Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Archaeology of Moldova | Interview with Denis Topal

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The Archaeology of Moldova | Interview with Denis Topal

Owen Connolly

Many archaeologists and people from Western countries may not have heard of this small landlocked country in the Eastern corner of Europe. For others, they have may have heard that Moldova is famous for being Europe’s poorest country. The people of Moldova consist of a variety of different cultures including Moldovan, Russian, Bulgarian, Gagauzian and Ukrainian as well as a small number of Gypsy communities. This blend of cultures gives an often confusing identity to citizens there.

Sakharna Monastery, Moldova (Source)

According to legend, a hunter by the name of Bogdan was travelling in the countryside with his dog Moldo. They were in pursuit of a wild game. The dog was so tired that it went to a river to drink but despite this collapsed and died. Bogdan fell into grief, he loved his dog, and after taking a look around the land around him decided it was a good place to settle. It’s from Moldo, that the name Moldova is derived.

What many archaeologists may be surprised to learn is that this little country (comparable in size and population to Ireland) is one of the richest archaeologically in Europe. Having spent some time there celebrating the infamous holiday – Archaeology day – on the 14-15th of August, in New Tatarovka, along the Moldova-Ukrainian border not far from Soroco,  I was amazed at the amount archaeology just lying around on the ground in front of me. Numerous worked pieces of flint: cores, flakes, and other tools.  My friend Denis (Denis Shapovalov Valentinovich) translated for me as we navigated our way through the forest and fields. More than three years after my first visit there I’ve taken the time to discuss the state of archaeology with Denis Topal, from the High Anthropological School, Chisinau Moldova.

1) What are the difficulties facing archaeological research in Moldova?
As you can imagine, a country like Moldova has a variety of issues facing the country in general and as a result of it, non-profit making sectors suffer. There are currently three main sources of income for archaeological research, these include: the Construction sector, Grants from private and public institutions and, of course, universities.

2) What archaeological sites might western archaeologists find surprising in Moldova?
There is a wealth of archaeology in Moldova, and over the course of its history we have been part of a variety of different political Empires. In my opinion there are three main areas of potential development for archaeological research. These are Palaeolithic studies, Indo-European questions related to hunter-gatherers and farming and Roman colonization. I think many western archaeologists would be surprised at the high level of interaction between past peoples here and the potential for greater research in these areas.

3) How many Professional archaeologists are there in Moldova?
As you can imagine, the state of Moldovan economy does not allow for the profession of archaeologist to be a particularly profitable one, and so in answer to this particular question, I estimate there are about fifty professional archaeologists in the entire country.

4) What is the potential for archaeological research in Moldova?
This is an easy questions, in Moldova there are currently 30,000 registered archaeological sites, 10,000 of these are burial mounds. The area of our country is 33,846 sq. km, so we have more than one archaeological site for every kilometre. As you can see, it’s a lot of work for 50 professional archaeologists.

5) What is the most important archaeological find from Moldova in recent years?
Probably, it’s a Palaeolithic layer with a huge collection of flint tools which belongs to the Oldowan epoch 800-1.2 million y. o. (Bayraki village, 2010).

6) What is the future of archaeology in Moldova in your opinion?
The future of archaeology in Moldova is anybody’s guess, and it is impossible to answer in a few sentences. From what I have told you already, the challenges are overwhelming and are not only connected to financial problems. I think to answer your question fully, you would need to write a PhD dedicated to the topic.

7) What is your favourite period of study and Why? Tell us about Stratum, the archaeological journal you are personally involved in.
If you mean favourite period for academic research (like writing articles, lecturing etc.) – for me it’s Hellenismus. If you mean favourite period of archaeological prospecting (excavation, publishing results etc.) it’s Prehistory (Copper age) and Early nomads. Prehistoric sites are very rich with ceramic material and also there are a lot of possibilities of house reconstruction. About Stratum you could read here. My personal attitude - I like the concept of thematically divided volumes.

9) What sites would you recommend archaeo-tourists to visit in Moldova and why?
There are lot. But the tourist infrastructure (roads, hotels etc.) is only good for visiting 2-3 places including Old Orhey (An old Monastery surrounded by rock-caves), Sakharna (An ancient Monastery) and, probably Rudi (An ancient village complete with fortifications, caves and Monasteries).

10) Can you tell us something of the differing historical or archaeological perspectives/interpretations taken by people from Russian speaking communities and those from Moldovan speaking communities?
Differences depend on quality of Education and Professional skills. The professional archaeological community is so small, so, probably, all of us are bilingual. Sometimes, difficulties could be in different political views, but, I don’t think it has a reflection in scientific papers. Historians are more and more divided due to their language.

Denis Topal   [Academia.edu | CV]

For Further Information on Heritage in Moldova, please visit here | here | here