Sweden pressed to return Finnish skulls taken for race studies

The remains of 82 people were taken from Finnish graveyards in the 19th century for studies in support of race theory.

Most of the remains were disinterred from graves in the cemetery of a ruined church in Pälkäne in 1873. This photo from 2012. Image: Kirsi Matson-Mäkelä / Yle

Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture is preparing an official request for the repatriation of human remains removed from abandoned churchyard cemeteries in Finland nearly 150 years ago and shipped to Sweden for race studies.

Most of the human remains, mainly skulls, which are still held in the collection of Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, were taken from the cemetery of a ruined church in Pälkäne in Finland's Pirkanmaa region in 1873. Some of the remains are from graves in the cemeteries of parish churches in Eno, Pielavesi and Rautalampi.

In 2019, the Karolinska Institute issued an apology for their removal from Finland, but has not returned the remains despite numerous requests from organisations and private individuals.

Joni Hiitola, Senior Ministerial Adviser at Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture, told Swedish public radio last weekend that the remains are to be re-interred where they were excavated. If the cemetery where they were taken from is no longer in use, the remains will be buried in the current cemeteries of the parishes from which they were taken.

MP Pauli Kiuru (NCP), who has filed a formal written question with the government about the issue, says that repatriation will be examined again this autumn.

Efforts to convince the Karolinska Institute to return the remains, including those of the parish of Pälkäne, have been stalled for several years.