I’m back in Edinburgh after spending the last three weeks in Romania on my first archaeological excavation.
Just to recap: the excavation was based in Schela Cladovei, a Mesolithic/Neolithic settlement on the banks of the Danube in southern Romania (basically on the border between Romania and Serbia). Located in the region known as the Iron Gates, Schela Cladovei had been a primary location of fishers and early farmers. Other history in the region included battles between the Romans under Emperor Trajan and the Dacians were Trajan built a pontoon bridge across the Danube #nbd.
So here goes the longest blog post ever. I’m actually going to split this into two parts. This will be the boring ‘this is what I did part.’ Part two is the touchy-feely ‘I’m going to cry about old things’ part… coming soon.
The trip started out on May 21. A group of us flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow and then onto Bucharest (the capital of Romania). Our flight arrived at 12:05 AM, with the train to the city centre at 8:40 AM. It was a long wait. (Read: I spent 6 hours sleeping on a plastic chair in the Bucharest airport and it wasn’t even a nice chair. It had one of those annoying hand rails between each chair and they were attached. Like who does that?)
Finally when the sun came up we got to a smaller train station and boarded a train that would take us to Gara Nord, the central station in Bucharest. From Gara Nord we took the 10:40 AM train to Drobeta Turnu-Severin, the larger town near Schela. The train was a six hour journey through southern Romania. Everyone was super tired and tried to sleep, but it was really hot and stuffy on the carriage so I got maybe 2 broken hours of sleep. The train was also delayed by 2 hours.
However, we finally made it to the dig house in Schela. I had hit the ’24 hours of travel’ mark long, long ago on the train so I went right to sleep.
Our first morning of the excavation started with a quick lecture about the logistics and history of the site. Then we walked down to the river so uncover the site. We removed polystyrene blocks and tarps to uncover the trench. The trench was a large square divided into metre squares, five long (509, 510, 511, 512, 513) and five wide (Q, R, S, T, U). Those metre squares were then divided into four labeled from left to right (A, B, C, D). So squares would be labeled for example Q509A – row Q, metre square 509, box square A.
The trench had a mixture of dark soil and yellowish soil. Dark soil is an indication of a ‘feature’ basically archaeological terms for ‘something did something here to disrupt the soil.’ Yellow soil is the undisrupted soil.
We started excavations the next day. Our daily schedule started at alarms at 6 AM. We left the dig house at 6:50 to be on site at 7:00. We set up the equipment and worked until 8:30. Breakfast was brought to site by a local Romanian woman who lived near the site. It consisted of really, really, really, good fried egg bread and usually some meats, cheeses, and spreads. A few days we got warm loaves of bread. She also brought really good coffee that definitely was strong enough to snap anyone out of being tired. We worked until 11 AM and then took a break for water/food/sunscreen until 11:30. Then we went back to work until 1 PM.
The weather in Romania is really humid this time of year. It’s also really hot with temperatures reaching 32C. We started early to avoid working in the hottest parts of the day.
After returning to the dig house we had a break for lunch/showers/sleeping until 4.30 PM. At 4.30 PM, we started cleaning our finds from the day or sorting dry finds. This was a really fun part of the day because often times when you excavate you can’t really tell what you find because it’s so covered in mud… you just know that you’ve found something.
Dinner was a 7 PM. It was usually cooked by the same woman who brought breakfast to the site. After dinner, everyone usually just went back up to the rooms to chat and relax before going to sleep. The days were very long and often everyone would be asleep by 10 PM.
We had Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday off. Usually we hung about on Saturdays and would go into town for shopping trips on Sundays. We actually went to the cinema one weekend to see the new X-Men film. It was still in english but had Romanian subtitles.
And then the day repeats for three weeks. It was awesome.
It never got boring though. We learned how to excavate, wet sieve, do floatation, take levels, and work the EDM. Each day different people were doing different tasks. Excavation involved working in the trench. Our task for the 3 weeks was to dig 5 cm down from level 19 to level 20. Wet sieving used a pump and drum to pump water from the Danube to wash away mud from smaller finds like tiny bits of bone and pottery. Floatation works similar to wet sieving except that you have to use two sieves to collect fine pollen or seed particulates that would have just been floated out of the drum. For this we worked with a archaeo-botanist from the University of Belgrade in Serbia. In August, she will return to Bucharest to analyse the samples. From the sample she will be able to tell what sort of plants (both wild and domestic) grew in the area. Taking levels involved working with the dumpy level to tell how much deeper you would need to excavate. And lastly, the EDM is used to the set the crosses of the squares to make sure that the trench remains consistent.
Besides the dig we got a chance to go out and see parts of Romania. During our last week we spend some time in the Old Town of Drobeta where we got to see a 16c Romanian Castle.
We also took a boat trip down the Danube to see sites that had been flooded when the two hydroelectric dams (Iron Gate I and Iron Gates II) had been built. The dams are actually one of the reasons why Schela is so important, because it is one of the few sites that has not been submerged by the rising water levels. ALSO! Hi, fellow mountain climbing friends… don’t know how clear the photos are but the Iron Gates are home to some cool looking limestone walls that probably would have some great climbs.
We also stopped at a cave that had been used by the Austro-Hungarians in the 19c as a border fort between them and the Ottoman Turks.
We left the dig house on June 10 and took the 9:30 AM train back to Bucharest. My flight back was at 5:10 the next day and there was not a day-of train that would have gotten us back on time. So we decided to spend the evening in seeing Bucharest. Bucharest is a really cool city, but it’s very contradicting. The Old Town of Bucharest resembles the streets of Paris is its grand buildings, but you can definitely see leftover Soviet buildings. Remember: Romania was part of the Eastern Bloc until the Romanian Revolution in 1989. However, walking the streets of Bucharest you can really tell that Romania has pushed to become more Western and remove any trace of being a Soviet Satellite.
Also side note: in Captain America: Civil War, Bucky is hiding out in Bucharest. There were, unfortunately no Winter Soldier sightings.
Our travels back to Edinburgh where a tad stressful with a delay in Bucharest that pushed our flight in Heathrow to a bit of a sprint. But, we made it back. When I got off the plane in Edinburgh the temperature was 12C with a heavy rainy overcast. It was glorious.
It was a lot of hard work and the weather varied (I GOT TO SEE THUNDERSTORMS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 7 MONTHS I AM ALIVE!) but I really enjoyed my time on site. Finds included a variety of pottery, stone, and both animal and human bones (more on human bones later…). It was a really incredible time and cannot be more thankful for this opportunity. I am so excited to see what the next three summers have.
Okay. Stay tuned for a really awesome post about a super cool find that I had the chance to excavate!!! Tears ensured.
(Also side note… I realised that I’m wearing my black and white striped shirt in a lot of these photos… I swear I showered and did laundry!! I’m not a gross human.)