Maritime Archaeology in South-Eastern Finland in the 1990s  

By Tiina Mertanen

Maritime archaeological research in Kymenlaakso, the south-eastern province of Finland, has concentrated on the area of the Ruotsinsalmi naval battles (1789, 1790), on underwater investigations in connection with archaeological excavations on dry land, and on some wrecks which have been investigated in co-operation with mainly local diving clubs.

The Provincial Museum of Kymenlaakso covers a vast sea area from Pyhtää (Pyttis) to Virolahti (Vederlax) in the east with a coast line about 70 km. The rocky archipelago on Finland's territorial waters reaches over 20 km off the coast. The Kymi river (Kymmene älv) and the inland lake district 50 km north from the coast also belong to the working area of the museum.

Until now about 70 wrecks or remains of wooden vessels have been discovered in the area. Even more have not been found yet from the depth of the Gulf of Finland according to the historical sources studied by the museum's researchers.

The area of the two naval battles of Ruotsinsalmi (Swedish Svensksund, Russian Rotsensalm) has been investigated since 1930s. Today over 20 wrecks have been located yet not properly investigated. Nevertheless most of the finds were wrecked during the battles between the Swedes and the Russians according to the historical sources.

In the 1990s two side scan sonar surveys were carried out in Ruotsinsalmi: in 1992 by the marine geology unit of the Geological Survey of Finland and in 1999 by Oy Baltic Eye Ltd. The both surveys gave good results: new wrecks, accurate positions of the already known wrecks and various information on the wrecks. Also the depth curve and the geological circumstances of the bottom were documented.

Saint Nikolai & other finds

Saint Nikolai

Diver on the Saint Nikolai

The Saint Nikolai, the wreck of a Russian frigate lost in a battle in 1790 and found in 1948, has not been excavated since 1986; only some inspection dives have been made in order to monitor the wreck's deterioration. The propeller streams of cargo vessels sailing to the Port of Kotka constantly damage the wreck, which is situated at a sharp turn in the Kotka navigational channel.

The archaeological excavations of a tumulus at Västäri, Vehkalahti (Veckelax), the first Viking Age grave found on the coast of Kymenlaakso, included some underwater research. The natural harbour nearby was investigated, and three 20th century wrecks were found.

Another project linking excavations on land and under water was the research on the Viking Age field grave on Pukkisaari island in Jaala. Back in 1976, when the discovery was made, it was already noticed that grave finds could be made under water on the shoreline of a lake. Underwater excavations in 1995-96 brought up to light some very well preserved bronze jewellery and fragments, glass beads and burnt bones.

Two wrecks, the 19th century three mast schooner and yet not dated so called Aarholma wreck in Vehkalahti, both protected by the Monuments of Antiquity Act, have been documented together with sports divers. The latter wreck was also used as a target for teaching underwater archaeology during a course organised by the Kotka unit of the Kymenlaakso continuing education centre of the University of Helsinki.

The gravest incident in Kymenlaakso connecting with underwater monuments was the unauthorised raising of objects from a 19th century wreck, mentioned earlier, in 1996. This quite well preserved wreck, called "the Red Beard's wreck" after a group of islands nearby, has been known since 1970s. Now the careless anchoring has damaged the wreck and some of its objects were stolen.

The Kymi river is a very demanding, even dangerous, for a diver. Some advanced sports divers have been trying to locate remains of some 18th and 19th century bridges on the river bottom. Also some steam tugs have been known to sink in the river.

It has been given proof to, also in Kymenlaakso, that a group of well trained sports divers interested in maritime history, working in co-operation with the local Museum and the Maritime Museum of Finland, are a very great help to the authorities in protecting and researching underwater heritage. Especially in Finland where there is only one (1!) full time employed maritime archaeologist at the Maritime Museum of Finland (the National Board of Antiquities). At the Provincial Museum of the Kymenlaakso yours truly is responsible for the maritime archaeology as well as maritime historical exhibitions and the museum's archives.

September 1999

Tiina Mertanen


The Provincial Museum of Kymenlaakso, Kotkankatu 13
FIN-48100 Kotka, Finland
Tel +358 5 234 4433

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photo © Provincial Museum of Kymenlaakso

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