University of Oulu

Kallio-Seppä, T., Tranberg, A. The Materiality of Odors: Experiencing Church Burials and the Urban Environment in Early Modern Northern Sweden. Hist Arch 55, 65–81 (2021).

The materiality of odors : experiencing church burials and the urban environment in early modern Northern Sweden

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Author: Kallio-Seppä, Titta1; Tranberg, Annemari1
Organizations: 1Department of Archaeology, University of Oulu, PO Box 8000, FI-90014, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 3.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-05-03


Archaeological material from early modern Sweden reveals that material and social meaning was intertwined in townscape odors; that is, odors and their association with unhygienic conditions affected the physical structure of the town, its material culture, and different traditions in the use of “townspace.” During the latter half of the 18th century, the town of Oulu suffered from unpleasant smells related to ponds and wet areas, and the odor of decomposing flesh from under-floor church burials greeted church visitors, despite the tradition of placing fragrant plants inside coffins. In the 18th century the town underwent deliberate changes: the ponds were drained and filled, burials under the church floor were prohibited, and one of the first graveyards located outside the town and separate from the church was constructed. These actions to change the town’s “smellscape” reflect emergent notions of regularity and cleanliness related to the Age of Enlightenment.

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Series: Historical archaeology
ISSN: 0440-9213
ISSN-E: 2328-1103
ISSN-L: 0440-9213
Volume: 55
Pages: 65 - 81
DOI: 10.1007/s41636-020-00264-2
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
Funding: We thank the Kone Foundation and the Emil Aaltonen Foundation for financial support, Markku Kuorilehto for advice, and the Church, Space and Memory team for support during the writing process. Open access funding provided by University of Oulu including Oulu University Hospital.
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2020. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit