Ossuary and Cemetery of Roncesvalles 2021

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: Calle Ntra. Sra. de Roncesvalles, 9, 31650 Roncesvalles, Navarra, Spain

Season: July 2, 2021 to August 11, 2021

Session Dates: July 2-21, July 23-August 11

Application Deadline: April 30, 2021

Deadline Type: Rolling


Program Type:
Field School

RPA Certified:

Aditu Arkeologia

Project Director:
Emma Jade Bonthorne and Fran Valle de Tarazaga.

Project Description:

The 2021 Aditu Archaeological Field School is a research project investigating the origins of the medieval ossuary located at Roncesvalles (Northern Navarre, Spain) just a few miles from the French border. The purpose of the project is to investigate what is rumoured to be the burial site of the rearguard of Charlemagne’s army, ambushed in the Battle of Roncesvalles and immortalised in the medieval French work “La Chanson de Roland.” In addition to its historical significance, the location has long been an important rest stop for pilgrims hiking the Camino de Santiago from France, as it represents the traditional first stop upon crossing the Pyrenees mountains and entering the Iberian peninsula.

The ossuary consists of one of the oldest structures that forms part of the religious complex of Roncesvalles. Historical sources, as well as previous interventions at the site, have attested to the long chronology of burials present within the ossuary, and this project anticipates being the most extensive excavation undertaken to date at the site.

In 2021 our aim is to better understand the history of the structure, continuing excavating of the upper layers of the complex (currently in 18th century layers). The focus of the field school will be on ossuary excavation methodology and the analysis of commingled remains and articulated burials, and will be accompanied by lectures on human osteology, calculation of MNI, archaeological practice, stable isotope analysis, Basque and medieval archaeology and relevant topics related to field methodology and finds processing.  The field school represents a rare opportunity to excavate a unique site of huge historical significance and gain insight into different types of field and laboratory methodologies within commingled contexts.

The team responsible for the excavation, Aditu Arkeologia, has carried out excavations in Navarre for the past 12 years, including previous field schools at the sites of Santa Maria de Zamartze and San Miguel de Aralar. Results from the anthropological analysis of remains uncovered at Roncesvalles will form part of a wider study of the population of Navarre during the Medieval period, and samples from articulated burials are expected to provide data to be used in stable isotope analysis.

Students will spend 7-8 hours per day engaged in field work or in the processing of materials recovered from the field. Throughout the course, students will become proficient in excavation procedures, field drawing, documentation, and find processing and analysis.

Please note that a decent level of physical fitness is necessary to get in and out of the ossuary, as well as to work for extended periods kneeling. The ossuary is a large space, measuring 10m x 10m, but has no windows and only one opening for access. As such, this may be a difficult site for those suffering from severe claustrophobia.

For more information and applications please contact:

Period(s) of Occupation: 12th-18th centuries

Ossuary, Physical anthropology, Funerary, Necropolis, Human remains, Forensic, Spain, Osteology

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: One session (20 days)

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: The field school is aimed at students or graduates of archaeology and associated disciplines, although if places are available it will be open to anyone that has an interest in developing their knowledge and skills in archaeological field methodology. A minimum knowledge of human osteology is strongly encouraged, as although classes will be provided, the upper layers consist of primarily disarticulated remains and the ability to recognise fragmentary skeletal elements will be necessary.

Room and Board Arrangements:
Board and accommodation will be provided at the sanctuary, including self catering breakfast and lunch (ingredients provided), and a variety of hot dinners served at the site. All necessary facilities are provided (electricity, hot showers, dormitory accommodation). Students will be given 2 rest days in the middle of each session. Cost: 1750 euros.

Contact Information:

Aditu Arkeologia

Maddalen 35





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