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The Finch Girl

Interdisciplinary research project

First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.

Then I began to listen.

Then I was filled with gladness -

and that's when it happened,

when I seemed to float,

to be, myself, a wing or a tree -

and I began to understand

what the bird was saying…


Mary Oliver, ‘Such Singing in the Wild Branches’, 2003

At the centre of this interdisciplinary research project is a unique archaeological find dating to 17th century Poland. The skeleton of a young girl was discovered in a limestone cave, and a tiny skull of a chaffinch was found in her mouth. Scientific methods traced the girl’s origin to Finland; testified by her DNA and historical writings depicting Finnish soldiers and their families in that Polish region at the time of the burial. Finnish folklore and its close relationship with forests was used as evidence that could feasibly explain the idea of a ‘soul bird’ being placed in her mouth. However, the results were inconclusive, and this unique burial remains elusive.


The purpose of this project is to bring together a team of artists and scientists to work together with the aim to discover more about the story.  Scientists base the construction of a narrative on the most probable evidence, pieced together from a range of verified sources. Artists, it could be argued, employ imagination and speculation, and invent in the gaps where evidence might not be found. The project sets out to explore how might these different approaches to storytelling mutually benefit each other. We ask, how might we imagine other possibilities and uncover further so-called scientific data through conversation and creative exploration? How might the narrative uncovered so far be filled-out and re-told? The evidence questioned and verified in new ways?


This beguiling story evokes questions about the mystery itself, but it also opens an enquiry about what this story might mean beyond its specific circumstances. In the context of the ecological crisis we face, might we think about the relationship between the girl and the finch as an example of the kind of biopolitical symbiosis we should strive for? How might local folklore and mythology shed light on the mystery of the burial and suggest new ways of thinking beyond the Anthropocene? What might the Finch Girl tell us about other ways of inhabiting the earth and coexisting with the environment?

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