Lili Kaelas was an archaeologist who was active in Stockholm and Gothenburg. She set up the Lili Kaelas stiftelse för arkeologisk forskning (foundation for archaeological research).
Lili Kaelas was born at an unknown location in Estonia in 1919. She came to Sweden via Finland as a refugee in 1945. She was employed by Statens historiska museum (the national history museum) as an assistant to the curator Axel Bagge. He encouraged her to study for a licentiate degree in Nordic and comparative archaeology at Stockholms högskola (college), from which she graduated in 1953. She then worked as curator at Statens historiska museum and co-authored, along with Axel Bagge, Die Funde aus Dolmen und Ganggräbern in Schonen, Schweden. She was appointed curator of Gothenburg archaeological museum in 1957, and in 1968 she succeeded Carl Axel Moberg as head of the museum.
Lili Kaelas has herself named two individuals as influential in her choice of research, namely the well-known British archaeologist Gordon Childe – whose lectures she had the privilege of attending in 1948 – and Carl Axel Moberg – whom she had become acquainted with during her stint at Statens historiska museum. Lili Kaelas was keen that research should be the basis for both museum work and archaeological digs. Although she herself never got the chance to present a major piece of concerted archaeological work her research shines through many of her published articles and reviews in Swedish and foreign annuals and journals. She tended to focus on the Neolithic period.
Lili Kaelas was also interested in the use of scientific methodology and analysis as a supportive element of archaeological research. She worked with the likes of Johannes Lepiksaar, head of osteology at Gothenburg natural history museum. She also believed that connections with foreign archaeological institutions were important. For example, for many years she maintained ties with Marija Gimbutas, a Polish-American archaeologist. She also attended many conferences and symposia and, for a couple of terms during the 1967–1968 years, she was a visiting lecturer at the University of California.
Lili Kaelas also instigated several major international exhibitions which were held in Gothenburg. She sought new ways to interest the general public in archaeology, such as by arranging archaeological walks and lunchtime gatherings. She retired in 1983.
Lili Kaelas received several awards for her efforts. In 1974 she became a member of The Royal Society of Arts and Sciences in Gothenburg (KVVS), and that same year she also became an honorary member of the Prehistoric Society of Great Britain. In 1981 she received Göteborgs Stads (Gothenburg city’s) merit award.
Lili Kaelas set up a foundation in the early 2000s called Lili Kaelas stiftelse för arkeologisk forskning (foundation for archaeological research), which awarded stipends “to younger researchers in order to promote archaeological research in prehistoric and historic materials related to Sweden or Estonia”. This foundation is managed by The Royal Society of Arts and Sciences in Gothenburg and since 2006 they have made several awards.
Lili Kaelas was married twice. Initially she married Aleksander Kaelas, and subsequently Per Nyström. The latter was a historian and a politician and, finally, regional governor of Gothenburg and Bohus. Lili Kaelas died in Gothenburg in 2007.