Here’s something you won’t (yet) find on Archaeology in Europe. One of my immediate colleagues, Dr Adrian Popescu, has for some time been co-leader of an ongoing excavation at what was Noviodunum, now on the outskirts of Isaccea in Romania. The site has a long and complex history, but between the year 602, when it was lost by the Byzantines to the Avars and then Bulgars, and somewhere around 971, when it was retaken and refortified by Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer (who says the Byzantines were over-subtle and finicky with their words, eh?) its history is a bit of a blank. It has been supposed that it was deserted and insignificant during this period of ‘barbarian’ control.
Well, now things are more complicated. The part of the site that has shown the eleventh-century occupation has mainly derived that date from analysis of midden remains and rubbish-pits, and an associated cemetery was expected to date from a later consolidation of the new occupation, not least because the burials are east-west oriented, mostly unfurnished and arranged in rows, all of which suggests a fairly short-chronology Christian burial site which should therefore belong to a resettlement. The chronology has to be short because the arrangement of the graves respects them all, whereas in old cemeteries new graves tend to overwrite the oldest ones, and the religious inference comes from the orientation and the general lack of grave-goods. In fact, Adi tells me, the first radio-carbon dates from the cemetery suggest a date in the tenth century, meaning that they’re probably looking at a site with an urban function before the reconquest. If so, it would be very unusual for a Bulgar site to either be this urban or to have a Christian burial ground, and may prompt a re-evaluation of the political conditions on this frequently-crossed frontier.1 They’re still trying to work out calibration on the radio-carbon dates, because this area and period are hardly ever dug this seriously as opposed to the Classical levels (a problem we’ve talked about before), but it’s all quite exciting. I’ll let you know when publication looms.2
1. You want context? Context can be found, in terms of general politics, in Jonathan Shepard, “Slavs and Bulgars” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History vol. II, c. 700-c. 900 (Cambridge 1995), pp. 228-248, online here, and idem, “Bulgaria: the other Balkan Empire” in Timothy Reuter (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History Vol. III: c. 900-c. 1024 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 567-585, online here, and in terms of the frontier more specifically, P. Stephenson, “The Byzantine Frontier at the Lower Danube in the Late Tenth and Eleventh Centuries” in Daniel Power & Naomi Standen (edd.), Frontiers in Question: Eurasian Borderlands 700-1700 (London 1998), pp. 80-104.
2. Preliminary results of the earlier seasons of excavation are published as Kris Lockyear, Timothy Sly & Adrian Popescu with Mihaela Ciausescu, Clive Orton, Jane Sidell and Robin Symonds, “The Noviodunum Archaeological Project 2000–2004: results and conclusions from the pilot seasons” in PEUCE: studii şi comunicǎri de istorie şi arheologie, New Series Vol. 3-4 (2005-2006), pp. 121 -158, online here.