Doctoral studies

Doctoral thesis provides overview of construction archaeology of rural churches

Doctoral student from the School of Humanities, Villu Kadakas, defended his doctoral dissertation, in which he investigated the development and use of the space of rural churches in Northern Estonia and provides an overview of research findings from recent decades.


Kadakas explained that, unlike art history, construction archaeology as a field of study focuses mainly on uncovering hidden construction elements and reconstructing the original whole based on the fragmented elements that remain. The objective is to interpret the construction elements and fit them into a broader context.

Researchers obtain most of their data from direct visual observation, as there are almost no written sources or images from the Middle Ages.

In the field of construction archaeology, Kadakas himself has carried out most of the field studies conducted in Estonia in the last 20 years.  His dissertation includes seven detailed case studies of churches in Jõhvi, Jõelähtme, Risti, Lüganuse, Kose, Haljala and Juuru. He also explores the topic of how the space of churches developed and has been used. In addition, the dissertation describes floor plans, the classification of parts of buildings (nave, chancel, etc.), the sequence of construction of different parts, interior elements (e.g. altar and buttresses), portals and the criteria for distinguishing elements that were built at different times.

The author's conclusions on the development of church construction and various other topics in the dissertation differ from the prevalent views in the field. For instance, Kadakas says his analysis indicates that the construction dates of a number of churches (or parts thereof) may in fact differ from those that have been considered accurate for decades. Moreover, a recent study of Haljala church indicates that the existing church from the 15th century likely had a stone predecessor which was demolished. This contradicts the widely held belief (going back decades) that the first Estonian stone churches were not demolished during the Middle Ages.

In his dissertation, Kadakas explores various new research topics, such as the identification of the remains of medieval walls, carved stone in secondary use and early modern pews and gallery systems.

Although Estonia’s rural churches have been studied for around 150 years and construction archaeology began analysing churches in the 1930s, Kadakas' doctoral work is the first attempt to compile a comprehensive and systematic overview of the data that have accumulated over the years by using methods of construction archaeology.

The dissertation is entitled ‘Archaeological study of the rural churches of Harju and Viru provinces in Northern Estonia. Development of the building and the use of space in the lower zone’ ("Harju- ja Virumaa maakirikute arheoloogiline uurimine. Ehituslik kujunemine ja ruumi kasutus alumises tsoonis"). The public defence was held at 14:00 on Monday 24 August at Tallinn University.

The dissertation was supervised by senior researchers Erki Russow and Anu Mänd from Tallinn University. Its opponents were associate professor and senior researcher Anneli Randla from the Estonian Academy of Arts and private lecturer Christofer Herrmann from the Technical University of Berlin.

The dissertation is available in the ETERA digital environment of the TU Academic Library.