Non-Invasive Archaeology in the Republic of Moldova — an example of multidisciplinary approach and international partnership

Sergiu Musteaţă, Alexandru Popa and Hans-Ulrich Voß

Corresponding author: Institute of Archaeology, Romanian Academy, Iasi branch, Str. Codrescu, no. 6, Pavilion H, 700479, Iasi, Romania.

Cite this as: Musteaţă, S. et al 2017 Non-Invasive Archaeology in the Republic of Moldova — An Example of Multidisciplinary Approach and International Partnership, Internet Archaeology 43.

Over the last decades, the new non-invasive techniques employed in archaeological research have developed extensively. This article discusses the most important non-invasive surveys undertaken in the Republic of Moldova during the last two decades. Most were carried out in the framework of international partnerships meant to transfer Western experience and knowledge of modern methods of archaeological research to the Republic of Moldova. Special attention is given to the results of cooperation between Moldovan, German and Romanian archaeologists.

This extended abstract is also available in hard copy in K. May (ed) 2017 Digital Archaeological Heritage, EAC Occasional Paper No.12, Archaeolingua, Budapest.

Over the last decades a wide array of new non-invasive techniques has been available for archaeological research, particularly since the use of non-destructive archaeological research methods fits perfectly in the context of the international conventions and recommendations.

One of the first non-invasive surveys in our region was done in 1974 by V. P. Dudkin using an 'M 27’ magnetometer in a prehistoric site. After that, most non-invasive archaeological research was limited to field surveys. Not until 2005, with the participation of colleagues from the Free University of Berlin, was another magnetometer survey done, on the Bronze Age site from Miciurin–Odaia.

The situation changed during the last decade, as a result of a number of international partnerships and projects.

The Moldo-German project 'Geophysics surveys in Moldova’

A very active party during the last decade in organising and conducting such non-invasive researches has been the 'Ion Creangă’ Pedagogical State University from Chișinău. Thus, with the support of the German Institute of Archaeology in Frankfurt am Main, the first geophysical surveys were carried out in 2009–2011.

During October 2009, surveys with a five-channel magnetometer of the 'Dr Förster’ type, were undertaken in five archaeological sites from the Republic of Moldova, namely in the villages of Horodca and Costești (Ialoveni district), Petreni (Drochia district), Sobari (Soroca district) and Trebujeni (Orhei district). It was possible to take geomagnetic readings for an area of over 20,000m², leading to the discovery of the remains of habitation structures and fortification works. Particularly interesting results were obtained, for instance, in the Cucuteni-Trypillia site located between the villages of Petreni and Sofia (Drochia district), and in the late Roman settlement from Sobari (Soroca district). In other cases, it was possible to identify several magnetometric anomalies that, on account of their shape and size, can be assigned to remains of dwellings. The results provided sufficient conditions for a complete geomagnetic investigation, which was carried out during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns.

In 2010, the German Institute of Archaeology provided the team with an even more advanced magnetometer, comprising 16 channels of the 'Dr Förster’ type. The speed of propulsion varied between 0.6 and 15km/h. This equipment was used for geomagnetic surveys in a number of pre- and proto-historical sites, as well as in the medieval town near Trebujeni, Orhei district. Extensive geomagnetic surveys were carried out in the site of Sângerei (Sângerei district). More than 20 ha were investigated and the existence of Cucuteni-Trypillia and Sântana de Mureș-Chernyakhov sites could be confirmed.

Particular attention was given to the investigations in the settlement of Petreni. On account of the scientific potential proven by the 2009 investigations, more than 14 ha of the site were surveyed. The area surveyed in 2010 represents approximately half of the settlement. The size of the settlement was previously estimated on the basis of air photographs and by charting the surface remains. As a result of the 2010 and 2011 surveys, the general map of the site was established, which facilitated the analysis of the structure and organisation of the prehistoric Cucuteni-Trypillia site from Petreni, recently published in a collective work.

The Moldo-German project 'Cultural relations of the Sântana de Mureș Culture between the rivers Prut and Dniester’

Between 2010 and 2015, the Moldo-German-Romanian team developed the project on landscape archaeology from the area of the Cubolta valley in northern Moldova. The most important discovery to date has been the settlement area of the late Roman culture between the villages of Putinești and Cubolta in the southern part of the valley. During the summer of 2015, investigations were undertaken in a settlement of the Sântana-de-Mureș Culture (c.AD 230–430/450) at Putinești, Florești district. The site rests on a slope slightly inclined to the west, is of an elongated shape and is delimited on the northern and southern sides by gullies. Despite the unfavourable conditions created by the erosion of soil on the slope, as well as by the fill of a gas pipeline that crosses the site in its northern part in an east–west direction, it was possible to survey an area of c.82,000m². A series of magnetic anomalies were identified, which correspond to archaeological complexes of various shapes and configurations, the functions of which will be clarified by future research.

The Moldo-Romanian non-invasive surveys in the medieval fortress of Soroca

The medieval fortress of Soroca is one of the most known and visited cultural sites from the Republic of Moldova. Between 2012 and 2015, researchers from Moldova and Romania carried out archaeological surveys inside and outside the fortress. The first stage consisted of a topographic survey of the area around the fortress and of the fortress development plan, using a total station and high-precision GPS. Taking into account the traces of late medieval buildings around the old fortress shown on old maps (ditches, fortress vallum, church, cemetery, etc.) and the current configuration of the park, a number of non-invasive techniques were applied in order to verify these and identify their location. Measurements were made with a soil electrical resistivity system, ground-penetrating radar and magnetometer. The data obtained from the fluxgate gradiometer were processed in a GIS environment. The anomalies were charted and the areas of archaeological potential were highlighted. Non-invasive geophysical surveying close to the Soroca Fortress proved to be difficult because the area around the fortress underwent various interventions and reconfigurations, especially during the building of the present-day park. Some sectors were levelled by depositing soil up to a thickness of 2m, while in other sectors the soil was completely removed. Notwithstanding these hurdles, the geophysical surveys revealed anomalies in several sectors during the archaeological investigations, which proved to be structures of various historical periods.

Other non-invasive surveys in the Republic of Moldova

A. Moldo-Romanian project

In 2010, the Arheoinvest research team from the 'Al. I. Cuza’ University of Iași, Romania, carried out geo-electrical surveys on the Saharna-Țiglău ancient site (Rezna district), aiming to identify the remains of the necropolis in a strip of crop land. Extensive investigations were also carried out in the same year in Saharna Mare, including GPR, magnetometric, 3D scanning, fluxgate, and georeferenced topographic surveys. After 2010, small-scale works only (topographic survey, GPS corrections) were carried out in Saharna Mare. Many anomalies were discovered in the area of the ancient hillfort, such as the remains of the defensive ditch and wall or other constructions, later confirmed by excavations.

B. Moldo-German project

Another Moldo-German team (High School of Anthropology, the National Museum of Moldova and RGK/DAI) carried out a geophysical survey in Stolniceni (Edineț district), a prehistoric site known since 1970. The investigations took place during the summer of 2015, in the form of magnetometric surveying of a 23 ha area, from a total of c.33 ha. The survey lead to the discovery of the remains of c.140 dwellings, c.280 pits, and a defensive system composed of three ditches enclosing the settlement. These are very promising results, and the authors intend to extend the investigations to the rest of the settlement.

C. Moldo-American project

In 2014 the American College of Cultural Site Research and Management (CSRM) from Baltimore, USA, employed the LIDAR technique on the site of Orheiul Vechi, nominated for the World Heritage List. LIDAR and multispectral data analysis of Orheiul Vechi revealed numerous archaeological structures and landscape features, many of which were not previously known, such as traces of a new ancient hillfort on the Butuceni promontory. At the same time, the structure of other partially known Mășcăuți ancient hillfort was established.


The results of the non-invasive investigations undertaken during the last decade in the Republic of Moldova confirmed the presence of a number of already known archaeological locations and facilitated new discoveries, which warrants their future investigation. The extension of the partnerships with colleagues from other countries would ensure the transfer of experience and knowledge of modern methods of archaeological research, since a multidisciplinary approach and the involvement of international teams are the surest route to quality research. The use of non-destructive research methods in archaeological projects in the Republic of Moldova is in line with international conventions sanctioning the use of non-destructive techniques and in situ conservation of archaeological traces.

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