Another hot and beautiful summer in Dobrogea has gone by, this one less animated than the previous by endless field discussions between biologists and geologists in search of holistic approaches to natural research, but rather by debates targeted to achieving the project’s objectives. In short, what have we to show for our efforts? Foremost, the study on declaring an area of southern Dobrogea as a national reservation with the status of Natural Monument (IUCN Category III). This natural reservation was eminently necessary as the Eocene limestone formations, once sprawling extensively across southern Dobrogea, have been nearly exhausted through quarrying for monumental constructions across the millennia. The most important of these are the monumental complex at Adamclisi, with its Roman citadel and basilicas, the Tropaeum Traiani monument and the associated mausoleum. The study came as a result of the visit we undertook to Văieni village, approximately 10km south of Adamclisi, where one of the ancient Roman quarries used to extract the limestone was situated. Our delegation was comprised of Dr Diana Perșa and a few of her colleagues from the Geological Institute, accompanied by Associated Lecturer Marius Skolka of the “Ovidius” University of Constanța.
Another of the summer’s objectives was to conduct primary research, together with a team of archaeologists, in the reservation of Jurassic limestone reefs at Cheia Valley gorge, in the Casimcea plateau. The tall columns and “mushrooms” of reefs which were formed approximately 165-155 million years ago by colonies of coral, algae and sponges give a picturesque quality to the region for several kilometres. Together with Dr Valentina Voinea of the History and Archaeology Museum of Constanța – who is currently researching the Neolithic settlements in Dobrogea – and geo-archaeologist Dr Constantin Haita of the Museum of National History and Archaeology in Constanța, we explored – with invaluable assistance from the specialists’ explanations – a number of caves that harbour vestiges of habitation from some 7 to 8 thousand years ago: the Cave of Skulls (“Peștera craniilor”), “La Baba” and “La Izvor”. We agreed to the joint effort of creating a geo-cultural presentation of the region within which the natural aspects (biological and geological) would be presented alongside the historical and cultural. Such is the holistic approach through which the heritage of a region, both natural and cultural, is taken into consideration throughout the Dobrogea – Witness to the Millennial Civilizations of the Levant project, with the primary aim that local people rediscover the heritage of their environment, protect it and utilize it in the sustainable development of their region.
Raising awareness among the local population of the ways in which the heritage of a region can directly contribute to its development is another of the project’s aims, with the ultimate goal of establishing a new UNESCO geopark. To this end, we have already taken a first step in meeting with the mayors of two villages located within the area that we had in mind for the new park. Both the mayor of Grădina village, Ms. Gabriela Iacobici, and the mayor of Pantelimon, Costel Armășescu, were particularly interested by the successes of UNESCO geoparks across Europe, and assured us of their support for our initiative. During our initial visit to Pantelimon village in June, we were unpleasantly surprised by the fact that the ruins of the Roman castrum at Ulmetum were full of the locals’ refuse. In August, upon our return, we were glad to witness a completely different image: the rubbish had been disposed of and, what’s more, the locals had even begun clearing out the areas of previous archaeological digs, under the supervision of archaeologists from the Museum of History and Archaeology in Constanța. On another day we travelled to Hârșova, where the director of the village museum, Professor Nicolae Constantin, offered us a guided tour of the citadel of Carsium, the ruins of which still maintain a stratigraphic succession of its Roman, Genoese and Ottoman periods of habitation. Our boat trip up the limestone-bordered Danube, upstream of Hârșova, afforded us unforgettable images.
We would later return to Hârșova for a few days in August, to further document both the citadel of Carsium, and its origin in the nearby limestone quarries. We now had a bit more time to visit the local museum, currently being restored using European funds at its original location, in the school next to the village church, atop the hill that dominates the village landscape. The tireless museum director, Nicolae Constantin, told us the museum was inaugurated on May 1st 1904 by King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth, whose signatures on the event are kept in the museum’s Golden Book. Great Romanian scholars such as Vasile Pârvan and Ion Simionescu donated a series of items uncovered during their research in the region to the museum. After the Great War, the museum was moved to the home of its founder, professor Ioan Cotovu, and officially inaugurated on the 29th of May 1926, in the presence of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary, who, in turn, signed the museum’s Golden Book. Shortly before our visit, Professor Emil Constantinescu, the President of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, visited the museum; he was enchanted by its material and spiritual wealth, and certified the Institute’s involvement in the ongoing restoration works. Over the next few days, we examined the unbroken string of “canarale” on the right bank of the Danube, downstream from Hârșova. The “canarale” (stone quarries, in Bulgarian) are layers of limestone formed in the shallow seas of the late Jurassic period, which harbour well-preserved fossils showcasing the marine life of the period: corals, sponges, innumerable strains of shellfish, ammonites and others. Here and there, the limestone accreted in bizarre formations, which led the locals to lend them topical names such as La Belciug, Cocoșatul, Moșul or Baba.
We passed through the well-kept village of the Lipovan Rus community, Ghindărești (where. according to recent data, 95% of the roughly 2000 inhabitants are Lipovan Rus) and had a longer layover at Topalu (“The Lame” in Turkish), where the Jurassic limestone reefs have already been designated as a natural reservation. Ionuț Scutelnicu took many photographs and drone footage, destined for the future museum of geology at Hârșova. We were very fortunate that, on this occasion, the renowned but not widely-known art museum at Topalu was open to the public. It is a veritable treasure trove for Romanian painting and sculpture: 228 original paintings by Corneliu Medrea, Ștefan Luchian, Nicolae Tonitza (12 works), Theodor Pallady, Gheorghe Pătrașcu, Nicolae Dărăscu, Francisc Șirato, Camil Ressu, Lucian Grigorescu and others, and sculptures by Corneliu Medrea, Dimitrie Paciurea, Ion Jalea, Oscar Han, all donated in 1960 by doctor Gheorghe Vintilă to his native village. The museum collection is housed in the former home of the doctor himself. In recognition of his efforts, a bust of him by Oscan Han sits in the small courtyard next to the museum.
Another episode of this summer’s research took place in Southern Dobrogea together with Dr Mihaela Melinte-Dobrinescu, Scientific Director of the GeoEcoMar Institute for Marine Geology and Ecology. The primary objective of our research was the Sarmatian period (coeval with the Serravallian in Western Europe), deposits of which are well represented at surface level from Ovidiu all the way south of Balchik, in Bulgaria. Sarmatian-era limestone was the primary building material found in archaeological digs, both older and newer, across Southern Dobrogea. We observed their characteristics in the Roman-era quarries at Deleni, near Adamclisi; in the quarries and natural formations at Plopeni, Negrești, Limanu, Albești and Cotu’ Văii. The Sarmatian period in Dobrogea is also interesting due to the variety of its rocks, lithological facies, as geologists term them; alongside limestone layers mostly formed through the accretion of mollusc shells, one can also commonly find quartz sands bearing the bones of seals, dolphins and seafaring birds, as well as diatomites – white silica rocks, incredibly light due to their porous nature. Also white and light are the Cretaceous-era chalk formations we examined near the cave monastic complex at Murfatlar, dated to the 10th century.