Research problems

During the last decades, identity has become a major topic in archaeological research, as part of an increased interest in the social life of past communities. Recent studies have argued that identity is a dynamic construct, which is continually shaped by a wide variety of social-political, cultural, economic, demographic and environmental contexts, practices and interactions (Roymans 2004; Diaz-Andreu et al. 2005; Insoll 2007; Gruen 2011; Fernández-Götz 2014). Accordingly, the way in which identity is constructed, expressed and perceived is also a form of social communication within and between different communities and social groups. These constructs are particularly challenged at times of social stress, for example when indigenous social structures and patterns are threatened in one way or another by incoming people. In such cases, even groups belonging to the same community could respond differently to such challenges due to their own interests and perceptions (Given 2004; Gosden 2004; Rustoiu 2014).

The eastern Carpathian Basin, which witnessed significant demographic, social and cultural changes during the early and middle stages of the Late Iron Age, caused by the arrival of Celtic groups from Western and Central Europe (Ramsl 2003; 2015; Rustoiu 2008; 2012; 2014), provides a relevant field of investigations. In this case, the process of “colonization” was gradual and complex, being influenced by the nature of the interactions between local communities and incoming groups, and their respective social-political and economic organization. New communities often emerged from these interactions, with their own identity constructs. Some incorporated different indigenous and foreign practices and concepts either through hybridization or entanglement, while others were markedly defined by the newcomers’ ways of life and ideology, with only some rather obscured traces of the indigenous ones (Rustoiu 2014; Rustoiu/Egri 2011).

Still, the means through which identities were constructed and expressed in this region, and the impact of human mobility, were previously discussed mostly by analysing funerary assemblages (Hellebrandt 1999; Németi 1999; Rustoiu/Ursuţiu 2013; Berecki 2008; Rustoiu 2008; 2012; 2014). Thus the project proposes a novel, multi-disciplinary approach, aiming to investigate a wider range of contexts that shaped the dynamics of identity constructs at community and regional levels: settlement and household organization, relationships with the local environment, degree of economic specialization, diet and culinary practices, regional and pan-regional connectivities. Their spatial and temporal variations were determined by several highly localized demographic, social- political, economic and environmental factors (Almássy 2010; Rustoiu 2014; Rustoiu/Egri 2011; Rustoiu/Berecki 2015; Berecki 2015). However, there were no attempts so far to compare the patterns and trends emerging from these regional variations or to discuss their impact on the community dynamics that shaped different identity constructs throughout this period.

Research aims and methods

Accordingly, the project will focus on different types of sites (settlements, farmsteads, manufacturing centres, cemeteries, sacred places) from four micro-regions (upper Tisza basin, Banat, middle Mureş valley, north-eastern Transylvania), each having distinct social, demographic, economic and environmental characteristics (Németi 1988; 1989; 1992; 1993; Rustoiu/Ursuţiu 2013; Ferencz 2007; Berecki 2015; Vaida 2006; Rustoiu 2008; 2014). The identified micro-regional patterns and trends will be compared at different chronological stages to assess the impact of human mobility as well as the degree of influence exerted by local and regional networks of interaction on the construction and expression of collective identity across the entire region in question. The project will take into consideration a wide range of archaeological evidence (artefacts and structures, geophysical, pedological and biochemical traces of human activities, including agriculture, animal husbandry, manufacturing and extraction of raw materials, human, animal and botanical remains, habitat organization and relationship with the environment). Thus it will use a multi-disciplinary approach involving analytical methods from several sciences (archaeology, physical anthropology, geophysics, mineralogy, biochemistry, pedology, palynology, archaeozoology, archaeobotanics); demographic and statistical analysis and digital landscape and environmental modelling will also be used.

The investigation will incorporate an existing database of aero-photographic surveys carried out during the last five years and archaeological data resulting from several published and mostly unpublished systematic and rescue excavations. The results of this project will have an important contribution to the present state of art of the knowledge by bringing a wealth of unpublished or underused archaeological evidence regarding the history and archaeology of the Late Iron Age eastern Carpathian Basin into the wider European scientific debate and by providing a much-needed model of multi-disciplinary investigations which will help future similar initiatives.


The project aims to investigate and compare different social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts from each of the selected micro-regions, which shaped the local and regional dynamics of identity constructs, using a multi-disciplinary approach which provides a multi-faceted perspective and is also cost-effective, maximizing the output on the basis of existing research resources.

Objective 1.

Cremated and inhumed human remains from a number of cemeteries in each micro- region (e.g. three each from Fântânele and Aiud areas, Remetea Mare, Arad, those from Carei area) will be analysed through a combination of methods (see D4) to identify the origin, biological gender and age of the deceased, and assess the demographic impact of human mobility on different communities. Demographic analysis will be used to estimate variations in population size.

Objective 2.

A number of settlements and farmsteads from each micro-region, either already excavated (e.g. Moreşti, Cicir, Ciumeşti, Carei area) or only identified through aero-photography (e.g. Vinţu de Jos–Lunca Fermei, Ţiptelnic, Galaţii Bistriţei–Hrube, Herina–Dealul Morii, Aiud- Sub Pădure), will be examined through a combination of methods (see D4) to identify specific types of settlement and household organization, and their relationships with the local environment.

Objective 3.

Patterns identified through investigations listed for objective 2 will be combined with information obtained through other types of analyses (see D4) to identify the economic organization and specialization of these communities, including agricultural and animal husbandry practices, craftsmanship and extraction of salt and raw materials.

Objective 4.

Patterns identified through investigations listed for objectives 2 and 3 will be further combined with other types of analyses (see D4) to identify the particularities of local diet and culinary practices, as well as the role played by conviviality in constructing and expressing individual and collective identities.

Objective 5.

The development of regional and pan-regional social and economic connectivities, as well as settlements’ internal and external hierarchization and inter-dependence will be analysed through a combination of specific methods (see D4) to assess to their impact on the development of different identity constructs.


The project will have a significant scientific contribution to the major European debate concerning the construction and expression of collective identities by past societies and the impact of human mobility, a research topic which is strongly biased towards Central and Western Europe due to the absence of comprehensive studies based on archaeological evidence from Eastern Europe. Accordingly, the project will provide a methodological model for future similar investigations focusing on other historical periods, which will enable Romanian archaeological research to meaningfully connect with that of other European countries. The project will also have an economic impact, by identifying the spatial extension of a series of still unexcavated sites, thus enabling the local authorities to plan future infrastructure investments with lower costs and disruptions. The project’s results will also have an educational impact, by helping museums which hold the archaeological evidence used in these analyses to develop effective educational tools and diversify their exhibitions aiming to reveal the daily life and customs of the local past communities to the general public. Lastly, the project will provide a nurturing research environment which will enable the younger team members to enhance their expertise and develop a successful research career.