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Southern Romania Archaeological Project

Excavations in the Teleorman River Valley

The Southern Romania Archaeological Project (SRAP, 1998 to present) is a Romanian-British collaboration between Cardiff University School of History, Archaeology & Religion (Professor D. Bailey -now at San Francisco State University- and Dr Steve Mills), the Teleorman County Museum, Alexandria, (Mr P. Mirea) and the Romanian National Historical Museum, Bucureşti (Dr. R. Andreescu). SRAP focuses its attention on the Neolithic and Eneolithic (6000-3600 BC) around the village of Măgura in the Teleorman River Valley, 85 km southwest of Bucureşti. The Neolithic and Eneolithic were dynamic periods in Balkan prehistory. People first constructed pits and then later built and lived in villages of clay, mud and timber framed houses; they herded sheep, goat, cattle and pig; they made a wide range of stone tools and ceramic pottery and figurines, and they grew wheat and barley. More spectacularly, the fifth millennium inhabitants of the Balkans were the first Europeans to use copper and gold to make ornaments, jewellery and tools. They also imported special marine shells from Greece and used them to make bracelets, rings and pendants. A prime objective of the SRAP is to unravel the beginnings of this dynamic period.

Teleorman County Museum logo   Romanian National Historical Museum logo

 

To achieve its research objective, the SRAP has designed a multi-disciplinary programme of fieldwork and analyses combining traditional archaeological field techniques and expertise with a range of specialist techniques from other disciplines. The project methodology uses intensive field walking, soil auguring, pollen analysis, excavation, archaeological survey, pottery analyses, and human and animal bone analyses. This is combined with studies of Holocene river dynamics to understand the history of the river valley, of palaeobotany to understand the presence and use of plants, of micromorphology to understand the formation of archaeological features (e.g. house floors) and of radiometric dating to provide a scientific chronological framework. Alongside SRAP, the Teleorman County Museum and the Romanian National Historical Museum conduct further Neolithic research in the Teleorman Valley with particular focus on the tell at Vitaneşti (dating from 4300 cal BC, Gumelniţa culture).

Tell Magura settlement

 

The Teleorman River Valley runs for several hundred kilometres through southcentral Romania, emptying into the Danube. As the river passes the village of Măgura, the valley is joined by the valley of the Claniţa River. At the confluence of the Teleorman and the Clanita the tell village of Măgura (dating from 4300 cal BC, Gumelniţa culture) marks the importance of this meeting of the rivers (indeed the subsequent Iron Age and modern use of the Măgura mound attests to the area’s importance through the proto-historic and historic periods). There are many other tells up and down these two rivers as well as along the neighbouring Vedea River which also runs to the Danube but farther to the west.

In the Teleorman valley just where it meets the Claniţa today is a wide, open flood plain. Across part of this plain runs a grid of drainage channels cut into the valley floor during the late 1980s in an attempt to create a cotton plantation. The channels are 2.0 m deep and 3.0 m wide and in total run for over 4 kms. Most importantly the sides of the channels are exposed and are currently the source of eroding soils; it is these channels which drew the project to this valley. In many places along these channels, one can see cultural material eroding out of the sides and accumulating at the channel bottoms. Much of this material is late Neolithic in date (4800-4300 cal BC, specifically of the Boian Culture). The presence of Boian material in the valley bottom was a surprise and demanded that further investigation focus on the character of the sites from which the material was eroding. This was the main research stimulus which drew the SRAP to this location. The initial SRAP seasons (1998-2000) mapped the spread of these concentrations, opened controlled excavations and began the study of Holocene river valley dynamics.

Excavations at  Măgura-Buduiasca

More recent SRAP work focuses on the first appearance of ceramics, semi-sedentism and domestication in the early Neolithic (c. 6100-5000 BC, Starčevo-Criş, Dudeşti and Vădastra cultures). SRAP research discovered, excavated and radiocarbon dated the early Neolithic site of Măgura-Buduiasca and proved the presence of the earliest phases of the Neolithic in this area.  Currently the project is finishing post-excavation analysis following which a full publication will appear.

SRAP’s geomorphological work (co-ordinated by Professor Mark Macklin, Aberystwyth University) and the development of a Holocene fluvial chronology is critical for understanding the interplay between river dynamics and the Neolithic archaeological record and is the best dated sequence in the Lower Danube Basin and probably in the whole of southeast Europe.  This work provides a model for the likely influence of river processes and hydrological variability on the behaviour and resource choices of prehistoric communities and the effects of river erosion, flooding and sedimentation on the preservation and visibility of the archaeological record within river valleys. Furthermore, it contributes to the broader, increasingly precise, knowledge of European and global patterns of (rapid) climate change, flooding events, erosion and alluviation.