Medieval Cemetery Funerary Excavation – Living and Dying on the Edge of Europe (Transylvania, Romania)

COVID-19 NOTICE: Please be sure to reach out to the project contact to find out the status of their upcoming season. Many projects have cancelled fieldwork for 2020 and the information below may not reflect that.

Location: Valeni, RO

Season: June 6, 2021 to July 31, 2021

Session Dates: Session 1: June 6 - July 3, 2021 (4 weeks); Session 2: July 4 - July 31, 2021 (4 weeks)

Application Deadline: January 31, 2021

Deadline Type: Rolling


Program Type:
Field School, Volunteer

RPA Certified:

Western Carolina University (USA); Archaeological Techniques and Research Center (Canada); Haaz Rezso Muzeum (Romania); and University of South Florida

Project Director:
Dr. Katie Zejdlik-Passalacqua (Western Carolina University); ; Dr. Andre Gonciar (Bio/Archaeological Techniques and Research Center); Dr. Zsolt Nyaradi (Haaz Rezso Muzeum)

Project Description:

At the end of the 17th century, several churches around Odorheiu Secuiesc (Transylvania, Romania) have been abandoned. What is even more interesting is that those churches were removed from collective memory as well. Not only the written records pertaining to these churches were lost, but the local communities forgot about their existence. Our excavation aims at retrieving the memory of these churches and to try to elucidate the social, political and religious context that created such an environment that would extract a church from local collective memory.

In 2014, we have started exploring the skeletal assemblage of the “lost church” of Valeni, with outstanding results We have discovered an early medieval and a Gothic church, but the stratigraphy indicates that there is an even earlier church that we have not yet identified. The most surprising result of our 2014 campaign is the presence of what appears to be a migration period, pre-Christian tumulus under the church, as indicated by the burial of a horse associated with several individuals buried in fetal position. These results could also shed light on the Christianizing processes in the region as well as the relation between the various churches and their subsidiaries. Through a more thorough study of the cemeteries and their occupants, we will also explore the different processes that led to the penetration of Protestantism in the region and then its subsequent return to Catholicism. In 2021, we will continue exploring the medieval cemetery of our “lost church”, expanding our excavation beyond the initial walls of the cemetery itself.

Our excavation will deploy a bioarchaeological field approach. Within this context, we will concentrate our work on the individuals themselves and their immediate surroundings (i.e. clothing implements, jewelry, coffin and other primary funerary depositions. During one session of the excavation, we expect each participant to fully excavate a minimum of two individuals. All participants will receive basic training in human anatomy and morphology in order to fully take advantage of the opportunities presented during excavation.

Period(s) of Occupation: Middle Ages

Funerary excavation of a well preserved medieval church cemetery dating from one of the most tumultuous period in the history of Transylvania (Romania).

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 4 weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: No bioarchaeological field experience required. Basic knowledge of human anatomy and morphology preferred but not required.

Room and Board Arrangements:
Students and volunteers will be housed in Odorheiu Secuiesc, a small and beautiful city, rich in history and culture. It is cosmopolitan town, situated in central Transylvania, on the historical divide between the Szekely Country to the East into the Carpathians Mountains and the more Romanian and Saxon Transylvania to the South and West into the lowlands. Participants will be housed in double or triple occupancy rooms within 45min walking distance from downtown Odorheiu Secuiesc (or a 10min cab ride). A bus will be rented to take us into the field and back daily. Breakfast and dinner will be served Mon-Fri in the hotel restaurant. Participants will sample a variety of amazing home cooked Romanian and Szekler traditional meals. Students and volunteers are responsible for their own lunches in the field. Beware that Romanian cuisine is meat oriented, but we do our best to accommodate vegetarian dietary requirements. There are plenty of small stores, supermarkets, farmer markets, where you can purchase fresh cheese, various meat products, garden vegetables, bread, drinks, and anything else you might need. Odorheiu Secuiesc provides all the amenities of a small European city, which includes hospitals an international bus station, train station, and all the stores you might need. Cost: $2495 per 4 week session (additional USF tuition fees apply, if registering for credit)

Academic Credit:
3-6 undergraduate/graduate academic credit (not mandatory) offered by the University of South Florida. Contact University of South Florida (Education Abroad) for details.

Contact Information:

Dr. Katie Zejdlik or Dr. Andre Gonciar

Western Carolina University


North Carolina

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