Object Biographies

II International Artefacta Conference

2–3 March 2018

House of Science and Letters

Helsinki, Finland

Artefacta, the Finnish Network for Artefact Studies

in collaboration with the Finnish Antiquarian Society and

Nordic Association of Conservators in Finland

Where does the thing come from and who made it? What has been its career so far, and what do people consider to be an ideal career for such things? What are the recognized "ages" or periods in the thing's "life", and what are the cultural markers for them? How does the thing's use change with its age, and what happens to it when it reaches the end of its usefulness?

(Igor Kopytoff: 'The Cultural Biography of Things', 1986)

Conference venue and hotels

The conference venue, the House of Science and Letters, is located in the historic centre of Helsinki, near the Senate Square and the University. The building is administered by the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies. The address is 6 Kirkkokatu: http://goo.gl/maps/2NXIb

The conference desk and the plenary sessions (in auditorium 104) are located on the ground floor.

Participants can freely choose their accommodation. We have not reserved any hotels, because often reserved hotel rooms for conferences tend to be more expensive than hotels freely chosen by conference participants via various reservation web sites.

Near the conference venue there are, for example, Hotel Arthur, Hotel Cumulus Kaisaniemi, Hotel Scandic Grand Marina and Sokos Hotel Helsinki:



The conference has been unexpectedly popular. We thank for your interest and regret that we cannot accept any more listeners.


Final programme

  • 20 minutes is reserved for each Powerpoint presentation + 10 minutes for discussion. 

Final_programme03 (pdf) (515.2 KB)


Abstracts: 2 March

Abstracts: 3 March

Keynote speakers

Claire Farago, Professor Emerita of Art History, University of Colorado Boulder, United States

The Lives of Peripatetic Objects: on the Insecure Materiality of Matter

A great deal of theoretical attention has been directed to the “cultural biography” of objects since the appearance of Arjun Appadurai’s groundbreaking anthology, The Social Life of Things, in 1986. As evidence of the beliefs of their users, objects lead singular lives moving unpredictably from creation to destruction, sometimes persisting much longer through virtual images and written accounts. Considered in this light, many types of objects are well-suited to globalization studies. What are the pros and cons today of treating artefacts as polysemic and fluid materialities, their significance never fixed, always changeable and capable of collapsing together past and present? (How) can such approaches to interpretation co-exist productively with the time-honored taxonomic activities of classification that provide the bedrock of the several interconnected disciplines served by this conference, including archeology, cultural anthropology, and art history?

Karin Margarita Frei, Research Professor in Archaeometry, National Museum of Denmark

Reconstructing biographies by strontium isotope analyses

Tales of Bronze Age Women is a 3-year multi-disciplinary research project that investigates the mobility, identity and social roles of Bronze Age Women in Denmark. The project focuses on state-of-the-art biogeochemical, anthropological and archaeological investigations of human remains from the Nordic Bronze Age (1.700 – 500 BC). In southern Scandinavia, the Bronze Age has left us with vivid cultural remains, among others, the numerous burial mounds, votive depositions and rock carvings. But beyond these impressive cultural remnants, Denmark possesses the unique collections of well-preserved human remains, the well-known oak-coffin people. These individuals, both men and women, represent the elite of their time during a crucial prehistoric period where today’s society started to take shape. Recent cross-disciplinary investigations made on one of the most iconic of these oak coffin finds, “The Egtved Girl”, revealed the first evidence of repeated long distance travels and rapid mobility. But was the Egtved Girl an exception, or did other elite women also travel as much? The project “Tales of Bronze Age Women” aims at investigating and potentially shedding light on female mobility and identity during the Nordic Bronze Age and their socio-economic impact and potential social role/s.

Eero Hyvönen, Director of Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities (Heldig), Finland

Object biographies: Using Event-based Models on the Semantic Web

During their lifespan objects participate in various events in different roles at different times and places: objects are designed, created, manufactured, discarded, sold, used, transported, repaired, conserved, stored in museums, shown in exhibitions, studied, and so on. Based on such a wealth of contextual "biographical" information, an object is much more than a physical artefact in the same vein as we humans are more than just flesh and bones. This keynote talk argues, that the ideas of the Semantic Web, Linked Data, and event-based modeling provide a useful basis on which the contextual data about object biographies can be represented, published, and used in applications, such as collection browsers and semantic portals. Moreover, the biographical data can be used in Digital Humanities research for studying not only individual artefacts, but in a prosopographical way artefact types and their histories in more general settings.

To test and demonstrate these ideas, a series of semantic portals and practical web applications are discussed, developed in Finland at the Semantic Computing Research Group (SeCo) in Aalto University and the University of Helsinki. I present examples related to the "Sampo" series of systems, "CultureSampo - Finnish Culture on the Semantic Web", "BookSampo -Finnish Fiction Literature on the Semantic", and "WarSampo - Finnish Second World War on the Semantic Web", as well as to the applications "Semantic National Biography" and "Norssi alumni on the semantic web" where semantic biographies of persons are in focus. From an event-based perspective, both persons and artefacts can be contextualized as sequences of events, which suggests that similar methods can be used when dealing with personal and object biographies. Events are the semantic glue that links things together into larger historical contexts that are needed when studying Cultural Heritage objects. At the same time, events bind the tangible world of objects with the world of intangible Cultural Heritage.

Please send any inquiries via email to

Dr Alex Snellman

Coordinator of the Artefacta Network


Conference committee

Renja Suominen-Kokkonen, Artefacta Network (chair)

Aki Arponen, Artefacta Network

Päivi Fernström, Artefacta Network

Helena Lonkila, Nordic Association of Conservators in Finland

Nina Robbins, Nordic Association of Conservators in Finland

Alex Snellman, Artefacta Network

Marleena Vihakara, Nordic Association of Conservators in Finland

Organising team

Alex Snellman (chair)

Emmi Halmesvirta

Aino Koivukari

Saila Leskinen

Salla Nuutinen

Piia Pasanen

Paula Rajala

Birgitta Tjäder

Joanna Veinio

Board of the Artefacta Network

Docent, Dr Renja Suominen-Kokkonen, art history, Senior Lecturer, University of Helsinki (chair)

Dr Elina Anttila, art history, Director General of the National Museum of Finland

Conservator Aki Arponen, conservation, National Museum of Finland

Dr Päivi Fernström, craft studies, University Lecturer, University of Helsinki

Niklas Huldén, ethnology, Åbo Akademi University

Professor Paula Hohti, art and culture history, Aalto University

Professor Visa Immonen, archaeology, University of Turku

Professor Mika Lavento, archaeology, University of Helsinki

Docent, Dr Ildikó Lehtinen, ethnology, University of Helsinki

Dr Tiina Männistö-Funk, history, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

Docent, Dr Minna Sarantola-Weiss, history, Head of Research, Helsinki City Museum

See the programme of the I International Artefacta Conference (2014) here...

artefacta en

Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys

Finnish Antiquarian Society


Nordic Association of Conservators in Finland


Federation of Finnish Learned Societies

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