Archaeologists study Thracian burial ground and settlement in Romania

Drone image of barrow/cenotaph explored during 2014 excavation. Image: Maria Magdalena Stefan and Dan Stefan/Digital Domain

Drone image of barrow/cenotaph explored during 2014 excavation. Image: Maria Magdalena Stefan and Dan Stefan/Digital Domain

Archaeologists have just completed their sixth season of excavation at a large burial ground consisting of nearly 100 mounds. The site was constructed in the 1st millennium BC at Teliţa-Celic Dere in south-east Romania. The cemetery sits alongside a settlement, which will allow the researchers to explore in depth the community who was buried there.

It used to be a place of great strategic and trade importance. Not far from there was a ford, which was the last passage through the lower Danube. Further to the east the delta started and crossing was no longer possible.” said Dr. Tomasz Bochnak from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Rzeszów (southeastern Poland).

Recording the archaeological features at Teliţa-Celic Dere. Image: T. Bochnak

Recording the archaeological features at Teliţa-Celic Dere. Image: T. Bochnak

A cultural melting pot

According to the researcher, the place had already been mentioned by Herodotus, who wrote that the Persian king Darius, preparing an expedition against the Scythians in 512 BC, moved his army through the Bosphorus and to the lower Danube. Researchers believe that the trail of Darius led through the valley above which the burial ground is located.

Excavation of the burial mounds show that this place had been a cultural melting pot for several centuries. Scythian and Greek influences overlapped in the region, which archaeologists can see from the grave goods.

There is no clear answer to the question of who was buried in the mounds” said Dr. Bochnak. “The general name of the peoples who lived in the eastern and central parts of the Balkan Peninsula in the first millennium is the Thracians. These tribes had frequent contacts with the Greeks, and later the Romans” he explained.

The area where the cemetery is located, Dobrogea, was called “Little Scythia” (which indicates a significant influence of the nomadic people), and Greek colonies were located a few dozen kilometres to the southeast, on the Black Sea.

An important site

We believe that the settlement complex in Teliţa-Celic Dere is one of the most important sites in Dobrogea, documenting the penetration of these diverse influences. The purpose of our expedition is to determine the range of sites, inventory barrows and study those previously unexplored” said Dr. Bochnak.

Scientists were intrigued by a mound concealing two graves where there was a burial of a young boy whose skull shows signs of trepanation. After cremation, the remains of the deceased were placed in the lateral part of the extensive mound. In the central part, the archaeologists found only the legs of another deceased, which hadn’t been cremated.

The rest of the body had been removed, but it was not a robbery, only part of a funeral ritual, as within the burial pit there was a short sword typical for the Scythians, and dozens of arrowheads. Probably soon after the funeral, the grave was re-opened and a large part of the body of the deceased removed” – theorised the researcher.

This year, the archaeologists studied a mound, which turned out to be empty, and it appears that approximately 30 percent of the mounds of Celic Dere are cenotaphs, or memorials without human remains.

The Polish team of researchers also participated in excavations within the settlement, in order to make sure that it was contemporaneous with the necropolis. The initial results appear to confirm this.

PAP – Science and Scholarship in Poland