SIM cards, Skeletons, and Celebrations: Our Transylvanian Day of Archaeology

To celebrate the 2014 Day of Archaeology, Transylvania Bioarchaeology (a non-profit community interest company), had quite a lively day with both summer field projects. Our Day of Archaeology also reminded us that when trying to run archaeological field schools, a lot of what we do isn’t archaeology!

Our Jucu necropolis excavation started bright and early…well, not so bright as the torrential [trench-ial] rain dampened the clothes, but not spirits, of our brave excavation crew, led by Assistant Project Director Katie Hunt, as they left for the train station at 7am. Nick Ogden, Field Assistant and chauffeur extraordinaire, carted a lucky few in the dig car at 7.30 and looked for comical license plates away from the downpour.

Our illustrious Project Directors (Dr. Katie Tucker and Dr. Ioan Stanciu (and his Macedonian friend who we eventually discovered is called Sote) started their day with a trip to the local bus station, where they were directed from window to window and then finally up some stairs and down a corridor, to book some buses for our weekend field trips to a salt mine and a Roman frontier camp.

Meanwhile in the well churned earth of the site, duckboards were liberated from the kindly solar farm owner’s stash, to prevent the earth from swallowing the students and creating more excavation opportunities for the following season. Work continued to draw the plan of skeleton number 4 under a well duct taped covering whilst other students continued to excavate skeletons neck deep in mud, the students that is.


Katie and Dr. Stanciu’s day continued with a trip to the shopping mall in order to unlock Katie’s Romanian mobile, which had been turned off the previous night after repeated prank calls by a random Romanian bloke, only to discover this morning that the piece of paper with the unlocking code had been very successfully tidied away by the owners of the Pension we are all staying in. They arrived to find that the mobile phone shop wouldn’t open for another 30 minutes, so beat a hasty retreat to Starbucks to wait with a coffee. Phone successfully unlocked, they could finally make their way to site, and after battling against Cluj traffic and the less than perfect directions of Dr. Stanciu, they arrived, just in time to see the clouds part and allow the extraction of skeleton number 4 from his eternal resting place.

Students excavating a skeleton.

Students excavating a skeleton.

Katie and Dr. Stanciu (and Sote) discussed (in a combination of Romanian, German and English) the complicated ins and outs of the next few seasons of the project, while lifting of the skeleton from its concrete-like grave fill could begin. This took a team of six of us about two hours, while Nick had to start ferrying the rest of the site crew back to the train station for our normal Friday half working day trip home. Nick then sat in the car waiting for the rest of us to finish, so we could all go back to the Pension. The drive back included a stop at a petrol station to buy a week’s worth of road tax, only to be told that we didn’t need it because our car still had temporary number plates, swiftly followed by an ominous snapping noise from the suspension. Nick’s driving became somewhat more cautious for the rest of the journey but the car did its job and got us back to the Pension.


In the museum this morning we started out with a lively discussion about the Osteological Paradox. The students grappled with the conceptual issues brought up in the article and we all enjoyed the thoughts and points brought up by everyone.  After our discussion group had finished, all of the students donned their lab coats and excitedly entered the lab for another day full of accomplishment and frustration. Our five fragmented skeletons have proven to be a fantastic learning experience as well as an intellectual challenge to all of the students in the lab. Interesting pathologies as well as difficult fragment identification has made this session’s individuals a challenge to everyone who comes through. Kori Filipek-Ogden, Program Director, went over sex and age estimations with two of our groups, and Kayla Crowder our Museum Assistant Director helped with the stature estimation and equations for another one of our individuals.

Kayla Crowder estimating stature by looking at a femur.

Kayla Crowder estimating stature by looking at a femur.

During our lunch hour we have the pleasure of experiencing many different food options that include local restaurants, food stands, a variety of pastry shops and gelato stalls. Once everyone had their fill of amazing food and drink we went back up to the lab to start the second half of our day.

students studying non-metric traits.

students studying non-metric traits.

Meanwhile at the Pension, Nick and Katie Hunt discover that one of our ill excavation students had taken a turn for the worse and decide to take her to the hospital for treatment. After waiting for four hours they were finally able to see a doctor and get her on the track to recovery.

Back at the museum we were joined by Jucu Project Director Katie Tucker and one brave excavation student who was ready and willing to wash and separate some stubborn vertebrae that had been excavated from Jucu earlier in the season.


Katie Tucker and Kori went around the lab to assess the possible differential diagnoses for our many unique pathologies on our individuals. After a long and cloudy day in the lab, the students packed up and headed back to the Pension while Kori, Katie, and Kayla made their way to the cake shop to pick up a special birthday surprise cake for one of the excavation students. After retrieving the cake the cheerful trio started home but got caught in a rain shower with no taxis in sight. Immediately after phoning Nick for a lift, as fate would have, it they found a taxi to take them back.

They got back to the Pension only to discover that the birthday girl, as well as 90% of the remaining students had gone to the mall. When they eventually returned we were able to finally eat the delicious cake, celebrate a great birthday and reflect upon our Day of Archaeology.

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