Project "Gender, sex and status in Iron Age Latvia (7th – 12th centuries AD)"

Project No.: lzp-2018/1-0395
Period: 31 August 2018 – 31 August 2021
Project costs: 300 000 EUR
Principal investigator:  Dr. hist. Guntis Gerhards (University of Latvia)
Collaboration: Dr. biol. Renāte Ranka (Latvian Biomedical Research and Study Centre)

The aim of the project is to study burial customs in Iron Age populations from Latvia (7th – 12th centuries AD) in the light of gender, sex and status, employing archaeological materials and bioarchaeological methods, as well as dietary (carbon and nitrogen) isotope, and ancient DNA analyses.  To achieve the aim, archaeological cemetery populations with reasonably good preservation of skeletal remains from different regions of Latvia will be analysed. An innovative approach will be employed during the project by using biomolecular (ancient DNA) and biochemical (isotope) methods for the study of burial customs. The ancient DNA data will be used to determine biological sex and kinship of the individuals, while isotope analysis will reveal information about differences in diet and thus, access to resources between different population, sex and age groups. The project will generate considerable amount of unique data, as well as reconsider the existing preconceptions about gender, sex and status in Middle and Late Iron Age populations in Latvia. It is the first interdisciplinary project of this scale in the archaeology of Latvia. The results of the research will be presented in international conferences and published in peer-reviewed media, including in Open Access. Using internationally approved research methods and state of the art technologies will further the development of archaeological research in Latvia. The results of the project will be of importance not only to archaeologists, but also researchers in other fields both in Latvia and abroad, promoting the understanding of similarities and differences in the history of Baltic and European countries.
     The Project is in line with one of the approved Latvia’s research priorities for the years 2018-2021, “Latvia's statehood, language and values, culture and art”, which encourages the use of new methods and technologies in studying archaeological heritage of Latvia. The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (1992), which is also ratified by the Republic of Latvia (2003), states that archaeological heritage is the source of common European memory, as well as a valuable part of cultural heritage, the study of which helps to understand the history of humanity.

Information published 31.08.2018

Project activities by period:

August 31, 2018 – December 31, 2018
  1. Data review was started on the middle and late Latvian Iron Age burial grounds (7th – 12th centuries AD), including archaeological reports, published data, etc., at the Repository of Archaeological Material, Institute of Latvian History, University of Latvia (LULVI) and the repository of archaeological material, Museum of National History. Inclusion criteria for the burial grounds to be studied in this project, were also set.
  2. Protocols were set for determination of age and sex and other parameters, as well as palaeopathological analysis, for anthropological material from archaeological excavations. Review of skeletal material available at the Repository of Bioarchaeological Material, LULVI, was also started.
  3. The collaboration partner, Latvian Biomedical Research and Study Centre (BMC) identified the strategy for the extraction and analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA) for the project, and prepared mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) libraries of people involved in handling project samples, to be used for checking contamination from most likely sources.
  4. During the public event, European Researchers’ Night 2018, members of the public interested in the work of the BMC were given an insight into the opportunities of aDNA analysis for archaeological material.
  5. The project’s management committee was formed from the LULVI and BMC representatives, and the leaders of project activities.
Date information prepared: 30.12.2018

January 1, 2019 – April 30, 2019
  1. Data review was continued on the middle and late Latvian Iron Age burial grounds (7th – 12th centuries AD), including archaeological reports, published data, etc., at the Repository of Archaeological Material, Institute of Latvian History, University of Latvia (LULVI) and the repository of archaeological material, Museum of National History.
  2. Bioarchaeological analysis was started on the available anthropological material, as well as collection of samples for the various research activities planned in the project.
  3. DNA was extracted from the first project samples; modern mtDNA libraries were sequenced; for the project samples, libraries were prepared, and quality control was carried out. Modification and testing of DNA extraction protocol for ancient samples, and modification and testing of aDNA library preparation protocol to reduce loss of sample DNA, was performed.
  4. Two abstracts were submitted for participation at the 25th Annual Meeting of the EAA, Going Beyond Paradigms, session “Systemic Approaches to Juvenile Funerary Rituals. Atypical, Deviant or Normative?”.
  5. In cooperation with the National Heritage Board of Latvia, expert reports (A. Vilcāne) were provided about preservation of the Iron Age archaeological material.
  6. For publicity purposes, a public event, The Shadow Day was organised at the BMC, where interested members of the public were introduced to the possibilities and results of aDNA analysis.
  7. A review of scientific literature relevant for the project activities, was carried out.
Date information prepared: 30.04.2019

May 1, 2019 – August 31, 2019
  1. Research and analysis of archaeological information gathered during the data review about the Lejasbitēni and Čunkāni – Dreņģeri burial grounds (burial traditions, grave goods, etc.), was continued.
  2. Palaeopathological analysis, as well as age determination of non-adult individuals was started on available Iron Age anthropological material. Collection of samples for the various analyses planned in the project was continued.
  3. At the aDNA laboratory, BMC, work was continued on aDNA extraction, preparation of libraries, sex determination using PCR methods, and modification and testing of aDNA library preparation protocol to reduce loss of sample DNA.
  4. Collection of the first environmental samples (soil) from Iron Age burial grounds was started, in order to determine microbiome profiles with the Ion Torrent Next Generation Sequencing technologies.
  5. An abstract was submitted for the participation at the international conference, „Investigating bones: Diet, health, environment in the Baltic region” in Vilnius, Lithuania.
  6. The Viļaka Municipality Council was consulted with regard to the preservation of archaeological heritage from the local area, as well as rescue excavations at the Logini ancient burial ground. During the excavations, Iron Age samples were collected for the ancient microbiome analysis.
  7. Review of scientific literature relevant to the project activities was continued.
Date information prepared: 31.08.2019

September 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019
  1. Collection and analysis of archaeological data was continued. Female gender and non-adult burials containing weapons were studied in more detail.
  2. In cooperation with Poznan Radiocarbon Laboratory, Poland, the first six dates from two Iron Age burial grounds were obtained. 
  3. The collection and processing of samples was continued, and stable isotope analysis was started. 
  4. The work on aDNA was continued, with activities including whole genome enrichment and library sequencing, sex determination using PCR methods and sequencing the data, and testing of a new aDNA extraction method from human teeth.
  5. Samples from Iron Age burial environments (soil, dental calculus) were analysed. Extraction of aDNA and shotgun sequencing was performed on several human tooth samples.
  6. The results obtained during the project were presented in the following international conferences: 25th Annual Meeting of the EAA, Going Beyond Paradigms, in Bern, Switzerland, September 4-7 (two presentations); Investigating bones: Diet, health, environment in the Baltic region, October 4-5, 2019, Vilnius, Lithuania; International Scientific Conference, History and archaeology of the Daugava region, November 19 – 22, in Minsk, Belarus.
  7. The following abstracts were published:
1) “Axe in the Iron Age Child Burials (7th – 12th century AD) in the territory of Latvia: Gender, Sex or Status” / Aija Ērkšķe, Antonija Vilcāne, Elīna Pētersone-Gordina, Alisa Kazarina, Jānis Ķimsis, Renāte Ranka, Guntis Gerhards // 25th EAA Annual Meeting, 25 years Beyond Paradigms, September 4-7 2019, Bern: Abstract Book, Bern: European Association of Archaeologists, 2019, p. 64-65.
2) “Sex determination of Iron Age Human Remains from Latvia” / Jānis Ķimsis, Elīna Pētersone-Gordina, Alisa Kazarina, Antonija Vilcāne, Aija Ērkšķe, Egija Zole, Guntis Gerhards, Renāte Ranka // Investigating bones: Diet, health, environment in the Baltic region: 10th International Conference of Prof. Jonas Puzinas, October 4-5, 2019, Vilnius: Conference Proceedings, Vilnius: Vilnius University, 2019, p. 23.
3) “Two deviant subadult burials at the Čunkāni-Dreņģeri cemetery (8th-11th c.) in the territory of Latvia” / Aija Ērkšķe // 25th EAA Annual Meeting, 25 years Beyond Paradigms, September 4-7, 2019, Bern: Abstract Book, Bern: European Association of Archaeologists, 2019, p. 64.
  1. Popular Science publications about the project:
1) Ērkšķe, A. “Ieskats Eiropas arheologu asociācijas ikgadējā konferencē Bernē, Šveicē” [An insight into the Annual Meeting of the EAA in Bern, Switzerland] // Zinātnes vēstnesis 15 (578), ISSN 1407-6748, September 30, 2019.
2) Vilcāne, A. “Starptautiska zinātniska konference par piedaugavas vēsturi un arheoloģiju Baltkrievijā” [An international scientific conference about the history and archaeology of areas near the river Daugava in Belarus] // Zinātnes vēstnesis 21 (584), ISSN 1407-6748, December 23, 2019.
3) Keynote speech (J. Ķimsis), public lecture at the conference organised by the students of the University of Latvia, Homo Et, titled „Feedback: human and innovation”.
4) Work was continued on evaluation of data obtained during the project, as well analysis of relevant scientific literature, and preparation of manuscripts for publication.

Date information prepared: 30.12.2019

January 1, 2020 –February 29, 2020
  1. Project activities with regard to analysis of archaeological material, bioarchaeological analysis, and stable isotope and aDNA analyses, were continued.
  2. The project results were presented at the International Scientific Conference, XXX Scientific Readings, at Daugavpils University, January 26 – 27, Daugavpils, Latvia (two presentations).
  3. The following manuscripts were submitted for publication:
1) Ērkšķe, A. “Children are missing! Some thoughts about the underrepresentation of non–adult burials in Latvian Iron Age cemeteries” (Journal of Estonian archaeology; Web of Science).
2) Gerhards, G. “Gender and status in Iron Age Latgalian society” (in Latvian; the peer-reviewed collection of articles Vēsture: avoti un cilvēki [History: Sources and People].
3) Vilcāne, A. “Funerary traditions near the north-eastern border of Latvia in late Iron Age and early medieval period” (in Latvian; submitted to the peer-reviewed collection of articles, Vēsture: avoti un cilvēki [History: Sources and People].
4) Ērkšķe, A., Vilcāne, A., E. Pētersone – Gordina, Gerhards, G. “Trephination only for the privileged? Case studies from the Iron Age Latvia (7th-10th c AD)” (in Latvian; submitted to peer-reviewed journal Arheoloģija un Etnogrāfija [Archaeology and Ethnography]).
  1. In cooperation with the National Heritage Board of Latvia expert reports (A. Vilcāne) were provided about dating of the Iron Age archaeological material.
  2. Collaboration was commenced with European laboratories (Germany, Estonia) with regard to aDNA analysis of control samples of the project material.
  3. An abstract was submitted for the participation at the 26th Annual Meeting of the EAA, session "More than Just Bones - Understanding Past Human Behaviour through the Study of Human Remains”, in Budapest, Hungary.
Date information prepared: 29.02.2020

 Project "People in a dynamic landscape: tracing the biography of Latvia’s sandy coastal belt"

Project No.: lzp-2018/1-0171
Period: 31 August 2018 – 31 August 2021
Project costs: 300 000 EUR
Principal investigator:  Dr. archaeol. Valdis Bērziņš

The project goal is to trace the main vectors and significant turning points in the long-term development of Latvia’s sandy coastal belt, focusing on resource use and the interaction between human activities and the non-human forces shaping this dynamic and sensitive landscape. Past settlement and resource use in the coastal belt will be characterised in relation to landscape transformations, with particular attention to water-level change, wind action and vegetation cover. Finally, the different strands of evidence will be assembled in order to identify key features of long-term coastal change. The “landscape biography” concept permits us to explore how the landscape has been transmitted and reshaped from prehistory to the present, viewing the landscape at each point in time as the interim outcome of an interplay between agency, structure and process.
     Building on previous collaboration and further strengthening interdisciplinary ties, the project brings together archaeological and historical research with a spectrum of natural sciences methods: mapping and luminescence dating of ancient shorelines, palynology, dendrochronology and wood charcoal analysis. The results will be communicated in 13 scientific articles. We also envisage significant socioeconomic impacts, since we will offer a new understanding of the long-term development of this landscape to a range of different stakeholders in planning and development.  
     Connection with the priority direction “Latvia’s statehood, language and values, culture and art”: the project applies new methods and technologies in research on Latvia’s archaeological heritage and addresses the history of development of technology and society’s capacity to adapt in the context of various economic challenges. Connection with the priority direction “Climate change, nature protection and environment”: the project includes research on ecology. Connection with the priority direction “Research and sustainable use of local natural resources for the development of a knowledge-based bioeconomy”: the project includes research on soils and the earth as the basic resource for agriculture.
Project web page

Information published 31.08.2018

 Project "Social transformations in the Bronze Age societies of the Lower Daugava River"

Project No.: lzp-2018/2-0127
Period: 1 December 2018 – 1 December 2020
Project costs: 200 000 EUR
Principal investigator:  Dr. habil. hist. Andrejs Vasks

The aim of the project is to explain the emergence of new cultural elements, changes in socioeconomic processes and the first stages of demographic transition in the Bronze Age on the Lower Daugava River and their impact on the living standards, quality of life and health of the population.
     In order to achieve the objective, it is planned to perform the following tasks:
1) to carry out an archaeological assessment and interpretation of changes in the burial traditions, using the 14C method of burial of the two - Reznu and Kivutkalns cemeteries.
2) to evaluate the demographics, dietary habits, population structure, changes in reproductive rates and health of populations depicted in burial places using stable isotopes (δ15 N) and (δ13 C).
5) to conduct a petrographic survey of pottery found in burials in order to explain the origin of pottery containers and the analysis of lipids, use,
6) integrating bio-archaeological data and archaeological evidence of funeral practices in order to provide a basis for new interpretations of the Bronze Age community as a whole,
7) present the results of the project at international and local conferences, as well as in the Latvian media, in the forthcoming expositions of the museums.
     The novelty of the project is determined by the new information and understanding of the Bronze Age society, in particular on the role of women and the critical approach to the prevailing androcentrism perspectives so far prevalent in past societies.

Information published 01.12.2018

 Project "War and society in Latvia 1914-1921"

Project No.: lzp-2018/2-0147
Period: 1 December 2018 – 1 December 2020
Project costs: 200 000 EUR
Principal investigator:  Dr. hist. Ēriks Jēkabsons

The aim of the project is to study and analyse the consequences that the processes and developments caused by warfare had on society in the territory of Latvia from 1914 to 1921. The research is to be carried out by choosing social indicators that most clearly reveal the impact and influence of war-related processes on changes in society: population count and composition, changes in social groups and their mutual relations, the refugee issue, changes in social welfare, gender relations and traditions. The scientific results of the project are the enrichment of the Latvian historical science with new, previously unknown information on a very significant period of Latvian history, moreover, in an aspect (social history), which has not been studied in Latvia at all. Taking into account the specifics of the case of Latvia in 1914 – 1921 in a regional and European context (it was one of the most war-affected countries), the information created as a result of the research will also substantially complement the knowledge on the history of the whole region and will open up new possibilities for further comparative research. The project’s most significant publication is the collective monograph of all researchers on the consequences of the war-induced processes on society. Project will create new knowledge about the events of the First World War and the War of Independence, which are some of the central and most important processes in the history of Latvia.

Information published 01.12.2018

 Project "Politicization of History: Post-factual Approaches vis-a-vis Latvia – Russia Relations in XX Century, Instrumentalization, Challenges for Democracy, Lessons and Counter-Measures"

Project No.: lzp-2018/1-0322
Period: 1 October 2018 – 30 September 2021 
Project costs: 300 000 EUR
Principal investigator:  Dr. hist. Ainārs Lerhis

Aim of the project is creating and disseminating new interdisciplinary knowledge on the politicization of history of XX century by Russia in context of topical geopolitical challenges and Latvian – Russian relations in both, the domestic and international, arena. Research team will detect which milestones of history are being politicized and instrumentalized for political purposes by contemporary Russia, in what narratives does this politicization result, and what kind of strategies are being employed for politicization. Results of the study will be presented in conferences and will result in scientific publications. While domestically politicization of history serves as an engine for consolidating society, legitimising the power-that-be and self assertion of society in Russia, spill-over effects are inevitable as Latvia is immediate neighbour of the former. Dissemination of arbitrary and scholarly invalid interpretations of history in view of geopolitical challenges plays a crucial role in deteriorating relations between ethno-linguistic groups in Latvia, as well as interstate relations and international security. The public awareness is to be raised on instrumentalization of history for the political purposes in order to avoid manipulations and thus challenges for resilience. Politicization of history violates the ideal of open and inclusive society via excluding certain discourses and reflecting distorted image of history.

Information published 31.08.2018


 Project “Interaction between the individual, the society and the state in process of the history of Latvia: conflicting values and formation of shared values during historical turning points”
Project No.: VPP-IZM-2018/1-0018
Period: 1 December 2018 – 30 November 2021
Project costs: 600 000 EUR
Principal investigator:  Dr. hist. Guntis Zemītis

The aim of the project is to analyze the communication between the state, the society and the individual; the impact of political and social control on the attitude towards national and social security; the transformation process of political, social and cultural values in Latvia during the 16–20th century.
Having reached the centenary of the state, it is essential to acknowledge those values and historical turning points that made it possible to proclaim a democratic Republic
of Latvia during a moment when there existed several alternatives for the statehood of Latvia. An interdisciplinary and highly qualified academic team of historians,
sociologists, lawyers and theologians, which also plans to involve students in the teamwork, will identify the recent historiography and study the sources. The goal is to
provide the society and the academic field with new knowledge about the processes whereby the distribution of religious, philosophical and social ideas and various
internal and external factors during the period of 16–20th century lead to the consolidation of a set of values that made it possible to found a democratic civil
republic. The team will also analyze the importance of historical memory, the safeguarding of the idea of independence during the years of occupation, and the
national resistence movement which eventually lead to the renewal of the independent state with a thriving multicultural and inclusive society. Special emphasis will be
placed on the contribution by various ethnic, social and religious groups to the formation and protection of Latvia's statehood and cultural diversity. The researchers
will also focus on the social safety and its complex nature, and on the role of individual beliefs in the strengthening of state security.

Information published 01.12.2018


 "ARCHAEOLOGY, AUTHORITY & COMMUNITY: cooperation to protect archaeological heritage" (AAC), project in the framework of the Estonia-Latvia-Russia Cross Border Cooperation Programme within the European Neighborhood and Partnership instrument 2007-2013

A new archaeology and heritage protection project "ARCHAEOLOGY, AUTHORITY & COMMUNITY: cooperation to protect archaeological heritage" (AAC) started on 1 May 2012 in the framework of the Estonia-Latvia-Russia Cross Border Cooperation Programme within the European Neighborhood and Partnership instrument 2007-2013. The project, with a total budget of 1,714,515 euros or 1,204,968.46 lats (LVL) (programme co-financing: 1,520,731.16 EUR (88.7 %) or 1,068,775.94 LVL and partners cofinancing  193,784.50 EUR (11,3%) or 136,192.52 LVL.), will last until the end of 2014. The project involves 9 organizations from 3 countries – Latvia, Estonia and Russia.
Programme website:
Project website:

Project newsletter 4, December 2014
Project newsletter 3, February 2014
Project newsletter 2, February 2013
Project newsletter 1, August 2012


 Joint project between the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Latvian History at the University of Latvia "Values ​ ​and Identities: Cultural Heritage as a Resource for Construction of Identities" (2012-2014)
Project leaders: M.Santova (Institute of Folklore of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), A.Jansone (Institute of Latvian History)
Participants from Latvia: Dr. hist. A.Jansone, Prof. Dr. Hist. I.Saleniece,  Dr. hist I.Boldāne-Zeļenkova,  Dr hist. A.Karlsone,  Dr. hist. h.c. L.Vanaga, Mag. philol. L.Reinvalde,  Dr. philol. G.Pakalns, Assitant A.Pūtelis.

Electronic publication:
Pētījumi par nemateriālo kultūras mantojumu (Bulgārija - Latvija) / Studies of Intangible Cultural Heritage (Bulgaria - Latvia). [Rīga:] LU Latvijas vēstures institūts, 2013 - 179 lpp. (available at:

 Norway Grants project NFI/R/2014/062, "Technology transfer in the processing of mineral resources in earlier times"

The project is co-financed by the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2009-2014 Programme LV05 ‘Research and Scholarships’.

Project total costs:  € 480850.00

Implementation period: 1 June 2015 - 30 April 2017

Project promoter: University of Latvia (project implemented at the Faculty of History and Philosophy)
Partner 1: Institute of Latvian History at the University of Latvia
Partner 2: Oslo University Museum of Cultural History

Principal investigator: Valdis Bērziņš (Institute of Latvian History at the University of Latvia)

The project focusses on the technologies used for the processing of mineral resources important in prehistory and in historical times, giving particular attention to questions relating to the transfer of technology between different societies and cultures.

A crucial raw material for tool-making was flint, and so special methods for working this material developed over the millennia. The production of iron from bog ore began in present-day Latvia in the first centuries AD and continued in later periods, developing on a large scale during the time of the Duchy of Courland.

With the participation of Norwegian specialists, flint-working in the Stone Age and the development of iron production technologies in present-day Latvia from the period up to the early modern period is examined from the perspective of technology transfer. Technical analysis is undertaken on flint tools; archaeological excavation takes place at the site of an ironworks; an ancient iron smelting furnace is reconstructed; the results of the study are brought together in international scholarly publications.

The project will contribute to the general understanding of technologies and their development in Northern Europe in the pre-industrial age.

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