HIDDEN LANDSCAPES. The Lost Roads, Borders and Battlefields of the South-Eastern Carpathians

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What for the modern man represents the physical support of life, the so-called natural environment, for the traditional world of the past was the earth as an expression of establishing order from the chaos. For the ancient Greek philosophers, the Earth was one of the Four Elements that defined the World’s Corners, but also the foundation that supported, in an ascending structure, the other three, namely Water, Air and Fire. However, long before Empedocles and those who continued his thinking, the earth had been already included in those major myths explaining the world’s creation.

The same dual vision, which highlights either the materiality but also the conceptual-mythical nature, worked in the case of the Mountain. This was the most dynamic expression of the earth’s surface rising through steep slopes to the sky, but also Ourea, the direct daughter of the mother goddess, Gaia, the primordial being who personified the earth.

It is not uncommon for us to think we know what we are talking about, but we end up finding out from the very first attempt to formulate a definition that the concepts discussed are far from being understood by everyone in the same way. Simple concepts such as space or mountain, the latter being in the central topic of this volume, are no exception to the statement made above.

Mountain in the same way as plain, river, sea, ocean and all the other facets making the space, and even the space itself, are thought to be recognised due to their materiality at first. This belief may be valid in terms of the pure physical geography but rather inappropriate in the social studies. As many other structures living in the social field, geographical entities are subject of personal perception evolving in mutual interaction rather than well-defined elements having steady cores and obvious limits. Tracking further the practical consequences of this perspective, the natural question arises: what should we research first, the natural environment and human societies embedded within or, conversely, the geography encapsulated in the social field of people and past societies? Let’s agree that both perspectives are important, but for the mountain areas in particular we will soon find out that our general knowledge might prove to be as limited as the rarefied atmosphere above the mountain is. This means nothing more than considering that a research of the mountain environment, in both a natural and social sense, can’t start but with small steps, building gradually the base of the future knowledge systems, before attempting any complex integrative hypotheses and interpretations.

So here we are with this volume dedicated to the presentation of mountain archaeology, a research field seen as a suitable set of methods and skills placed in the service of data accumulation and reasoning in regard to highlands. The South-Eastern Carpathians were our place of choice for the various experiments and combinations of research methods – both basic archaeological investigations means (site recognition and survey, targeted diggings) and those involving other sciences (remote sensing, especially LiDAR, but also geophysics, geology, soil science, physical and chemical analysis).

Most of the content presented in this volume is the outcome of a collection of studies conducted in a recent project[1] even though many of the essential ideas that make up the foundation of the actual research in the Carpathians found their roots in precursor projects, being these of a greater or lesser magnitude[2]. It is also an opportunity to make known to the reader the complex ecosystems of the Carpathians in the context of some methodological developments and, at the same time, to explain the need to develop a branch dedicated to mountain archaeology, in the context of discussions on the South-Eastern Carpathians.

The structure of the volume, aside the introductory part, is divided in for major units, each of them dealing with key conceptual elements such as (i) the relationship between theory and practice; (ii) living in the highlands through the ages; (iii) mapping the human circulation routes by following coins and jewellery finds and (iv) fighting and traveling in and across the highlands.

The first section of the book called Preliminaries. From theory to practice is opened by
Dan Ștefan
and Maria-Magdalena Ștefan chapter ”For an archaeology of the Highlands”, a manifesto intended to highlight the alpine lands as a huge reservoir of heritage and quality data for our past. This chapter is also the place to discuss the connections between the theory and practice of research in the highlands, with a diachronic perspective on the South-East of the Carpathians seen as a gate between the Pontic, Balkan and Aegean areas with Central Europe

The reader following the pages of this volume is going to be invited by George Murătoreanu and Dan Ștefan on ”A Geographic Journey through the South-Eastern Carpathians”. In this way, the reader will become more familiar with the geological composition, the geomorphological evolution and the nomenclature of the toponymy of the geographical space that is the subject of the studies in this volume.

The importance of historical cartographic sources and especially Visconti’s map from 1699, made immediately after the principality of Transylvania became a component part of the Habsburg Monarchy, as a result of the Treaty of Karlowitz, was discussed by Dragoș Măndescu and Valeriu Sîrbu in the chapter “Scent of Archeology in the heart of Europe, in the eve of the Enlightenment: sites and sights on the Visconti’s Mappa della Transiluania (1699)“. This cartographic document which the team studied both through the copies kept in the archives in Romania, but also in Vienna, is one of the most valuable sources of information on the major and secondary roads used to cross the mountains and on the local urban and military centres existing in the 17th century.

The mountain range is not only a space for passage and exploitation of resources. Even in the high and forested areas permanent or temporary human settlements have existed, finding here in addition the natural protection that is missing in the lowlands. That is why the second unit of the volume, named Living in the Highlands, is dedicated to the study of habitat forms in mountainous areas, with a special emphasis on intermontane depressions.

Where and when did the first humans settle in the South-Eastern Carpathians? What were the resources that attracted them to these places and how did they withstand the harsh environmental conditions? Marian Cosac, George Murătoreanu, Dan Ștefan and Dan Lucian Buzea try to answer these questions in their chapter named ”First humans in the South-Eastern Carpathians. Mountains and Caves”. Going through this study will be an opportunity for the readers to discover LiDAR scans and digital models of karst systems that was used by the first settlers in the area since the Upper Palaeolithic.

The main characteristics and the settlement patterns of the Neo-Eneolithic societies in the Curvature of the Sub-Carpathians are presented by Daniel Garvăn in ”Gumelnița / Stoicani-Aldeni societies in the Curvature Sub-Carpathians – influences, contacts, links and channels of communication with the Cucuteni area”. In this chapter, the reader will also find a comparative analysis both with synchronous communities inside the intermontane depressions, but also with those in the low areas outside the Carpathian arch.

The Early Bronze Age is a period known for the profound technological and cultural transformations and its widespread connections. Roxana Munteanu guides us among the material traces left attesting these significant changes in the study area in her chapter ”High life in the Early Bronze Age. A few notes on the cultural landscape of the Curvature Carpathians”.

Having as starting point the research carried out in the multilayer archaeological site at Păuleni Ciuc, Valeriu Kavruk, Dan Buzea, Josef Puskás and Dan Ștefan deliver the chapter
”The Păuleni-Ciuc – Dâmbul Cetății fortified site at the crossroads of trans-mountain connection routes: the dynamics of cultural diversity, interplay, ritual and power in the Southeast Carpathian Region from ca 4500 BC to ca 350 AD”. Benefiting from substantial logistical and interdisciplinary support through the programs implemented in the HiLands project, their consistent report brought light not only upon the discoveries made in one archaeological site but discussed regionally the cultural transformations affecting along Prehistory the entire Ciuc Depression seen as a buffer zone between the extra-Carpathian areas and the Transylvanian Depression.

For the reconstruction of the South-Eastern Carpathian’ road network either through the important mountain passes of Oituz, Tătarului and Bran or the secondary roads, the numismatic sources – as significant means of  revealing the system of interconnection with the centres of the Danube-Pontic space – provide valuable data, especially for those periods when written testimonies are missing or remain rare. This is why numismatic studies occupy such an important role in our recent research regarding the archaeology of the highlands. This explains why in the third unit of this volume Fingerprinting mountain roads, several studies focused on the new numismatic discoveries capable of suggesting, among other things, the way in which the people of the past travelled in this geographical space.

The South-Eastern Carpathians encompass the place where dreamlike landscapes become visible at every turn. Of these, the Olt Gorge in the Perșani mountains, where the river thunder through the rising cliffs, is one of those wonderful places you want to keep coming back to. Along the gorge, high on elevated plateaus and steep rocks, there are numerous high fortified sites, built and used from the Iron Age to the Medieval period. The practical, but above all symbolic importance of this access road, from the Brașov Depression to Transylvania, is also revealed by significant monetary discoveries buried in the hoards. The analysis of such a hoard established somewhere at the beginning of the 1st century BC, from 249 drachmas issued by the city of Dyrrachium is presented by Theodor Isvoranu, Lucica-Olga Savu and Valeriu Sîrbu in the chapter ”The Dyrrachium Drachmas Hoard Discovered at Ormeniș, Brașov County”. The information presented here proves once again the profound transformations the Roman influence brought in the sphere of the Late Iron Age societies in Pre-Roman Dacia.

As we see from the example above, the monetary hoards discovered near important central points of the Dacian period are not a novelty, on the contrary, they appear rather as a constant in the list of discoveries of valuable objects of Pre-Roman Dacia. The same is the case of a discovery made near the most important dava settlement in the Buzăului Valley, at Cârlomănești, described by Sebastian Matei and Theodor Isvoranu in ”The 1st Century BC hoard of silver jewellery and coins discovered at Cândești, Buzău County”.

The roads that cut through the mountains and the interaction between the highlands and the lowlands are further traced with the help of coin finds from more recent periods, from the
14th century AD to the beginning of the modern era, by Aurel Vâlcu in the chapter named
”The inventory of coin finds from the Curvature Carpathians area (XIV-XIX century)”.

Crossing the mountains. Roads, borders, battlefields is the fourth unit of the book. This segment offers a dynamic view of the highlands, revealing those agents from the past acting to control the space, the resources and circulation of peoples, goods and ideas.

Two of the three most important major mountain crossing routes, the ones that have connected throughout the ages the Danubian and Pontic areas with Transylvania and from here, further, to Central Europe, are once again explored in the context of the new research completed in the frame of the project HiLands. Thus the Road through the Oituz Pass is examined by Alexandru Popa in the chapter ”From Angvstia to Cvmidava. The Eastern Frontier of Roman Dacia and the mountain passes in the area of the Curvature Carpathians (I). Case study: the Oituz Pass” and once again by Costin Croitoru in ”From the sea to the mountain through the fords of the Danube. On the (roman) road through southern Moldavia”. The two chapters add complementary points of view to the file that collects more than one hundred years of research regarding the Roman roads from southern Moldavia and its connections to the Romanian province of Dacia through the depressions of south-eastern Transylvania.

The evolution of another major mountain gateway to Transylvania, established along the Rucăr-Bran corridor, from a logistical road (with strategic valences) to the stage of a frontier integrated into the Roman Limes system is traced by Eugen S. Teodor in „A frontier road crossing the Southern Carpathians. The upper part of Limes Transalutanus”. The research reflected in this study relies heavily on LiDAR technology, the only one capable of finding hidden archaeological structures under the forest canopy, but the overall approach is much more complex, using as many data sources as possible, such as existing archaeological records, current and historical cartography, written sources (mainly medieval) or toponymy, all of the above handled in a GIS framework.

Many of the discoveries made by Eugen S. Teodor during his research in the Bran Pass area are, as expected, not only related to the Roman archaeology. It is therefore not surprising that a large file was created in connection with the secondary roads and the intricate network of paths established over the ages in a matrix of circulation in the high areas. For this topic, the research made by Eugen S. Teodor and Andreea Panait also relies heavily on LiDAR data, supplemented by the study of historical texts and maps and weeks of difficult exploration in the field for hypotheses validation. Their resulting report can be found in this volume in the chapter named ”High Mountain pathways in Southern Carpathians, around Bran Pass”.

A review of historical texts related to the military campaign of 1166, in which one of the Byzantine armies starting from “areas near the Pontus Euxinus” attacked the Hungarians “from where no one has ever descended on them” is presented by Ionel Cândea in chapter “The Byzantine Military Campaign of 1166 in the Formation of the Danube-Curvature Carpathians Corridor”. This research is a preliminary stage of a larger explorations that will be complemented by future new interdisciplinary field research.

Following the same path of research in LiDAR datasets, validated by the study of historical archives and intensive field exploration, a team led by Eugen S. Teodor, joined by Răzvan Bolba, brought to light numerous battlefields in the area of Bran Pass, where the Romanian army defended itself on the ridges of the Carpathians from the attacks of the German army, in the First World War. Their chapter named ”Mountain Passes and Battlefields: Rucăr–Bran corridor” is the one that also has the role of closing this first volume dedicated to mountain archaeology in the forested areas of the Carpathians, while also a new research opportunity – battlefield archaeology.

Valeriu SÎRBU, Dan ȘTEFAN, Maria-Magdalena ȘTEFAN

[1] HiLands – financed in the frame of the National Plan of Research, Development and Innovation (PNCDI III) by Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development & Innovation Funding in Romania (UEFISCDI)

[2] Most notable the ISTVB project (“Key periods of ancient history in the Buzău valley”), 2007-2010, financed in the frame of the National Plan of Research, Development and Innovation (PNCDI II) by Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development & Innovation Funding in Romania (UEFISCDI).


List of contributors

List of contributors_Hidden Landcapes

Table of Contents

Table of Contents_Hidden Landcapes