have been constructed on top of them; new streets and buildings. 1928 saw the completion of the so-called Rettig Palace, the lower half of whose garden is now the location of Aboa Vetus.

The Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum and the Matti Koivurinta Foundation that maintains it have been active in researching the Convent Quarter and the whole Rettig plot of land since the 1990s. In Aboa Vetus, museum visitors have the opportunity to walk through the Middle Ages and also to see how research is being carried out. The aim of the museum is to continue excavations in the area of the museum every year. That way, it will be possible to date the ruins more exactly, and, through the discoveries made there, to gain new information about life in this very area hundreds of years ago.

The excavations of 2015

The excavation of the cellar located beneath Aboa Vetus, begun in 2012, continued in 2015 from May to August. The excavation site is located in the middle of the underground museum, on the southeastern side of the medieval Convent riverfront. The aim of the excavation has been the research of how this house, built in the early 1400s and demolished in 1653, was constructed and how its cellar was filled out and used.

The excavation unearthed much of the cellar's floor, removed a pillar holding up one of the cellar's archways and revealed the timber foundations under the wall by the stairway leading into the cellar. The northern corner of the cellar was examined with special care. The excavation showed that the stone house had at one point been expanded to the southwest and that the massive wall by the stairway had originally been the building's outer wall. The expansion was most likely carried out in the 15th century.

Findings made in the cellar during the summer confirmed the previous year's suspicions of the cellar having been used as a kitchen. A large amount of kitchen waste, much of it fish bones, was discovered by the walls. The waste also included animal bones, hazelnut and walnut shells, eggshells and grain. Kitchen utensils were also discovered: fragments of glass goblets, pails, clay containers and pitchers as well as a piece of a fork and a dining knife with a wooden handle. The age of these finds ranges from the the 15th to the 16th century.

The excavations of 2014

This year the archaeological excavation focused on a large cellar located in Aboa Vetus. The excavation of this precise cellar began in 2012 and continued over the summer of 2014. The cellar was originally found back in 1994 but was then left untouched for future studies and excavations.

The house which once stood on top of the cellar was built during early 15th century and demolished in mid-16th century. During this era a market square named Vähätori was built on top of the ruins of the house and the old cellar, sealing the history of the ruins underground for centuries. 

The excavations of 2012 and 2013 revealed that the house became a refuse dump already during the 16th or 17th century. Marks of a significant fire were also found in the ruins; this fire is thought to have been the large city fire of 1656.