Finnish Prehistory »» Ristinpelto, Lieto »» Visited: 01-2008 »» Compiled/Revised: 02-2008

+ Location on a map / Sijainti kartalla

Ristinpelto ('Cross Field') of Lieto's Sauvala is one of Finland's oldest pre-Christian graveyards. The history of the Sauvala village itself begins around 500 AD (the Merovingian era), and three older iron-age burial grounds have been discovered within a short distance from Ristinpelto. Burying into these however ceased somewhere around 1000 AD. It has been speculated that turning away from the traditional means of cremating the deceased was the ultimate reason for this. The custom of the new religion -- which shunned cairns and Viking-type skiff burials -- was to lay the bodies down into the ground intact. The soil had to be soft enough for digging, and Ristinpelto's sandy earth seemed suitable for this. This however also caused its later, partial destroying as sand was frequently taken from the site in the early 20th century. Incidentally, it was also discovered during such an occasion.

The archeological evidence that has been unearthed in several excavations has been dated back to around 1050--1150 AD, but it seems the place has continued to work as a graveyard even till the early middle ages. 156 graves have been found, all set carefully into the same east-west direction. Actual objects, such as pieces of jewelry and weapons which can commonly be found in copious amounts in Merovingian and Viking-era graves, have been sparse, which again tells about the coming of new beliefs. Overall the old ways of equipping the dead for their travel into Tuonela (the Underworld of Finnish mythology) slowly stopped in Finland around 1100 AD. Some of the items found in Ristinpelto are depicted below: hatchet, key, a horseshoe-shaped brooch, and a bird pendant. Others include knives, clay dishes, and a spear. The low stonewall that surrounds the boneyard is likely as old as the place itself: a mark of a separate churchground. The area inside is approximately 35*25m.

A 7*7m building once stood in the middle of Ristinpelto. This ancient chapel or possibly a belfry was mostly made from wood, although some stone constructions of its original pilework yet remain unto the day. Large amounts of coal and burnt material inside the pilework tell that the building was consumed by fire (probably during a raid) when the graveyard was still in use. Similar buildings are known have existed around other Nordic pre-Christian burial sites.

Below: examples of objects excavated from Ristinpelto. These include a hatchet, key, horseshoe-shaped brooch, and bird pendant. Picture from the info table, (c) Museovirasto.

Further below: a layout of the burial grounds. A stonewall circulates the graves, and the remains of a chapel can be distinguished in the middle. Picture from the info table, (c) Museovirasto.

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An amount of legends circulate the Ristinpelto grounds. Folklore tells that for instance there always has to be a cross erected in the middle of the field, lest hordes of bald men (ie. monks) rise up from the ground to haunt and cause ailments during nighttime. Other stories narrate that the oldest church of Lieto once stood there.

Ristinpelto is a part of a large prehistoric residential area consisting of barrows, sacrificial stones, ruins of buildings, and remains of iron-age fields by the Aurajoki river, stretching from Turku to Kaarina and Lieto. One of the most famous hill forts of Finland, the Vanhalinna of Lieto, can be seen in a short distance across the river.

References / Lähteet:

Purhonen, Hamari ja Ranta, Maiseman muisti - Valtakunnallisesti merkittävät muinaisjäännökset, Museovirasto, 2001
A local infotable set up by Museovirasto

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