Slavic and Eurasian Studies

CREEES Helps Fund UT Austin Students to Excavate at Ancient Site of Histria in Romania

Tue, September 19, 2017
CREEES Helps Fund UT Austin Students to Excavate at Ancient Site of Histria in Romania
A UT student at work in the field

This summer, students funded by The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies took part in an archaeological excavation in Constanța, a city in the Dobrogea region of Romania. Led by UT faculty member Adam Rabinowitz (Department of Classics), undergraduate and graduate students from the departments of Anthropology and Classical Archaeology explored the remains of Histria, an ancient colony on the western coast of the Black Sea that was founded by the Greeks in 700 BC and later came under Roman rule.

Collaborating with counterparts from the University of Bucharest, the team mapped a portion of the site, conducted topographical and stratigraphic surveys of the area, developed field documentation methods specific to the unique challenges of excavating at Histria, and visited the on-site museum to explore collections from earlier digs. 

According to students who participated on the trip, the region they visited was ideal for developing their skills as excavators, as well as their knowledge of the region’s history. Histria is “large and varied,” said Terry Orr, an undergraduate majoring in Classical Archaeology, who explained that the colony was occupied for over a thousand years. “It includes early archaic Greek temple sites, where I worked, extensive Roman administration and defensive structures, and early Christian basilica remains.” Joey Carlo Castellano II, a doctoral student in Classics and Classical Archaeology, agreed that the site provided an unparalleled opportunity for learning. “Dobrogea has a rich history of culture-contact stretching back to antiquity,” he said, which allowed students to explore “different phases” of cross-cultural interaction between peoples in the region, “from the Dacian wars of the Romans to the settlement of German farmers and Russian Old Believers in villages along the Black Sea coast.”

The exploration of the past that the Histria team undertook was aided by the use of cutting-edge technology such as photogrammetry. Joey Castellano explained that this technology allows for archaeologists to use a series of digital photographs to create a "detailed and interactive 3D model of an object - from a tiny artifact to a huge building." The UT team was able to introduce their Romanian counterparts to this technology for ongoing use at the site.

Perhaps one of the most valuable experiences from the dig was the opportunity to work alongside Romanian archaeologists familiar with the site. According to Terry Orr, this allowed for the two teams to “share knowledge, excavation techniques, and technical expertise” with one another. Patricia Neuhoff, a graduate student in Anthropology, said that collaboration with the Romanian team “allowed me to network with colleagues in a country with which I had no previous experience.” Joey Castellano tells us that this trip "set the groundwork for future University of Texas involvement in the historically important excavations at Histria."

Writing about their experiences in Romania to CREEES, the students agreed that the excavation at Histria was an incredible opportunity, a project that they hope to return to in the future. “Histria is a marvelous archaeological site,” said Terry Orr. “Excavation is hard, strenuous work but I was fortunate enough to find a 2600-year-old bronze arrowhead, which was exciting for me…I hope to make this an ongoing work project in the years to come.” “The work engaged in was exciting and rewarding on many levels both professionally and personally,” said Patricia Neuhoff. “It is my hope that I will continue to be able to work in Romania at this amazing site.  The experience was and will be invaluable to me in the future.”

The success of the dig demonstrates the importance of professional development awards for UT students, including the one that helped fund the students at Histria. "Thanks to CREEES Professional Development Award I was able to better manage the costs of traveling abroad," said Emily Van Zanten, an undergraduate student in Classics, Classical Archaeology, and Anthropology. "While in Romania I learned some invaluable geological surveying skills that will help me later in my professional career, and would not have been so readily available to me without the financial support of CREEES."

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