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Hundreds of new prehistoric, Roman and medieval archaeological sites across Romania identified through aerial reconnaissance

Senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, Dr Ioana Oltean, has co-led a seventeen-year project alongside Professor Bill Hanson (Glasgow) and in collaboration with experts from Romania and the UK, to record new prehistoric, Roman and medieval sites discovered in Romania. Using light aircrafts, thousands of photographs were taken to identify these sites, around 90% of which were previously unknown. The photographs were taken between 1998 and 2015, with the work funded by research grants from the Leverhulme Trust, the European Commission and the British Academy. The website, where these images are now available to the public, was created with help from staff at the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Lab and with assistance from student interns.

Since 1998, Dr Oltean has been involved in establishing aerial reconnaissance as a standard method of archaeological prospection in Romania. She specialises in the archaeology of the Roman Empire, particularly in its European provinces, and in aerial archaeology. Dr Oltean is interested in the reconstruction of ancient landscapes and the analysis of settlement pattern evolution. Additionally, she examines social changes from the Late Iron Age to the Roman period in the Lower Danube area and in Britain, in order to quantify the nature and extent of their change through Roman imperialist expansion.

This archaeological work has helped researchers to learn more about the Roman conquest of Romania and the impact on indigenous communities. Researchers hope that their images, displayed on the newly launched website, will encourage further excavation and investigation on the ground and raise awareness of the archaeological remains in Romania, that are still to be explored.

The sites date from the Neolithic period to the 20th century, including medieval castles, fortified churches, hill forts, funerary barrows (tumuli) and cemeteries, alongside Roman military bases, villas, towns, villages roads and temples. Photographs from 422 sites from south Dobrogea, north Dobrogea and south west Transylvania are already on the website, with more to be added soon. These include the remains of Roman villas and larger settlements in the territories of Sarmizegetusa, Apulum, Kallatis and Tropaeum Traiani, the Roman and late Roman forts at Micia, Cigmau, Razboieni, Ighiu, Macin, Dunareni, Capidava overlooking the Mures or the Danube, and a complex of WWI trenches near the Danube NE of Beştepe or a WWII military airfield at Balomiru. The photographs also show Roman-Byzantine forts in rough grazing near the Danube delta, artillery casemates of the late 19th or early 20th century in cultivated fields on the outskirts of Galaţi, and a Roman fortlet and earlier fort at Galaţi-Bărboși on the Tirighina promontory overlooking the Siret river. In addition to these findings are earthwork defences of a fortification, possibly later prehistoric or medieval, which may have been reused during WWI, on raised ground overlooking the Danube.

Leading the project, Dr Oltean said that she “hopes people will enjoy exploring our findings, and that they will encourage new investigations or will help people make a case for excavation before infrastructure is built. We hope the database will help to secure archaeological sites for the future and raise awareness of the incredible history of the region.”

The professor continued that “during flights we were looking for unusual landscape patterns, which we would then photograph and analyse. We now have probably the largest collection of reconnaissance archaeological aerial photographs of Romania, many showing features now lost because of subsequent development. The photographs have helped us to learn more about the nature and impact of the Roman conquest and subsequent colonisation on the transformation of indigenous settlement patterns across Romania. We now hope our work will increase understanding of the history and development of these landscapes, beyond that of the later prehistory to the immediate post-Roman period.”

The research team hope to be able to find more sites in the future using new drone technology and satellite imagery.

To view images and information from the archaeological aerial archive of Romania, led by Dr Oltean, please see:

In other archaeological news, be sure to check out Professor José Iriarte’s new documentary: Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon, which is coming soon to Channel Four.