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Lost Churches Project - Medieval Funerary 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 lost, but the local communities forgot about their existence.

          Our excavation aims at retrieving 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 burials were juveniles, with 49 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.


          Participants enrolled in this program will also have an opportunity to work with commingled human remains. Excavations at the Lost Church of Valeni during summer 2017 revealed an almost intact, stone built, medieval ossuary with excellent preservation, which we completed excavating in 2023.

          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 approximately 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 9 - July 6, 2024

Session 2 : July 7 - August 3, 2024

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

Meals: breakfast and dinner are served Mon-Fri at the hotel; traditional Romanian and Szekler cuisine; we can accommodate vegetarian diets, however, we are NOT able to offer a vegan or gluten-free option.



Session 1 : US$ 2695 (4 weeks)

Session 2: US$ 2695 (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.

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