Faculty of Arts
Archaeology in Romania: Cremation, Toasts, and Vlad the Impaler
by Dr. Gerry Schaus, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
Dr. Gerry Schaus (email@example.com)
Jurilovca, Romania August 25, 2011
As my head slowly clears from a couple small shots of “parvinka”, a local Romanian aperitif, I write this short note about our field school experience here in Jurilovca, on the coast of the Black Sea, just south of the Danube River delta. Dogs barking in the near background, whistling plumbing pipes even nearer, and the humming of crickets in the front yard of our Pension, provide a melody of sounds in the mid-evening (9:30 p.m.) as we begin to turn out room lights to end another long day. In our minds are images of the presentation given by several Romanian students joining us on the Orgame project this summer about life under the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceauşecu, and the sudden overthrow of his regime in December, 1989. It is modern history which still taints life in this country more than two decades later, but for 9 WLU students participating in the field school, it is an eye-opener about life under the communists and under dictatorship, even as the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, is being overthrown in Libya these very days.
It is strange to be excavating a cluster of tumuli belonging to a family group on the edge of the Orgame necropolis, and not find any skeletons or in fact bones of any recognizable kind. The burials are all cremations, and the flames have consumed the bodies so completely, that only very tiny fragments of bone are sometimes identifiable. But the areas of ash and charcoal are clearly visible in the middle of most tumuli (we were unlucky to find two empty ones!), along with large pieces of transport amphoras which once held wine used either to quench the lingering coals of the pyres consuming each body or for a last toast to the dead. A few smashed drinking vessels accompany the funeral deposit as well. For one child’s burial, a baby feeder and a blue glass “eye” bead were found together with some tiny bronze beads, no doubt part of a necklace for a little girl. Most productive in terms of pottery remains has been the platform near the tumuli where funeral rites were conducted, perhaps well after the funeral itself. Here family members honoured their dead with the drinking of wine, probably prayers to the gods, and the leaving of little gifts, including terracotta figurines. A coin or two may also have been left as tokens for the dead in their journey to the Underworld.
With only one more week of digging, and then a field trip to see the castle of Vlad the Impaler, famous from Dracula stories, and of course a couple more museums and the former royal palace near Sinaia before ending our trip in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, I’m already starting to think back on all our adventures, excursions, and learning experiences. For me, the wonderful generosity of our hosts and their constant helpfulness, will be remembered most, but for our 9 WLU Archaeology students, well, perhaps you’ll have a chance to ask them yourself. My hope is that it’s not the castle of Vlad the Impaler, but instead their boat trip on Lake Razim, or the finds they made among the tumuli, or the camaraderie they enjoyed with the Romanian students. It has been a trip and a field school to remember for years to come.