SECTION III - The main sites of the Ipotești-Cândești culture


            SECTION III is dedicated to the Ipotești-Cândești culture[1] sites. The section is structured in five chapters, for five areas: (1) western Muntenia[2], (2) central Muntenia, (3) “marginal” sites from Muntenia, (4) Oltenia and (5) south Transylvania. One of the answers we are looking for is if the last two in the list are constitutive parts of the culture under study, or not. The presentation progresses area by area and site by site. It was not intended as an exhaustive debate, the elements discussed being those that could promote a chronological and cultural judgment.

            Chapter 6 deals with sites (settlements only) from western Muntenia. The eponymous site at Ipotești (ROMAN & 1978, published many years after its discovery) was investigated under rescue condition, producing two huts and another half, but it was impossible to reconstruct the entire shape of any of them. The importance this site was given in the 1960s and after that is out of proportions. The early chronology initially proposed, at the end of the fifth century, is acceptable only because there is not very much to discuss. Comparing Ipotești with recent discoveries, we could try to say that does not represent the earlier stage of the culture. The main points of definition are an excessively sandy pottery, fired in oxidising conditions but turning grey, with relatively large vessels. The pottery is 90% fast-wheel formed. The decoration could be absent, or it’s very simple, with straight incisions, or with so-called “not intentional decorations” (horizontal discontinued traces). This description partially matches other early settlements. It is surprising to note the absence of “Slavic pans”, usually well represented in early horizon, on sites east or west of Ipotești[3] (p. 103).

            The group of settlements from Dulceanca (FERCHE 1974, 1986, 1992; see Map 2) has produced the most significant chronological sequence in western Muntenia, for the sixth century. Those three settlements, threaded along the Burdea river, seem to be the habitat of the same community, without important external influences, creating conditions for serial analyses that could throw light on the main stream of pottery evolution. The pottery statistical output suggested two settlement episodes at Dulceanca I (FERCHE 1974), respectively surface cottages (Dulceanca I a) and “huts” (Dulceanca I b). The “sunken-floored” houses are not deep (40-50 cm. lower than the ancient soil), in this geographical area, therefore the name “hut” is not a proper one, or, at least, not the best description. The settlements on the Romanian Plain were used for short periods of time (around 5 years or less), a fact that results from the absence of a continuous anthropic layer in the soil and the almost general lack of storage (/rubbish) pits. The exceptions are few, like the Dulceanca IV settlement, where 5 pits were found (FERCHE 1992), and that could be understood as signifying living longer in the same place, in some peaceful years (of which there were not very many in the sixth century). Occasionally those pits can be found inside some huts, interpreted as storage pits in the “distributor” house, that provides a clue about social organization. A chronological scheme has been proposed: Dulceanca IV-II-Ia-Ib, between the second/third and sixth/seventh decades of the sixth century. The study of the pottery shows that the following processes occur on the sixth century: diminishing number of pans; the average capacity of vessels decreases; decoration is frequent and is extending on the middle and lower pot’s body, but losing quality; decreasing to disappearance for Roman imports; decreasing of live resources; the functional shapes are going poorest (the “pot” became almost an exclusive form; p. 104-108)[4].

            There are briefly discussed some situations encountered on sites (like Olteni, Sfințești, Copăceanca, Lăceni) from the same area, less studied but important for following the rise of the Ipotești-Cândești culture. The recent excavations at Copăceanca-Vârcan gave a chance to hypothesis about the lack of settlements (but not of inhabitants!) for most of the fifth century; the local communities turned to nomad life in the period of the domination of the area by the Huns. The conversion back to “permanent” settlements took time, going through improvised cottages in the river meadows (like Copăceanca-Cotu lui Pantilie, Lăceni, Olteni), and finally, turned back to the river terraces, in the “normal” place and the usual archaeological “look” (p. 108-110).

            Chapter 7 deals with the most important settlements researched in the Bucharest area, dealt with separately due to the quantity of archaeological inventory and the quality of publication.

            For the Ciurel settlement, the statistical out-put didn’t find differences to confirm a chronological gap between the southern group of huts (B1A and B2A) and the northern one (eight huts, from B1 to B8), as proposed (FERCHE 1979). The morphological groups distribution evidence drove to the conclusion that there were in reality, two settlement episodes, each led by one of the southern huts. The eccentric position of those huts, added to the richer inventory, allows us to conclude that these were the houses of the community’s leaders (p. 113-114). In the past Ciurel was supposed to be the paradigm of a Roman-Slavic synthesis, and was promoted to the dignity of naming a “Ciurel Culture”[5]. Nothing could be more false! The pottery from the Ciurel settlements has nothing in common with Slavic morphology. It is true that the Ciurel pottery is exceptional in the Dâmbovița river valley, setting it outside the neighbouring context. The tiny dimensions of the pots (unusual for Slavic ceramics!) suggests a late chronology, perhaps in the third quarter of the sixth century.

            The Soldat Ghivan site (FERCHE & 1981) is in effect a single period settlement (with two linked phazes). The site was dated to the second part of the sixth century, due to a bow “Slav” fibula. The dimensions of vessels, larger than Ciurel, and the more careful forming of shapes, together suggest an earlier dating, as low as possible[6], probably in the middle of the sixth century (p. 115-116).

            The settlement at Cățelu Nou has been reported as a multistrata one (with a continuous anthropic deposit), that was intriguing regarding the primitive pottery discovered (LEAHU 1963, 1965). A closer look leads to the conclusion that the mentioned layer was belonging to an older settlement (Chilia-Militari type?), together with three of the huts dated to the sixth century (p. 118-119). Even so, with the very few from the few (only three huts instead of six), the settlement stays interesting. The hand-made pottery from both horizons (third century and sixth century) has a similar appearance, with an unusual height, illustrating the presence in the area of a population that is for sure descendant of the Carpi.

            If the facts from Cățelu Nou are too confusing to draw firm conclusions, the appearance of the same facies on both Străulești settlements (see Map 3) made me define a Străulești cultural horizon, that means a former Carpi population, with a very diluted “Romanized” character (p. 121). The Străulești-Lunca settlement looks older, due to its position in the Colentina-river meadow, a good ratio of forming vessels (about half is fast wheel made, that is the best for central Muntenia, until now), functionally more diverse forms (as long that is possible to conclude from the confused report, CONSTANTINIU 1963). The Străulești-Măicănești settlement (CONSTANTINIU 1965 a), from Colentina’s terrace, brought to light two coins of from Justinian (539 and 545, conforming to OBERLÄNDER 2000), found lying on the layer (the fourth century layer!), not in a secure context. If the dating “by coin” could be pushed far in the second part of the sixth century, the pottery evidence does not support a late chronology. The existence of some large storage jars suggests a healthy community, which does not suffer from lack of food supplies. This situation does not match the picture of a land disturbed by unceasing wars from the last part of the century. The losses of coins could have happened after the settlement had been abandoned (p. 119).

            A lot of other sites from the Bucharest area (especially north of the city) have interesting elements, but the way they have been published made them almost unusable. Băneasa-La Stejar (CONSTANTINIU 1965) was a rescue excavation carried out in a very difficult situation[7]. The settlement had at least three settlement episodes, with big storage jars, but with a morphology less taller, making it different from the Străulești cultural horizon, in spite of the proximity of the sites (p. 123; see also Map 3). The settlement at Militari-Câmpul lui Boja produced two late-Roman fibulae, suggesting not only an early chronology (in the sixth century)[8], but also a privileged relationship with the Empire. From an extended excavation there are published a pair of ceramic vessels, so we don’t have any material for discussion. One keeps hoping for the publication of the sixth century settlement, which could be connected with the Ciurel settlements (the two points are only about one km. apart). Finally, Lunca-Bârzești could be the single settlement from central Muntenia with predominance of wheel made pottery; excavated in rescue condition and published only in summary (SANDU 1992), this site adds to the list of lost opportunities. The same goes for Bălăceanca, which is unpublished (p. 125).

            Chapter 8 concerns the “marginal” sites. This “marginality” is a geographic one (extremely southern, eastern and northern areas of the Ipotești-Cândești culture) and a facies one (the most “unique”, or “extreme”).

            In the extreme south, on the right bank of the Argeș creek, there is the only one small area regularly inhabited within a zone 30 km from the Danube, along the Roman frontier. There are the settlements from Cătălui (probably from the first part of the sixth century), Șuvița Hotarului and Radovanu. The last is not lasting to the seventh century, as thought (COMȘA 1975) and is a typical sixth century settlement (from the existing data no more can be said). The Șuvița Hotarului site is one of the few settlements that can almost surely be dated to the seventh century, being part of the final horizon of the Ipotești-Cândești culture, defined by the relative exclusivity of the hand-made pottery, the absence of “Slavic pans” and the restrained dimensions of the pots (DAMIAN O 1996). This last “rule” is broken to “Șuvița Hotarului”, thus I thought that from of all those studied this is the latest settlement of the Ipotești-Cândești culture (probably the second quarter of the seventh century; p. 128-129).

            In the extreme east of the settlements around Bucharest and also at the upper chronological extremity, there is the settlement from Vadu Anei (TEODOR E 2000 a). Fast-wheel-made pottery is absent, and one single sherd is from a slow wheel vessel, undecorated. This characteristics and the geographic position, extremely exposed (on the eastern bank of Pasărea river, see Map 3) made me consider that the settlement should be dated after the Slavs migration, which has a post-quem of 615 (p. 130-132). Both Șuvița Hotarului and Vadu Anei are the last vital signs of the Ipotești-Cândești culture, marking the deepest crisis of local society. The influences of the Slavs on this final stage can’t be excluded, but can’t be sustained either (the morphology and the pots dimensions argue against it).

            The most important archaeological site from the eastern extremity of the Ipotești-Cândești culture is the great cremation necropolis at Sărata Monteoru (NESTOR & 1955 to 1961). The morphological analysis of 11 entire pots produced results that took everybody by surprise, including the author of this work. Not only do we have there well-made fast-wheel-made vessels, with a post-Roman appearance (first morphological group on Sărata, the type CR_14B in the general taxonomy; see figure 116), with a shape copied by some hand-made products (the imitations of the craftsman’s products in the domestic production is general in all Ipotești-Cândești sites), but other morphological groups have no obvious analogies in the Slavic world (p. 132-133)! So, the great “Slavic necropolis” has no Slavic pottery![9] . Taking into account the fact that at least the cremations in urns (more than 200) are certainly Slav’s graves we conclude that the pottery was made not by Slavic warriors themselves, but by a subject population. The much larger number of graves with the cremated remains put directly in the pit (more than 1200) suggests the dimensions of this subject population (without excluding the possibility of the presence of Baltic elements, that had the same funerary rite; p. 133-134).

            In the same area there are also some inhumation graves (Cricov-Ceptura to the south-west and Pruneni to the north-east). The distance from those inhumation graves to the great incineration graveyard gives a suggestion about the territorial range of the Sărata-Monteoru confederation: about 25 km. in radius. The ethno-cultural attributes of the inhumation graves are not clear, but the most likely possibility indicates the Antes people (p. 135).

            The second eponymous settlement of the studied culture, Cândești, is still unpublished, after 40 years. Victor TEODORESCU (1964, 1971) has considered the settlement as the final stage of the culture, dated to the last part of the seventh century. Today we cannot accept not only such a late chronology, but also the idea of the final stage. The careful forming of the pots (as appears from the few published), the predominance of the fast-wheel-made vessels (conforming to the digger’s text, but also from “unofficial sources”), the short distance to Sărata Monteoru, all suggest a date in the first half of the sixth century, before the Slavs came (p. 135).

            The sites in the Budureasca valley did not have much more luck. After about 30 years of research we have positive information only about a few pots. I was able to supplement the published assemblage with some vessels exhibited in Ploiești Museum. The actual level of information does not permit site-by-site analyses, as desired. I had to do a global analysis, with all the risks that entails. In the group of pots there are certainly some early vessels (possibly very early, datable to the fifth century), and late vessels (uncertain how late, but no more than the beginning of the seventh century). The isolated position of the Budureasca valley resulted in a technological ration in the favour of hand-made vessels; was the site too far for pot-makers to reach? The paradox is that the vessel morphology does not reflect the isolated position; this is one of the most “associative” site I know, with analogies all over the Romanian Plain, including Oltenia! The thesis of “long lasting living” (TEODORESCU & 1993 a) is not acceptable, the valley looking more like a refuge place, sheltering diverse communities. This hypothesis is the only one that explains such a morphological diversity (p. 136-137).

            The settlements from Târgșor are also unpublished; I write “settlements” because there are at least two, of different chronology. The pottery is defined by crushed sherds in the clay paste (very easy visible) and a morphology that follows the big jugs of former centuries (without neck and turned off rim) and the absence of pans (although the settlements are not late). All these particular aspects are the content of the Târgșor cultural horizon. The considerable dimensions of the vessels (see figure 31), the technological ratio (with wheel-made ceramics well represented), and the simplicity of the decoration together suggest a relatively early chronology (p. 138-140).

            Șirna is another case where the work began some decades ago, but the publication work is delayed. The short annual reports present certain points of interest, beginning with metallurgical furnaces (the same type was used for seven centuries, from the third to the tenth centuries), the two or three levels of Ipotești-Cândești occupation (including overlapped contexts). The most interesting aspect regarding the birth of the culture we are investigating. In at least one context degenerative pottery of Sântana-Cherniakhov type is mixed with lots of primitive hand-made ceramics, oxidised (red) type, Ipotești-Cândești like pottery, and “Slavic” pans. This aspect, dated in all probability to the middle of the fifth century, is vital for understanding the transition from grey pottery to red (or brown) pottery[10]. We will have to await the publication before speaking of the Șirna cultural horizon.

            Another sub-Carpathian site that has been publishing only in the part is Băleni (MUSCĂ & 1980). In this settlement there are also more settlement episodes (at least three, on layers evidence), with extremely interesting separate pottery facieses. Unfortunately, there is nothing else to add than regret that such interesting research has still not been finalized properly (p. 142). As everyone can see, all northern Romanian Plain seems struck by the curse of silence. It is obvious only that this area is something else as the southern plain, but, unfortunately, we can’t tell how much. At a global level, we may say however that the Roman influence was lower in the northern area.

            Chapter 9 reviews the archaeological sites from Oltenia (western Wallachia; see Map 2), for the same span of time. The affiliation of this region to the Ipotești-Cândești culture was, until few years ago, a speculative subject. The detailed publication of the archaeological research from Gropșani (POPILIAN & 1998) put an end to uncertainty. Those two settlements, enclosing three settlement phases of the same community, together describe a major part of the first half of evolution for the culture we are studying here. One of these episodes, named the “Gropșani A aspect”, can be defined as almost exclusively fast-wheel vessels, associated with manually formed pans (a lot of them! the story of the “Slavic pan” ends here!). The other two episodes, similar in description, have a relative domination of hand-made pottery, in the same association with hand-made pans, and are together named “Gropșani B aspect”. The author of this work had reservations about the most credible sequence but finally accepted the hypothesis of the sequence from A to B sequence (p. 146). But we’ll have to come back to this issue...

            The second “key-site” in Oltenia is Vadu Codrii (NICA & 1994 and my own excavations after that). Based on the reports of the stratigraphy, there were established no less than five functional phases, of two cultural aspects; the first facies associates fast-wheel-made vessels of top quality (as good as Roman) with the worst hand-made pottery I ever saw and also a single sherd of a clay pan. The second facies is represented exclusively by hand-made pots, of the same kind. Beyond the manufacturing skills, the hand-made shapes from Vadu Codrii are the same as those from Gropșani . These sites taken together thus give us four cultural facies that covers the whole history of the Ipotești-Cândești Culture, from the late fifth century to the late sixth century, and together make a valuable control-group, not only for Oltenia, but also for the entire cultural area. The final facies from Vadu Codrii is associated with the discoveries from Vadu Anei and Șuvița Hotarului (see the previous chapter), describing the last, degenerative stage of Ipotești-Cândești culture, named the Vadu Codrii cultural horizon, taking its name from the first site of this horizon to be discovered and published (p. 148-149).

            Following this, some “troublesome sites” are discussed. These are published too briefly for a detailed (and useful) analysis. In the Făcăi settlement (TOROPU & 1971) have been identified intrusive items from the Târgșor cultural horizon (see previous chapter). The fact was also noticed for the Vadu Codrii settlement. The coincidence made me ask if we have there a refugee population from northern Muntenia (p. 150). Another important discovery signalled by Octavian TOROPU (& 1976) is the pottery kiln from Mărăcinele, considered by the researcher as belonging to the “Dridu” culture (eighth to tenth centuries). I think that there are good arguments (based on pottery and the presence of the tiles in the kiln) to step back the object in the Justinian years, probably in the first decade. This would be the first professional potter’s kiln (with a perforated grille and median wall), known for the sixth century north of the Danube. The existence of such an installation would explain the differences between the quality of Oltenia’s professional ceramics and the similar material from Muntenia (inferior on firing), and suggests some organization of handicrafts and consequently political control (the military authority from Sucidava, or a local chief).

            In the final part of the chapter are brief discussions of some situations at sites along the Danube, up to the Iron Gates. On Ostrovu Mare Island there were identified settlement traces from the late Roman Empire, at several points (864.5 fluvial km, Prundu Deiului, 873 fluvial km, Vadu Morii). The houses are half buried in the sandy soil (therefore badly preserved), most of them with an oven made of Roman bricks. This detail is important because, on the one hand, the archaeological reports on the pottery evidence are poor, on the other hand, there are many analogies for Roman brick ovens from Dacia Ripensis and Oltenia, beginning from the second century. The Prundu Deiului hut is dating in IV C, but all other are dating, large, in sixth (VII?) C. The “cremation cemetery” at Vadu Morii (BORONEANȚ & 1978) is, in fact, a settlement, and the five “ritual hearths” found there are just brick ovens from the huts (p. 153).

            The only cremation cemetery in the area is that at Balta Verde. Its full extent is unknown; only two graves have been discovered in 1934, and since then no further investigations have taken place. The report (BERCIU & 1956) is in addition confused and it is impossible to determine whether these are urned cremations or just pit graves (the latter seems more plausible). The attribution of this site to the Slavs was only due to the epidemic of such cultural attributions that affected Romanian archaeology in the 1950s, although there are few pointers to this in the funerary rite or in the associated material (most of sherds are fast-wheel made; p. 154).

            The huts from Insula Banului (DIACONU P & 1967) are extremely similar to those from Ostrovu Mare, but look later, and may be dated to the seventh century. Of the arguments advanced by the authors, one may retain those concerning the ratio of pottery manufacturing techniques (most of it hand-made, the rest – slow-wheel ceramics) though not those concerning the brick ovens, because it is not necessary to demolish a fortress to build an oven, and the considered lack of compatibility between a border fortress and the humble hut – it’s far to be a certitude for late sixth century. It is interesting to note the remark that the major political changes of the beginning of seventh century did not produce any changes in house and fireplace construction on, at least, that Danube island. Other neighbouring discoveries, like Ostrovu Șimian or Șvinița not only do not prove the existence of an emigrated population, or “ethnical synthesis” etc. (COMȘA M 1974), but proves nothing at all, because the elements that could lead to an identification are missing. The single remarkable fact is the relatively high density of population on the Danube islands, both before and after the migration of the Slavs. The strategic importance of the Iron Gates can’t be underestimated, but the role of “military key-point” is doubtful. In comparison with the Danube left bank, below the Argeș River, and the whole area of the eastern Romanian Plain (in which, except some coin-hoards, there is nothing at all), the Iron Gates looks crowded. Even if around year 600 the region of the Iron Gates became a trouble-spot – as historical sources inform us – before and after that heroic episode the area was almost peaceful (regarding the circumstances; p. 155).

            Chapter 10 deals with the settlements from Bratei (southern Transylvania), trying to answer the question if, beginning with the last third of the sixth century, its pottery vessels are the products of a migratory people (not named, but Slavs, BÂRZU 1995) or of another migrated people, coming from the Ipotești-Cândești area. In one word: neither! The similarities with pottery from the South Carpathians are real, but on the basis of a common historical background, and not due to a population movement (p. 155; see also summary for the chapter 5).


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[1] The culture was fully defined in 1964 (TEODORESCU 1964; see also TEODORESCU 1971, both in Romanian), and never critically revised since. It’s chronology begins with the end of V C. and it’s suppose to cover the seventh century. too. It defines a local Romanized material culture, in the area of central and western Muntenia, with Slavic influences, in specially in its eastern part and for the late episode of evolution. One can meet the “Ipotești-Ciurel-Cândești” (or just “Ciurel”) form, which moves the accent on Slavic contribution.

[2] We will follow, from this point, the Romanian denominatives “Muntenia” (Wallachia eastern from Olt river, known also as “Great Wallachia”) and “Oltenia” (Wallachia western from Olt river, known as “Little Wallachia”), which are more accurately descriptive.

[3] Diggings from 2001 (in western Muntenia too) confirms the existence of an early horizon without the pans.

[4] See also TEODOR E 2000, that is a study for Dulceanca settlements, with a large summary in English.

[5] A very recent position was taken (DIACONU P 2000) to defend the concept.

[6] The traditional point of view, in Romanian archaeology (not sustained by foreign scholars), is that bow fibulae could not be dated earlier that the second half of the century. A recent discovery (summer 2001, Copăceanca-Cotu lui Pantilie), put a bow fibula in a straight early Ipotești-Cândești culture (defined by the good pottery, fast wheel made). The dating for Soldat Ghivan could be that way descended in the first half of the sixth century.

[7] The story of Băneasa-La Stejar is an emblem of “socialist democracy”. A communist “responsible” needed once – long time ago – some earth for arranging a park. He looked on the map, pointed the edge of the city and cried out: Bring the Machines! Men and machines worked hard, night and day, and pulled out lots of soil and sherds. After a while, the archaeologists came to “rescue” a massacred moon-like terrace.

[8] Digging from the campaigns 2001 and 2002 uncovered two dwellings dating around the middle of the fifth century, that makes from Militari site a very important one for understanding genesis of Ipotești-Cândești Culture.

[9]  Take note that the necropolis is not integrally published and a lot of shapes couldn’t be analyzed.

[10]  This strange facies, half Cerniakhov, half Ipotești-Cândești, was recently confirmed in two huts uncovered in the campaigns 2001 and 2002, on Militari settlement (Bucharest). Thanks to dr. Mircea Negru for allowed me to see the pottery.