Friday, 4 July 2014

Romans in Romania

I began my first archaeology excavation this week in Murighol Romania. Murighol is the Turkish word for purple lake, because at sunset the lake and sky have the most amazing colours, often purples and pinks and orange. The site I'm digging at is called Halmyris, it is a roman fort that stood between approximately 100-700 AD. Most of my knowledge on site at the moment is quite vague because we we're given very brief tours and histories regarding the site, so the particulars I cannot give a very good explanation. 
When you first enter the site your are on a very small hill, about three meters at the most above the surrounding farmland to the north and east. Those farm fields used to be the Danube river, however the river has receded about 300 meter from where it used to be. We know this because there are two man made harbours at Halmyris, therefore the Danube would have come right up to the fort. The fort had approximately twelve towers and with good reason. The location of Halmyris is important because it intersects two important commercial shipping waters, the Danube and the Black Sea. However this also made is a target for Roman enemies, which was everyone. I'm also not into classical or Roman history so I can't tell you much about that either. Hopefully I will learn a few things before I'm finished. 
What I can tell you is that the site has faced and is still dealing with quite a few issues. On the site there are two very impressive structures; a bathhouse and a basilica. The basilica is quite impressive and gathered quite a bit of attention from the Romanian Orthodox Church. Ancient Roman texts and legends discussed the presence of two monks or missionaries who came to Halmyris spreading Christianity. They were eventually brutally tortured and executed for disturbing the peace of Halmyris. However both of them were loved by their followers and their remains were hidden. Many year later a less crazy Roman emperor had a basilica erected at Halmyris and had the remains of the two monks placed in a crypt. Later these to monks were sainted. A few years ago the basilica was discovered with the remains of the two saints. The osteological investigation showed that flesh was removed from the two individuals using grappling hooks, numerous bones were broken, and hammers were taken to their pelvis region. So yep they were put through some severe torture and then beheaded. 
Anyways, when the couch discovered that the remains of the two saints were found they came to the site, tried to tell the archaeologists that the entire site now belonged to the church, stole archaeology materials, erected a monastery adjacent to the site. Mihael who has been at Halmyris since the beginning of excavations and continues to this day. The church has never given the man or any other archaeologist at the site any credit, for the discovery. Since then it is a bitter and passive aggressive battle between archaeologists and the church. 
You are probably thinking, "oh wow that so cool! Lucy is on an archaeology dig." I will have to admit yea it really is. But it's not exactly what I thought it would be like. I always thought archaeology was a very meticulous and tedious work, where you sift through tiny grains of dirt looking for important material history. Not exactly the case. I'll give you an idea of what it has been like so far. The first day we cleared vegetation from our work area and moved a massive pile of rubble from a previous excavation that was on the spot we wanted to dig. With about 20 people working together it didn't take very long. The next day we plotted our trenches, and you won't believe it. I used Pythagorean Theorem in the real world. We made trenches facing east west from previous trenches, then we measured the trenches to be 2m x 3m, then we would take the hypotenuse of the triangle to make sure out measurements and squares were correct. Kind of harder then anticipated when you are not working on level ground and only have a few pegs and measuring tapes to make it perfect. But eh, we got 'er done.
After we got our trenches stringed off we began to dig. My trench was promised to be the most interesting trench because it was right in behind tower that had served as a commercial area to declare goods. My trench was 2m x 6m trench. The first day we were told to bring it down about 10cm. Alright we start bringing it down. But we are running into a lot of rocks on the north side of the trench. Boss comes over takes a look, and says bring it down another 10, so we go again. And this goes on and on throughout the week. Basically the boss is just going to look for a few minutes either say its a wall, or maybe collapse but we won't know fore sure until we see that face. So we just keep digging. The dirt never ends. Cut the dirt, sift through for pottery and material culture, remove dirt from trench and wheel it away. There was a crazy person who attempted to do archaeology in the site about 20 years ago, but he just butchered whatever he found, so we are just dumping all of our dirt in his trenches. One girl in a trench adjacent to mine found a coin, it was bronze and you could see the emperor on the coin face and some other designs, and we were able to date it to the exact year it was made. I was told but can remember exactly, I believe it was in the 1st or 2nd century. So far I have found lots of pottery, mortar, shells, bone (animal), tiles and rocks... Lots of rocks. 
The village I live in is quite small, but when you are surrounded by interesting and amazing people it doesn't matter how small the place. Everyone on the dig is studying different things; anthropology, archaeology, classics, history, art history, religious studies, etc. everyone is very dedicated to their studies and we have done quite a bit of nerding out. The nights are spent in the local bar or outside on our patio drinking beer (which is dirt cheap!) having excellent conversations about what we study to everything else. Most of the crew are from the US, which means I'm an constantly defending the honour of Canada, and it is quite difficult being the only one. But it's all in good fun. 
During the day we eat at Girus. For 75lei or 25$ I eat three square meals a day from a buffet that also includes dessert. I haven't eaten this well in months, the food is all locally sourced and very we'll balanced. If I had any thought of slimming down digging holes all day...nope. At the archaeology site there are a few plum trees that ripening and I get to snack on those during the my break. We also have a well that was built by soldiers many year ago, all my water that I drink comes from that well that I bring up with a pail. In the afternoons it becomes to hot to work and the entire village sleeps. Between 2-5 the power goes out and siesta begins, the time of day where it is perfectly acceptable to nap, and yes I nap everyday. After shovelling for 6 hours, napping is exactly what I need. 


  1. is tan bul (is paraphrasis) = εις την πολη (is tin poli =to the town) the town is Κωνσταντινουπολη

  2. Thanks for this. Very helpful. Hopefully I'll get to go next year.