Lost Churches Project - Medieval Funeray Excavation
Living and Dying on the Edge of Europe

          As Europe redefines itself in the wake of the Ottoman invasion, the Carpathian frontier still holds fast against the Eastern invaders. Although Transylvanian suzerainty has passed from the Hungarian Kingdom, to the Ottomans, to the Habsburgs from the 15-17th century, its territory has never been invaded by the Turkish troops. However, the local populations lived under constant social, political, economic and religious stress. Since the Neolithic, Transylvania has been at the crossroads of European identity. During the late Middle Ages, this region goes not only through major political changes, but also through a spirituality crisis, under the pressure of Islam from the East and Protestantism from the West.

          During the 18th century, several churches around Odorheiu Secuiesc have been abandoned. What is even more interesting is that those churches were removed from collective memory as well. Not only the written records pertaining to these churches were destroyed, but the local communities forgot about their existence.

          Our excavation aims at retrieveing the memory of these churches and to try to elucidate the social, political and religious context that created such an environment that would extract a church from local collective memory.


          The Lost Churches Project started in 2013, with the excavation of two of these churches and associated cemeteries: Bradesti and Lueta.  Concurrently, our osteology team has uncovered a very strange phenomenon within another church, at Teleac: 69 out of 70 individuals were juveniles and 49 were of preterm or fetal age, all of which dated to the 17th century.

           In 2014, we have started exploring the environment that created this very unique skeletal assemblage, with the excavation of Teleac' sister church in Valeni, with outstanding results We have discovered the building phases of the ecclesiastic buildings and their relationship to the deceased. Two of theses phases, an early medieval and a Gothic one have been uncovered, but the stratigraphy indicates that there is an even earlier church that we have been identified. The most surprising result of our 2014 campaign is the presence of what appears to be a migration period, pre-Christian tumulus under the church, as indicated by the burial of a horse associated with several individuals buried in fetal position. These results could also shed light on the Christianizing processes in the region as well as the relation between the various churches and their subsidiaries. Through a more thorough study of the cemeteries and their occupants, we will also explore the different processes that led to the penetration of Protestantism in the region and then its subsequent return to Catholicism. The further study of the human remains in our osteology laboratory will provide a more detailed view of the human aspects of these transitions.

          Our excavation will deploy a bioarchaeological field approach. Within this context, we will concentrate our work on the individuals themselves and their immediate surroundings (i.e. clothing implements, jewelry, coffin and other primary funerary depositions. during one session of the excavation, we expect each participant to fully excavate a minimum of 2 individuals. Primary processing of the excavated remains, together with various lectures will provide our participants with the necessary training in human anatomy and morphology to be able to fully take advantage of the field experience.

          To further expand their skills, several other projects are available to all our participants  in osteology and bioarchaeology, as intensive laboratory research programs, respectively:

Adult Osteology Research Workshop

Juvenile Osteology Research Workshop



Location: Valeni, Hatghita County, Transylvania, Romania



Session 1 : June 7- July 4, 2020

Session 2 : July 5-August 1, 2020


Housing: housed in a beautifully renovated hotel, 2-3 participants per room, with private bathrooms


Meals: breakfast and dinner is served Mon-Fri at the hotel; traditional Romanian and Szekler cuisine; we can accommodate vegetarian diets




Session 1 : US$ 2495 (4 weeks)

Session 2: US$ 2495 (4 weeks)

Fees includes: registration and field fees, lectures, field and laboratory gear, housing and meals as described above. Academic credits/tuition not included in the above cost.

Academic Credit (optional): 3 or 6 undergraduate (graduate - if applicable) credits can be earned through University of South Florida - additional USF tuition. See USF Program Brochure for more information. USF procedures and deadlines apply. Contact Dr. Jonathan Bethard at USF for more details.




  • The outstanding success of our 2018 and 2019 GPR projects, the Applied Field Geophysics Workshop - GPR Applications, prompted us to buy a second GPR unit with a different central frequency and a different configuration. As a result, our participants will have the unique opportunity to get fully proficient on a 250MHz GPR system, in a cart configuration, as well as 500MHz system, in a rough terrain configuration.

  • Furthermore, participants who are committed to expand their field skill set can register to our new Geophysics Exploration and Field Excavation program. It is a 4 week program, combining the GPR Applications Workshop (5 days) and  Roman Villa Excavation (3 weeks). Participants save $200 over the combined costs of the individual programs.



By now, everyone has  been caught in the media whirlwind surrounding the subject of the coronavirus (COVID 19). We are monitoring the situation very closely through both the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), WHO (World Health Organization) and ECDC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control). Those institutions are the only competent and informed sources of factual information and subsequent advice for further action in this matter. We will fully abide by their recommendations.


In case the CDC raises the travel health advisory to level 3 or above for our region of interest, we will cancel the osteology, bioarchaeology, and Roman Villa and Settlement Excavation and the associated program fees will be refunded. In this very unlikely event, the GPR intensive workshop will be moved to Ottawa (Canada) and we will proceed with the training during the same dates, adding urban GPR signatures to the program. In this latter case, if you are registered to the Geophysics (GPR) Exploration and Roman Excavation, you will be reimbursed for the Roman Villa Excavation portion of the fees and receive a bonus credit of $495 off the program fees for our 2021 Roman projects, if still interested in exploring the archaeology of the Dacian Provinces.


At the moment, both Hungary and Romania have no travel restrictions or advisory of any kind. I do not anticipate either of them to change in any drastic way, as prophylactic measures have been set in place early and efficiently, following all ECDC and WHO guidelines.


To obtain the correct (and credible) information on the reality of the coronavirus outbreak, check the following sources:


WHO Situation Reports: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/

CDC Situation Report: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html

CDC Travel Advisory: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

ECDC Risk Assessment: Daily risk assessment on COVID-19, 7 March 2020

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