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Ethnographical collections from all continents

The Museum of Cultures holds the ethnographic collections and Finno-Ugrian collections of the National Museum of Finland, which in total number around 40 000 objects. Since the beginning of the 19th century, Finnish explorers and scientists, missionaries, seafarers, art collectors, adventurers and later development co-operation workers have added the collections.

The ethnographic collections contain objects from all continents. The founding object in this collection is the rare Salish ceremonial blanket from the North-West coast of America, catalogued in 1828.

Objects for the Finno-Ugrian collections have been gathered from all Finno-Ugrian nations. The most valuable objects from the late 19th century and early 20th century were collected on expeditions whose purpose was to discover the origins of the Finnish language and people. Today the rare objects serve also those Finno-Ugrian nations whose identity is pressurised by Russian language and culture.

The cornerstones of the early collections are the materials collected by internationally known scientists during their expeditions. Among them are for example arabist G. A. Wallin (1840s), the explorer of Siberia M. A. Castrén (1840-50s) and social anthropologists Edward Westermarck (Morocco, 1898-1913), Gunnar Landtman (Papua New Guinea, 1910-12) and Rafael Karsten (South America, 1920-50s).

The collections are continuously enlarged with both donations and purchases.  Among the notable donations are Eila Kivekäs' African collection, obtained during the 1970-90s, and the Asian collection of set designer Tero Kiiskinen. 

Since the 1980's the museums' own researchers have enlarged the collections with objects from such places as India and Central Russia, with the focus on present-day culture. The aim of the purchases is to fulfil research needs and the museums' exhibition requirements. The primary way to collect objects is through researchers in the course of their fieldwork, as the objects can be then documented and listed reliably.

Cooperation projects with other researchers doing fieldwork have become increasingly important. Fieldwork material has been donated by, for example, professor emeritus of cultural anthropology Matti Sarmela (Thailand, 1970-80) and professor emeritus of South-Asian studies Asko Parpola (Agnicayana veda ritual, South India, 1976).


FINNA is a search service for Finnish archives, libraries and museums that has replaced the Museot Online portal. FINNA is part of the National Digital Library (KDK) project. More information on the collections of the Museum of Cultures that can be searched and browsed using the portal is available here.