Romania: The Wolf Skull, Found in a 2000-Year-Old Grave, Was Placed There for Protection from the Spirit

Archaeologists in Romania have revealed an intriguing burial mound that offers clues into the ancient funerary customs and practices of the region. Among the discoveries is also a wolf skull.1

Cheia
Cheia is a village located in Prahova. Situated in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, it is surrounded by stunning natural beauty. It is approximately 83 miles (134 km) north of Bucharest.

Located in the village of Cheia in Prahova, the burial mound, estimated to be around two thousand years old, had endured erosion over time due to ploughing activities. However, through meticulous geophysical analysis, it was revealed that the mound possessed an impressive diameter of up to 246 feet (approximately 75 meters). This significant finding provides compelling insights into ancient burial practices in the region, shedding light on the cultural and historical aspects of the people who once inhabited the area.

At the core of this substantial archaeological site lies a grave featuring a pit covered by wooden boards. Within this structure, the deceased were cremated, leaving behind a trail of evidence that allows us to understand the cremation process practiced during this time period.

Among the remnants discovered within the pit were bone fragments, offering clues about the individuals laid to rest. Additionally, a shard from a clay lamp was found, indicating the presence of ceremonial objects accompanying the deceased in the afterlife. The charred wooden materials found within the grave were also adorned with bronze fittings and nails, suggesting that the cremation process was a carefully orchestrated and symbolically significant event.

Further exploration of the burial mound uncovered remnants of burnt walnut seeds, pine cones, and various other plant materials. This discovery aligns with the common practice of incorporating organic matter into cremation burials during the early Roman era.

The Role of Burnt Walnut Seeds in Roman Funerary Practices
In ancient Rome, funeral rites held great significance, and among the various customs observed, the inclusion of burnt walnut seeds stands out. Walnut trees symbolized fertility, wisdom, and the cycle of life and death. During funeral ceremonies, charred walnut seeds were placed alongside the deceased, either inside the burial urn or scattered around the grave. The charring process symbolized the transformative power of fire, aiding the soul’s journey to the afterlife, while the blackened seeds served as a reminder of mortality. This practice stands as evidence of the rich beliefs and rituals surrounding death in ancient Roman culture.

Additionally, the burial site exhibits indications of ancient grave robbery. To safeguard themselves from potential retribution, the robbers placed a wolf skull atop a pile of stones, effectively sealing the looted pit. Dr. Bartłomiej Szymon Szmoniewski, an expert in the field, suggests that this ritualistic act might have been done to stop the spirit from escaping and to avoid potential revenge.

Interestingly, Dr. Szmoniewski suggests that the Get people inhabiting the region during that period, might have been responsible for the grave robbery. However, the motivations behind their actions remain shrouded in mystery. Further exploration is warranted to unravel the enigmatic burial mound’s secrets and to gain deeper insights into the rich cultural and religious heritage of ancient Romania.

The Get People (Getae)
In ancient times, present-day Romania and Bulgaria were home to ancient peoples who played a significant role in the region’s history. Inhabiting the lower Danube valley, the Get people, one of these ancient peoples, interacted with Greek colonies along the Black Sea coast and became entangled in power struggles among the Hellenistic kingdoms. Renowned for their skilled horsemanship and warrior culture, the Get people maintained a complex social structure and engaged in trade and diplomacy with neighboring civilizations. They faced pressures from the expanding Roman Empire but managed to preserve their cultural identity.

The careful analysis of the bone fragments, the charred remnants, and the plant materials not only illuminates the process of cremation but also opens up avenues for studying ancient diet and botanical practices. By piecing together the clues left behind, researchers can gain insights into the resources available to these ancient societies and the manner in which they harnessed them for various purposes.

Wolf skull and burial mound in Cheia
Photo: B. S. Szmoniewski

Prahova in Antiquity: A Journey 2000 Years Back

Situated in the southern Carpathian Mountains, the Prahova region boasts a diverse topography encompassing majestic peaks, fertile valleys, and flowing rivers. Its strategic location between the Danube and the Transylvanian Plateau made it a crucial crossroads for trade and cultural exchanges.

During this period, Prahova experienced a mosaic of cultural influences. The Dacians, an indigenous Thracian people, were the dominant population, while the Roman Empire exerted its presence in the region. The Dacians, known for their advanced metallurgical skills and fortified settlements, thrived in the region and established a network of interconnected communities.

Trade played a vital role in the development of Prahova during this era. The region’s abundant natural resources, including timber, iron ore, and precious metals, attracted the attention of neighboring powers. The Dacians engaged in extensive commerce, exchanging goods such as salt, pottery, and agricultural produce with both neighboring tribes and the Roman Empire.

The expansion of the Roman Empire in the region during the 1st century BCE brought significant changes to Prahova. The Romans recognized the strategic importance of the region and established military outposts, fortifications, and roads to solidify their control. The establishment of the Roman province of Dacia further cemented their influence over the indigenous Dacians.

Cultural assimilation between the Dacians and Romans began to take place, leading to a unique blend of traditions and customs. The Romans introduced urban planning and architecture, leaving behind traces of their advanced engineering skills. The Dacians adopted Roman agricultural practices and technologies, resulting in improved farming techniques and increased agricultural productivity.

Religion also underwent transformations during this period. The Dacians practiced a polytheistic belief system, worshiping a pantheon of deities associated with nature, fertility, and warfare. With the arrival of the Romans, the influence of Roman mythology and the worship of Roman gods grew, gradually merging with Dacian religious practices.

The region’s art and craftsmanship flourished during this period. Intricate jewelry, elaborately decorated pottery, and finely crafted metalwork exemplified the skill and creativity of the Dacian artisans. Roman artistic influences began to intertwine with local styles, giving rise to a distinctive blend of artistic expression.

Despite the cultural integration, underlying tensions persisted between the Dacians and Romans. The Dacian king, Decebalus, fiercely resisted Roman domination, leading to conflicts culminating in the Dacian Wars at the turn of the 2nd century CE. These wars marked a significant turning point in Prahova’s history, as the Roman Empire ultimately conquered and incorporated the Dacian kingdom into its territories.

  1. Rumunia / Czaszka wilka w złodziejskim…przed zemstą zmarłego“, Szymon Zdziebłowski, Nauka w Polsce, June 15, 2023[]