RESULTS OF RECENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND THEIR IMPORTANCE
Preventive archaeological research is absolutely necessary to be carried out in the design phase, prior to the development of any investment project affecting a site, regardless of size or period. As such, the Sutor site is currently being investigated given the infrastructure works for the “Transilvania Highway”. These researches were started in 2021 revealing multiple elements of the civil settlement developed around the Roman castrum.
The first relevant information regarding the site was collected by K. Torma in the second half of the 19th century. Since then, everything related to the camp and the civil settlement here remained shrouded in mystery until the end of the 1960s, at which time, some votive monuments were recovered from the supposed area of the site.
Systematic archaeological research began in 2001 and has continued ever since, with few interruptions. Although in the period 2006-2008 sections were excavated in order to establish the position and dimensions of the fortlet, it was only in 2012 that most of its internal structures, as well as a previous smaller wooden fortlet, could be observed after some geophysical prospecting.
Systematic archaeological research began in 2001 and has continued ever since, with few interruptions. Although in the period 2006-2008 sections were excavated in order to establish the position and dimensions of the fortlet, it was only in 2012 that most of its internal structures, as well as a previous smaller wooden fortlet, could be observed after some geophysical prospecting. However, the preventive archaeological research of this site, like any other that is affected by a large investment project, is carried out in the execution phase of the project and not, as is natural, in the design phase
The results presented are a synthesis of the archaeological research from the Roman site of Sutor carried out between 2001-2021.
History of archaeological research at Sutor
The first mentions concerning the presence of a Roman fortification at Sutor in connection with the Roman road Napoca – Porolissum come from the end of the 19th century when K. Torma describes the archaeological situation in the Zimbor area, the scarce data regarding the situation in the field accumulated over time being systematized only at the end of the ’90s in a study regarding the Dacia border, but the exact location of the fortlet here was assumed only in the absence of exact research. The beginning of the 2000s led to the certain identification of the castrum followed by a new stage of research that considered the mapping of archaeological structures by non-invasive means, the latter proving to be extremely useful in the present case. On this occasion, the general structure of the site could be broadly established and the first assumptions regarding the role that both the fortification from here and the adjacent civil settlement could have had at the level of the province of Dacia Porolissensis could be put forward.
Archaeological research resumed in 2021
The preventive archaeological research from Sutor started in 2021, given the occasion of the start of the infrastructure works carried out to build the “Transilvania Highway”. Thus, since February, 16 control surveys have been carried out along the highway duct to ascertain the impact that construction works could have on the archaeological heritage in the area. Because the defensive elements on the eastern side of the fortlet were in danger of being affected by the construction works, an additional section was made with dimensions 64 x 4 m, excavated perpendicularly over the stone enclosure of the castrum.
Due to the high level of the water table in this area of the site, the section was widened by 10 m towards its western end to ensure the stability of the section profiles, which allowed better documentation of the defensive elements of the Roman fortification. On this occasion, several stratigraphic and organizational aspects of the defensive system of the fortlet could be noticed. Thus, we could ascertain that we are dealing with two stone phases of the fort, in the first phase the defensive system is composed of a ditch located near the stone enclosure, and in the second phase the wall is provided with two defence ditches, the distance between the first ditch and the enclosure wall being slightly larger, the new ditch partially cuts the old ditch, which was removed from use on this occasion. At the same time, the absence of any other Roman archaeological contexts observed in this section suggests that a “buffer zone” was established around the fortlet, with the role of delimiting the civil space from the military one. In these circumstances, in order to ensure the integrity of the fortlet, at the initiative of the collective of the Institute of Archaeology and Art History Cluj-Napoca, it was proposed to modify the entrance/exit ring on the highway so as not to overlap any element of the defensive system of the Roman fortification here, by decreasing inwardly by 10 meters its circumference.
Once the problem of protecting the fortlet was solved, our attention shifted to the civilian area, captured east of the Roman fortification, where the vast majority of preventive archaeological research conducted during 2021 was focused. Following the first stage of the research, the 16 surveys conducted revealed the presence of a Roman archaeological level, observed at different depths, which extends over the entire surface that was to be arranged for construction works. Therefore, in the second stage, the surface research was carried out, 3 surfaces being made that came to complement the first surveys, thus covering the entire area that was to be affected by the construction works, amounting to an area of 11.687 m2 spread unevenly within the site (Figure 3).
As a result of this research, it was found that the military vicus located here certainly had at least two phases, of wood and stone respectively. However, so far, we cannot synchronize the phases documented in the fortlet with those in the vicus, an absolute dating of those phases remains a desideratum at this point in research.
What succeeded, however, was the recording of the continuous evolution of the vicus during the wood phase and up to the stone phase. It was possible to document hall-type, large wooden structures, with wooden beam walls and probably adobe, showing inside alignments of stake pits with a role in supporting the roof, probably made of perishable materials, given the absence of the tegular material. The second type that was identified is represented by a rectangular structure of a smaller size, whose walls were erected on a gravel sole, presenting inside partition walls that divide the structure into 6 rooms. The third type was more complex, with a stone base for the portico facing the road, and the rest of the building consisting only of timber and stake alignments. The ruins of stone-walled buildings overlaying earlier wooden structures have been documented as belonging to the stone phase. This is also the case of the civil thermae identified and completely investigated on this occasion. In this sector, a layer of burning could be documented, prior to the construction of the thermae; we interpreted it as a levelling and cleaning operation of the land, executed for the construction of the public baths.
Within the thermae, we were also able to identify several construction phases and changes in its interior partitioning. From the point of view of the relative chronology, we were able to identify 4 usage phases, the structure and functionality of the 12 rooms being constantly changed, as is generally the case with constructions of this type (Exhibit 4). The analysis of the numismatic material recovered from the thermae shows two different monetary images; the first is characterized by an abundance of coins dated to the time of Septimius Severus and connected with phases II and III of the building, and the second monetary spectrum groups later coins from the time of Elagabalus and Severus Alexander. The period of operation of the thermae can be thus pushed to the middle of the 3rd century AD, representing therefore the latest known civil thermae in Dacia.
Road research and details of the vicus' economy
Within the vicus, two Roman road segments were identified in 2021; they intersect in the immediate vicinity of the civil settlement of Sutor. The first segment, which bypassed the fortlet to the south, represents the imperial road leading from Napoca to Porolissum, and the second represents the road that connected the Bologa auxiliary camp with the one from Sutor, joining at Sutor with the imperial road, which continued from here to Porolissum. Both roads were known in the literature but had not been identified in the field until 2021 (Figure 5).
The construction technique of the two roads is noticeably different, using, in the case of the Bologa-Sutor road, a mixture of stone from several quarries. This technique appears to be similar to that used in the construction of buildings dated to the second stone phase of the vicus which suggests a chronological difference between the two road arteries. The earliest seems to be the road Napca–Porolissum, probably built in the early years of the province, as the milliaria at Aiton and Mera seem to prove. We can determine that the Bologa-Sutor road was built sometime towards the middle of the 2nd century AD based on stratigraphic criteria and on the basis of artifacts from contemporary contexts. The presence of the two roads and their intersection in the vicinity of the military vicus must have made this settlement an important military and economic centre.
The economic importance that the vicus must have exercised in the area is also suggested by the identification of a workshop area, located towards the northern limit of the settlement. The remains of several pottery kilns have been identified here. One of these, investigated in 2021, had a circular shape, provided with a radial grille supported by a centred pillar (Figure 6).
The analysis of the archaeological material inside the kiln indicated that we were dealing with a ceramic cookware furnace, which was decommissioned at some point and reused as a domestic garbage pit. An impressive number of archaeological materials, consisting of fragments of ceramic vessels, oil lamps and terracotta statuettes, was recovered from its interior. Both the degree of fragmentation of the materials and their great variety advocated in favour of the hypothesis of reusing the furnace as a garbage pit. Due to the weather conditions that led to the complete flooding of the excavated surface, the rest of the workshop and the other kilns outlined in the field could not be investigated, and the cessation of construction works postponed the research of these complexes for the next year.
Preventive research at Sutor was resumed this summer. Due to the redesign of the highway plan, carried out towards the end of last year’s campaign, it was necessary, ever since, to produce a predictive GIS plan, based on the data collected that year, to establish the main areas where the archaeological level was in danger of being affected by the construction works. Therefore, this year’s areas to be excavated were selected based on this plan to verify the accuracy of the GIS predictability model and to establish, at the same time, the impact of the construction works on the archaeological heritage (Figure 7).
Archaeological research in 2022
In the first phase, 4 control surveys were carried out on the southern and eastern edges of the surface to be affected by the construction works. The four surveys were conducted in areas where the archaeological level is outlined lower, at a depth of approx. 1.70 m. Within them it was possible to observe the limit of the settlement, the traces of human activity being quite few, including the traces of wooden beams and stake pits, along with various other pits with a possible domestic role. Among these were evidenced a number of pits that appear to have been originally used as water wells. They have a funnel shape in profile, narrowing as they deepen. Their bottom could not be investigated due to the high level of the water table, which unfortunately led to the flooding of the complexes.
The second stage of this year’s research involved the reopening of Surface 2, which was started last year and left unfinished, along with two other surfaces conventionally called Surface 2A and Surface 2B, representing extensions of the older surface, located to the west and east of Surface 2 respectively. Of these, the first one to come to our attention was Surface 2B. Within it were identified several very large wooden structures, similar to the one identified in 2021, the traces of wooden beams and potholes that were part of the structure of the construction could be observed (Figure 8).
Domestic pits and other possible wells have been identified from place to place. A stone building with a rectangular plan whose walls, unfortunately, were preserved only at the level of the foundation, which was made up of quarry crushed stone laid on a gravel base with a role in water drainage was also identified in the central area of Surface 2B. In order to facilitate the research of the building, its entire area was divided into 36 squares (Figure 8/C).
The functionality of the building could not be established until now. Its large size, the location in the vicus and the alignment with the Bologa-Sutor road lead us to believe that we are dealing with a public building, probably with the role of a warehouse, as the rest of the wooden structures identified in the area also seem to be. Chronologically, the structure in question may have been built during the stone phase of the settlement, overlaying an older wooden building whose plan it seems to have partially followed, most likely taking over the functionality of the wooden building it replaced. Also, within this building, but dated prior to the stone phase, two ceramic kilns were discovered, identified with context numbers 2582 and 2684 (Figure 8/A-B).
Kilns 2582 and 2684
Kiln 2582 was unveiled in square A’5 with the feed mouth facing southeast, the latter being observed in square A’4. The kiln is slightly larger than the one identified last year, with a diameter of 1.87 m, showing a slightly different construction technique. It has a circular shape with a radial grille, provided with a support leg in the middle, with an oval plan, hollow on the inside, thus allowing for a better circulation of hot air inside the kiln (Figure 9).
The archaeological material recovered from its interior consists mainly of fragments of ceramic vessels, which are to be processed after the completion of the archaeological research in the field. Since the material inside the kiln has not been analysed in detail, at the moment it is difficult to say if we are dealing with a batch preserved in situ or with a decommissioned kiln and subsequently converted into a refuse pit, as preliminary observations on the material seem to indicate.
The second kiln, bearing the context number 2684, was identified under the witness wall left between squares B1-C1. This kiln is much more precariously preserved, given that one of the dividing walls of the stone building cuts it lengthwise, partially destroying it, along with its feeding mouth which appears to have been oriented to the north-west. The kiln has a circular plan and is smaller in size than the kiln 2582. On the inside, it seems to have had a radial grille resting on a central support, also hollow on the inside for better circulation of hot air, but with a rectangular plan (figure 10).
The archaeological material recovered from its interior is rather poor, given the destruction caused at the time of the construction of the stone phase. From the point of view of relative chronology, it cannot be stated whether these kilns functioned within the original wooden structure or if they predate it. It is certain that at the time of building the stone phase, they were no longer functioning, they were outlined below the foundation level of the stone building, which also overlaps one of the kilns.
The Bologa - Sutor road
Also, during the current research on Surface 2B, a segment of the Bologa-Sutor road was partially cleaned, which was also sectioned at several points to check its structure. From this perspective, the road mentioned above is built using stone brought from several sources. The road is built over the ancient vegetation layer, partially removed, over which the nucleus is placed, formed of medium-sized quarry stones placed obliquely on the cant, the spina of the road is made in the same technique but from larger stones. It is worth noting that above the nucleus another layer of sand mixed with small river pebbles was observed, which represents the level of equalization on which people were also walking in antiquity. Also, the working hypothesis already formulated last year according to which the Bologa – Sutor road would be dated after the road Napoca – Porolissum operating from the time of construction simultaneously, has been confirmed, several coins datable to the middle of the 2nd century AD, minted during the reign of Antoninus Pius were documented in the layer related to the treading level corresponding to the aforementioned road.
Except for the Roman period complexes, which represent the vast majority of the complexes discovered, traces of surface dwellings dating from the early medieval period could be identified in Surface 2B. They were identified on the basis of specific ceramic fragments from that period recovered from their interior. The conservation status of these dwellings is precarious, given the difficulty with which they can be outlined in the field. As far as could be seen, they were provided with a fire hearth of stonemason type, and in the corners can be seen traces of stake pits coming with quite high certainty from the supporting structure of the building’s roof. With regards to human habitation from this period in this area, until now, last year’s assumptions that an alleged settlement dated to the early medieval period existed in the central area of the site are confirmed. This is suggested by this year’s and last year’s finds, as well as some sporadic finds from previous campaigns in the same area, which consist of ceramic fragments and metal pieces datable in this chronological interval.
Some complexes represent household pits, from inside which fragments of prehistoric ceramic vessels were recovered and can also be placed in a different chronological horizon. They have been discovered sporadically both in the last two years and in older research. As far as can be observed so far, they are concentrated in the southeastern area of the site, where there may have been a prehistoric settlement whose clear traces have not yet been detected, those communities making their presence felt only through ceramic fragments discovered in a series of household pits, always present in human settlements.
Preliminary conclusions on the Sutor military vicus
Information gathered so far regarding the Sutor military vicus allows us to make preliminary observations. From the findings so far, we can consider that the civil settlement associated with the Sutor auxiliary camp developed in close connection with the road arteries that transit it, the structures identified within the settlement were aligned to the two roads; the location of the constructive structures was very carefully studied which gives the site a “quasi-urban” character when it comes to its internal organisation. A striking detail that caught our attention throughout the research was the total absence of houses. As far as we have been able to ascertain, all the identified structures represent very large constructions, closely connected with the two roads and having, most likely, a public character. The absence of housing of any kind within the surveyed area leads us to believe that this part of the military vicus was actually a workshop area of the settlement, provided only with workshops and large halls with a possible role in storage. Based on surveys conducted in the period 2021-2022 we were able to partially determine the boundaries of the settlement in the north, east and south. Therefore, most likely the vicus continues west along the two above-mentioned roads, where the civil dwellings must also be located, but unfortunately, this area is not the subject of preventive archaeological research as it is not found in the area affected by the construction works for the Transilvania Highway.
Sorin Cociș, Vlad-Andrei Lăzărescu, Sergiu -Traian Socaciu, Cercetările arheologice din castrul și vicus-ul de la Sutor (2001-2021), Cercetări Arheologice, Vol. 29.1, pag. 83-130, 2022, doi: https://doi.org/10.46535/ca.29.1.05