Even with training in classics and ancient history, my knowledge of the province of Roman Dacia, incorporated into the Roman Empire after Trajan’s two major campaigns in 101-2 and 105-6 CE against the Dacian king Decebalus, was partial at best before embarking on my first excavation. The lack of literary evidence concerning the campaigns, the province’s ultimately brief inclusion in the Empire (the Emperor Aurelian withdrew Roman administration from the region in 275 CE), and its peripheral location as the only Roman province across the Danube River, has led to its peripheral status in the field of ancient history. But, as I found, Roman Dacia—especially the parts of the province nestled within the Carpathian mountains—has a lot to offer.
It didn’t hurt that our site had a wonderful view; our western backdrop was the daunting precipice of Megara Uroilui, a former andesite quarry for both our site and those surrounding it and the tail end of the Carpathians, flanked the site from the south. The mountains were not just good for ogling—even with temperatures approaching 100 Fahrenheit, they shielded us from humidity and sent a mostly constant and cooling breeze down from their heights.
Before we broke ground, I had the opportunity to become familiar with Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), a remote survey technology used to locate subterranean features, as well as the software packages used to analyze its data. GPR proved relatively reliable in terms of locating static features (such as walls) up to a meter and a half underground, provided you are creative in interpreting the data. I was amazed when what seemed like an incomprehensible mess of signals slowly transformed into the shape of a structure; and this would be the building which we were to uncover the next week!
Our villa site proved to be more wealthy than I expected, although the site director, Andre Gonciar, had always had confidence in its potential. The villa structure itself was the second structure to be excavated on the site, with the first being what is most certainly a gatehouse with a beautiful, three-doored travertine threshold still intact. The gatehouse was still being excavated by a team of Romanian archaeologists while we broke ground on the villa. The Romanians were a delightful bunch who brought energy and enthusiasm to the site and to our excavation—I remember our trench making a particularly notable find, resulting in a bottle of Marius’ homemade rosewater being passed around in celebration. Of course, this was one of Marius’ many homemade concoctions, the others being not as suitable for drinking in the field.
horse’s kick in the mouth, and spicy like a red-hot candy, that palinca still haunts my dreams. I asked Paul if he had made that batch himself, and he responded that his old friend was a “master” of palinca distillation, and drank the stuff everyday. “He’s dead now…” A long pause followed, in which we both sipped what I thought might be my death-knell. “Not from the palinca though! Ha!” Paul was a character—I think he told me and others that same story about five times that night. Dead man’s palinca, can you believe it?
We also had the opportunity to attend a spectacle in Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana, the Roman capital of Roman Dacia, where some of our Romanian archaeologist friends participated in battle reenactments. They were even kind enough to let us try our hand at using their equipment, resulting in some very hilarious and badly performed skirmishes between us untrained archaeologists. Kids will be kids!
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience an extended stay in such a beautiful and welcoming location. The Romanians we met were all incredibly kind and giving, even though we often could not communicate as effectively as we might have wished. Still, as a first-time excavation experience, I could not have asked for anything better; in fact, I think I might have to make fieldwork an annual undertaking, both for its restorative properties—it’s good to sweat!—and the possibilities for it to supplement my own work in architectural studies. It definitely helped that my trench mates were wonderful people and hard workers. They deserve to be mentioned. Thank you Morgan, Rachel, Rachel BA, Katie, and Miranda for making an already good experience a great one!