"A wolf skull atop several stones likely served a magical ritual to bar the looted space, preventing the deceased's spirit from seeking revenge..."
An excavation of a burial mound in southeastern Romania’s Dobruja region has unearthed an ancient “wolf-skull” tomb. Archaeologists propose grave robbers may have left the skull to guard against the spirit of the deceased.
The mound, barely discernible in a farmland and leveled over time, is located in Cheia village. Geophysical studies suggest it might once have spanned 75 meters. Joint Romanian-Polish expeditions have explored this region since 2008.
Ancient Wolf-Skull Tomb
Two tombs were discovered, one plundered long ago, nestled in the mound’s core. “A noteworthy find was the manner of sealing the ransacked tomb,” comments Dr. Bartłomiej Szymon Szmoniewski, the study’s director from the Polish Academy’s Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology. “A wolf skull atop several stones likely served a magical ritual to bar the looted space, preventing the deceased’s spirit from seeking revenge.”
Looting Aftermath: Artifacts and Rituals
While looters removed much from the tomb, they didn’t take all. A fragment of a shattered clay oil lamp and parts of a torched wooden structure adorned with bronze ornaments remained in the burial pit. Strong burns on the pit’s walls and bottom suggest the deceased’s trousseau was immolated on-site. The pit was then sealed with wooden planks and filled in.
“Cremation rituals akin to these have been found in Hârșova, known as Carsium in Roman times, on the lower Danube’s banks,” observed Szmoniewski.
Despite the extensive damage, the team found charred skeletal remains, along with a large number of burnt Italian walnut seeds, fragments of coniferous cones, and other plant remains. The burnt Italian walnut seeds, interpreted as a special food offering for the soul, mark a first for this region.
Skeleton, Coins, and Fragrances
In the second tomb, distant from the mound’s center, the team found a skeleton within a wooden structure, likely a coffin. Interestingly, a glass jar, used for perfumed liquids and personal hygiene, rested on the deceased’s abdomen, and a bronze coin of Emperor Hadrian was placed in his mouth.
Szmoniewski explains, “The coin in the mouth is a nod to Charon’s mite, an ancient custom where the coin served as a fare for Charon to ferry the deceased’s soul across the River Styx in Hades.” The burials are estimated to date back to the mid-2nd century AD.
Unveiling Dobruja’s Burial History
This discovery holds great significance as no burial mounds were previously found in this region. The wolf skull could hint at the involvement of the Geta, the inhabitants before the Greeks and Romans’ arrival. Szmoniewski proposes the entombed individuals were likely Romans who migrated during Roman colonization. The tomb findings were made in 2022, and the investigations will continue later this year, starting in August.