For everything, there is a season…
It’s been a winding road, but one filled with adventure. As a boy, I read treasure magazines with my older brother and received my first metal detector while still in middle school. I read history textbooks for enjoyment and saved anything I found I thought was old. My first “collection” was square nails and barbed wire discovered with my Garret Mini Hunter metal detector. Though I never found a treasure, I was fascinated even with a hundred-year old nail and wondered at the stories it could tell. I was never satisfied to simply find something and stash it away in a desk drawer. I wanted to know its story and the ones whose stories it told. Who were they? How did they live? What was it like to live their life? For me, this was the awakening of my love for archaeology.
It was not until the fall of 2012, however, that I found myself more intimately involved with archaeology. Having learned not long before that I was entitled to a British passport by virtue of my birth in Wiltshire, England, I left America for Europe in 2012 to explore the untouched wilderness of Romania and learn of its tumultuous history as a geographical and cultural crossroads. Exploring the ruins of old castles and battlements, and villages that were a thousand years old, I was amazed at the amount of history one could find. In America, two or three hundred years is a long time, though one can find more ancient remnants like the Native American cliff-dwellings of the Anasazi in northern Arizona. In Europe, however, I found myself in the midst of a robust historical and archaeological record spanning thousands of years. History was everywhere.
Nevertheless, the real turning point came when I passed through the mountain village of Rosia Montana in the Apuseni Mountains of Transylvania and found myself in the middle of a 16-year fight against international mining interests. It was a classic “David vs Goliath” story and David was losing. At stake was 2000 years of archaeological and historical treasures dating back to at least Decebalus, the last Dacian ruler. Like the Trajan-led Romans who came for the gold, the international conglomeration of Canadian and American billionaires were seeking to operate an open cast gold mine to get at the gold dust in the soil. There was only one problem: the village of Rosia Montana was in the centre of their proposed plans.
Listening to the townspeople and hearing their stories, I was unable to refuse when I was invited to stay and help. There would be no pay save room and board and the satisfaction of doing what was right. It was challenging. Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) had the resources to bend the rules through bribes and threats, even threats of physical harm. Still, we persevered. I was made a vice president of the Rosia Montana Cultural Foundation (RMCF) and its acting Executive Director. My first task was to build their website, a 150-page assemblage from some of the best historical and archaeological minds in Romania including Dr. Ioan Piso, Romania’s preeminent historian and president of the RMCF, and archaeologist and senior researcher Dr. Horia Ion Ciugudean.
In the end, it appears that the opposition to the mine is at a healthy place. Still, with the ever-present instability in both local and national government, one can not rest. As such, I would like to turn the Foundation’s focus back toward highlighting its archaeological treasures by bringing in international teams to make full surveys of the area. As it is, much of the area has not been properly recorded and I saw for myself how many artefacts are simply left to the elements. I have never been to a place with so much archaeology spanning so many eras in such a small area. From Dacian burial grounds to Roman mines to Hungarian medieval architecture to communist-era mining equipment, Rosia Montana is a site that every archaeologist should see at least once.
Rosia Montana helped reignite my love of history, culture, archaeology and the environment. In 2017, I left Romania and relocated to Scotland. It’s been a wonderful experience and while here, I have come to realise the vastness of Scotland’s history, from neolithic architecture to medieval pilgrim sites to WWII coastal fortifications. This past June, I decided I wanted to immerse myself more completely in my archaeological passion and this is when I discovered the Masters courses at the University of the Highlands and Islands.