Vegetation indices for site identification have been used in archaeology for a long time [1
]. The most common technique is based on identifying vegetation growth change rates related to the existence of underground structures [2
]. Crop marks have been the key component of most aerial archaeology [4
]. The theory behind studying crop marks is associated with the composition and moisture within the soils [9
Pits, ditches, or any other “negative” features (namely topographic depressions) are typically filled with organic material which makes the soil more fertile. Moreover, there is commonly a higher moisture content present when compared to their surroundings. As a consequence, the vegetation is usually more abundant on top of such features than in their vicinity. Conversely, architectural features such as walls, foundations, or roads cause soil reduction and are therefore not favourable to plant growth [10
In a parallel way, crop marks are directly influenced by chemical alterations of the soil composition, which most often indicates intensive human habitation in the area. For example, human activity results in a greater addition of phosphorus or organic materials to the soil [11
], which in turn enhances plant growth [12
]. Discontinuity and variation in crop or vegetation patterns may therefore be used as a proxy for site identification. Variation of crops can be manifested either in colour or height, particularly during the growing season [2
Satellite images and unmanned aerial vehicle systems, which are now widely used in archaeology, have allowed many methods of vegetation analysis to be implemented [13
] including crop mark analysis [1
], landscape classification for predictive modeling [14
], locating paleo rivers and environmental features [3
], and many others uses. A great number of studies have been published over the last few decades totalling more than 150 indices for interpreting vegetation/crop marks [2
]. Similarly, aerial prospection methods have been used in archaeology for over a century [16
]. One of the first successful aerial reconnaissance surveys took place in 1913-14 at the excavations of Sir Henry Wellcome in Jebel Moya, Sudan [18
]. Special kite systems and helium balloons were popular platforms for carrying remotely operated cameras [19
]. The most recent and still ongoing revolution in aerial archaeology is the appearance of remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) which have evolved into multirotor platforms [20
]. Aerial imagery has been used for 3D photogrammetry purposes for more than a decade [22
] and archaeologists have found a number of ways to explore its potential to obtain high-quality spatial data [23
This paper applies some of the above techniques to a specified site in southwestern Romania, building on previous research done using geophysical survey techniques that targeted the remains of a deserted medieval village [24
]. The coarse resolution of the available data sometimes restricts the research that can be done when multiple satellite images for vegetation analysis are applied to restricted areas. Nonetheless, Planet Labs recently released an entire group of small satellites (3U CubeSats) capable of delivering high-resolution images of the surface of the Earth. More than 150 satellites (dimensions: 10 × 10 × 30 cm) cover the entire globe obtaining different images of the same given area are obtained at different, relatively short intervals (a few times within one and the same day) at a spatial resolution of between 3 and 4 m.
In addition, aerial images were obtained by means of a Phantom 4 (12.4 Megapixel sensor with FOV 94° 20 mm (35 213 mm format equivalent) f/2.8 lens) drone to create a high-resolution digital elevation model, as well as an orthophotomosaic through SfM (structure from motion). All the data obtained by such means have been linked to the results of the geophysical survey in order to explain the distribution of crop marks within the archaeological site. The geophysical survey was carried out inside the central part of the medieval settlement. Six hectares were investigated using total field magnetometry, allowing the distribution of houses and dwellings within the site to be depicted. Electrical resistivity tomography and ground penetrating radar highlighted the existence of another ditch around the fortified structure located in the centre of the village [24
]. The magnetic map from Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor” was also used for creating an object-based segmentation and classification algorithm for analysing magnetic anomalies [25
The main goals of analysing the data in this study are as follows: (1) to show the full extent of the medieval Machalaka oppidum; (2) to demonstrate that Planet Labs satellite constellation constitutes a reliable tool for archaeological research; (3) to prove that this methodology has proven useful for the identification, evaluation and reconstruction of archaeological sites.
The workflow for reconstructing the topography of the medieval village is described in Figure 1
2. Study Area
The medieval village located at “Șanțul Turcilor” (Figure 2
), near the village of Mașloc (Timiș County, Romania) is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in southwest Romania. It was introduced to the international archaeological literature only in the past few years [24
]. From a geographical point of view, the “Șanțul Turcilor” site is located in the southeast of the Vinga Plain, in the vicinity of the western extremity of the Lipovei Hills; this is the contact zone between the Pannonian Basin and the Western Carpathian Mountains in Romania. The landscape is dominated by extensive piedmont plateaus and the flow of the Mures River, fragmented by several autochthonous valleys (like Beregsău) and small tributaries.
The first interpretation of the site was based primarily on the geophysical survey. These results suggested that Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor” may be one of the first examples of a nucleated village of the medieval period known from southwestern Romania. The site consists of a fortified manor or church and two rows of farmsteads aligned along a street running from southwest to northeast. The fortification has two noteworthy ramparts and two ditches. The settlement surrounds the fortification and it is estimated to cover an area of about 12 ha, including the most noteworthy elevations of the piedmont interfluve where the site is situated [24
Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor” was identified with the lost village of Machalaka. The Machalaka estate was first recorded in 1322 [26
]. In 1333, the priest Martin from Machalaka paid 28 banales as papal tithes [27
]. This means that on the Machalaka estate there was a village with the same name, having a church and a Roman Catholic parish. The name means "Macea’s house/village" in the Hungarian language. Until the end of the fourteenth century, the region remained property of the crown. By 1394, the king of Hungary had donated the estate to the Szeri Pósafi family [29
]. It remains unclear when castella
Machalaka was built.
In 1471, Stephen, the last male member of the family, died. The Szeri Pósafi was extinguished by defectum seminis
(the disappearance of the heirs on the male line of succession) and, according to the laws of the kingdom, all family properties, including the Machalaka oppidum
(market-town) and castella
with its homonymous domain (more than 210 km2
and 9 estates) passed on to the king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus. In turn, the king donated the domain to his favourites [31
]. Stephen’s widow, Frusina, refused to abandon her properties and the new lords violently occupied also the castella
Machalaka in March 1472 [32
A document that envoys from Lower Austria submitted to the Imperial Diet in Regensburg (3.09.1556) mentioned the name Mancha Laka
among the fortifications conquered by the Ottomans in 1552 [33
Immediately after the expulsion of the Ottomans in 1716, the first Habsburg conscription found 14 houses at Mas(ch)lok (1717) [34
], and the maps of the Lipova (1718) [36
] and Timișoara (1720) districts [37
] show the village of Mac(k)slok on the right bank of the Berexova River (now Beregsău), 2 km south-southwest from the medieval village of Machalaka. This village is accompanied by two other praedia
(praedium—the territory that belonged to an abandoned village) of the same name. We suspect that this was the location of the Ottoman-era village.
The village was abandoned until 1743 [38
]. In 1770, German settlers raised another village called Blumenthal close to the medieval oppidum
]. The seal of the village from 1833 indicates the double name of the village: Blumenthal (German)/Máslak (Hungarian) [40
]. Only the name of Máslak remained to become Maşloc (Romanian) after the First World War. We observe in this case a toponymic continuity without a continuity of habitation on the same spot and a phonetic transformation of the toponym Machalaka in Maslok (Mașloc) during the Ottoman period (1552–1716).
Further examination of the orthophotograph and the digital surface model (Figure 11
A) of the medieval Machalaka reveals more information about the layout of the settlement. Upon looking closer, one can even recognize the remains of the medieval field system, represented by a series of parallel stripes with slightly different elevations of 10 to 30 cm. Even if these stripes are not that well preserved, the micromorphology and their distribution highlight the purpose they served. The stripes most likely represent the boundaries of plots associated with the houses. Dividing parcels in this way continues to be a popular practice in Banat’s rural areas at present (Figure 12
B). People dig a linear ditch less than 1 m deep (most of the time around 0.5 m in depth) around the boundaries of the parcel. The soil extracted is placed on one side of the ditch (inner or outer) creating a linear elevated area where a fence is placed. Upon closer look, these stripes are also present on the magnetic map as faint linear anomalies; they would be otherwise impossible to interpret without this complementary analysis (Figure 11
B). Overlying the magnetic anomalies on the digital surface model confirms that each house has a correspondent parcel. More than 30 parcels were digitized by using the digital surface model and the orthophotomosaic (Figure 11
B). These stripes are all visible on most satellite images available on Google Earth, but a winter image from April 2012 emphasizes them in the clearest manner (Figure 12
It is possible the pattern was made by old ploughing activity in the area, but it is not very likely, since it would have been aligned in the direction of the shape of the plateau rather than along the magnetic anomalies. Furthermore, there is no sign of visible plough marks on the older declassified satellite images from the 1960s (Figure 13
), but the parallel stripes are visible on these images as well. There is a clear differentiation between the more recent ploughing area towards the southeast (before 1989) and the pastureland. Most interesting is that we can also track the stripes inside the ploughed area. The direction of the stripes (perpendicular to the village boundaries), their presence only around the extent of the village and nowhere on nearby fields, and their distinct morphology, which can be seen inside more recently ploughed areas, all sustain the idea that the stripes are boundaries of individual plots associated with the village’s houses. A field system is the simplest interpretation for these parallel stripes, but this is a hypothesis that can be tested in future work (e.g., soil samples, ground-tests, etc.).
The stripes observed on the digital surface model suggests Machalaka medieval market-town medieval village had individualized parcels behind the houses, showcasing certain rules on daily life and land use practices. Most probably, the lots were used for practicing subsistence agriculture and agro-pastoral activities.
Furthermore, the high resolution of the digital surface model allowed a clear image of the fortified central structure (Figure 14
) located in the middle of the settlement. The fortification consists of two noteworthy ramparts and two ditches. The circular shape of the fortified manor/church has a span of 6 m, clearly playing a central role in the site layout. The fortification encloses an area of 32 square meters, with the first ditch (D1) being 20 m wide and 3.5 m deep (Figure 14
). A second outer rampart and a ditch encircle the whole site. The preservation of the internal rampart around the ring structure is most impressive. The long ridge axis measures 30 m with a width of 15 m. In relation to the current level of the central part, the rampart ridge has an elevation of 1.5 m. The internal ditch has a depth of approximately 3.5 m and 19–22 m width.
The ERT and GPR profiles over the fortified system allowed the chance to estimate the real depth of the ditches, confirming the existence of an outer second ditch (D2) (Figure 14
) enclosing the central structure. This second ditch was filled and, unfortunately, is not recognizable in the field anymore. Even though the ditch is not visible to the naked eye, its existence was intuited by Liviu Măruia and his team in 2011 [69
]. In 2012, Bogdan Condurăţeanu, the manager of Digital Romania 3D Project (www.romaniadigitala.ro
), presented a sketch of the central fortified structure after digitizing the ramparts and two ditches (including the outer one highlighted by the ERT and GPR profile) [70
Numerous small fragments of human bones were found inside the fortification, discovered in the soil on the outer slope of ramparts. These fragments are not associated with other types of architecture, with the exception of sporadic fragments of adobe. It may be possible that they provide evidence of burials dug into the ramparts. Several brick fragments were uncovered in the central enclosure and ditches, in addition to the bones. The distribution of this building material in the area of the fortified assembly is an important indication that suggests the presence of brick walls, at least for the central ring structure.
The results of the research proved to be strikingly similar to traces of hillside terraces with selions (strips of cultivated land) uncovered by archaeological excavations at Tamási (Tolna County, Hungary) [71
]. It is not clear how the land was formed and delivered for cultivation, however. Was it formed after the clearance of the forest?
Whatever the case may be, the name of the village incorporates the Hungarian word laka
(“house of”). This implies that it was initially an isolated farmstead with a small clearing or drainage allowing for the establishment of the nucleated village. Such villages were typical for the later Middle Ages in Hungary (fourteenth to sixteenth centuries), when large estates and a manorial economy dominated the economic landscape of the kingdom [72
]. One of the earliest excavations targeting such settlements was carried out at the deserted medieval village of Móric (near present-day Túrkeve, in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County, Hungary). Móric was excavated in 1948 and 1949 by István Méri (Méri, 1954). However, neither Móric, nor Szentkirály [73
] presented a layout comparable to that identified in the medieval market town of Machalaka. For a formal analogy to the layout of the deserted medieval village of Mașloc, one has to reach far to the northwest, to Dašovice (near Znojmo, in southwestern Moravia, the southeastern part of the present-day Czech Republic). The deserted medieval village identified there by means of field survey dates between the middle of the fourteenth and the middle of the fifteenth century. Its layout consists of two rows of farmsteads along a street with a motte at one end, which may be the fortified manor [74
]. The most famous of all deserted medieval villages excavated in southwestern Moravia, Pfaffenschlag (deserted in the 1420s or 1430s), had a similar layout, with a brook instead of a street as the main axis of the settlement [75
More recent studies regarding the layout of medieval settlements in Bodrog County (in Hungary) and northern Serbia present striking similarities with the one of Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor”. Hence, the medieval village of Arany near Vaskút (Figure 15
A) is practically similar, with the exception of the inner structure [76
]. The plan of the settlement was made using satellite images provided by Google Earth and the digital image of the central structure was drawn based on the cropmarks seen in the summer image presented by Buzás et al. (2019). The village has an almost identical layout with Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor”. The difference is represented by the church in the centre of the village (church), which produced a very clear cropmark; Buzás et al. (2019) also proposed a graphical reconstruction of Arany village by combining remote sensing with historical information. Istvan Pánya further discussed the history of these settelmens in Bodrog County and presented a sketch explaining the layout of Arania village [77
A similar layout is visible at the Iratoșu (Arad County) medieval site, having a similar central structure, but a considerably larger size than “Șanțul Turcilor” [24
]. Instead of one central street, the medieval settlement in Iratoșu had two streets intersecting in the middle, where the fortified structure was located (Figure 15
Recently, during systematic fieldwork for his doctoral thesis, Cristian Floca identified another medieval village contemporary with Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor” located within the boundary of the present-day Unip village, near Timișoara. Even if the preservation state is generally poor due to the intensive agriculture practices and different geographical settings, the layout resemblance to Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor” is uncanny (Figure 15
C). More detailed research at this site is in progress.
Over the last 15 years, archaeological fieldwork research carried out within the Banat region has identified many medieval fortifications and settlements, none of which has been systematically investigated. Even if a few excavations were performed at some of these medieval sites, the results are still pending publication.
Of all these fortified assemblies, the one from Mașloc easily stands out. Its exceptional preservation, as well as the shape and complexity of its structures, makes it unique in the landscape of medieval fortresses in the Banat region and beyond.
We have successfully managed to estimate the extent of the medieval and its morphology without any archaeological excavation. The longitudinal central axis of the settlement, oriented in a NNE–SSW direction, is superposed on the fortified assembly located at its central part.
The outcomes of this study prove that satellite remote sensing, in this case using Planet Labs satellite imagery, can be a huge asset in developing further investigation for these sites. The layout of these medieval villages can be outlined using soil and vegetation indices, and in turn they can also be proxies for geophysical investigations, as well as for analysing the morphology and shape of each site. The methodological techniques of merging satellite imagery photographs, structure from motion orthophotomosaics, and geophysics have proven a sufficient tool for addressing specific questions about deserted medieval villages from southwestern Romania and potentially the rest of Europe.
Using these results, we have created an artistic reconstruction of the site’s layout (Figure 16
). After a preliminary sketch in pencil, the drawing took shape by illustrating the way in which houses in the settlement of Mașloc “Șanțul Turcilor” were situated. We are able to understand how the households are distributed perpendicular to the main axis that crosses the entire settlement in the northeast-southwest direction. The centre of the settlement features two possible variants of constructions. The first embodiment (Figure 16
A) shows a tower, most probably made of wood. In the second variant (Figure 16
B), it is a round fortified chapel, made of brick with earthen or brick walls. Both variants indicate a palisade-like concentric fortification. Based on previous excavations, we can assume that the dwellings constituted households that included the basic dwelling and some annexes for animals or grain storage. The construction system of the houses was probably made of wood while the walls were filled with daub. The lack of concrete data and the absence of any archaeological excavation does not allow us to express this with certainty nor does it offer more details regarding the typology of the houses or construction materials.
Besides the technicalities, the results of this study provide a strong historical impact as it demonstrates that this medieval village was developed under strict topographical rules and it was not an isolated case. Each house was aligned to the main street, having its own delimited plot at the back for agricultural purposes. The settlement’s organization allows us to consider that the village was planned under certain construction rules, being the first systematized medieval village in Romania to be documented by the means of applied geosciences.
In the end, the results of this study confirm the description of Engel Pál from his book The Kingdom of St Stephen: The History of Medieval Hungary, 895–1526 (pages 272, 273) [80
The irregular, widely dispersed settlements of the early Árpádian period gradually gave way to a new, German type of village, which generally consisted of a single street, with the inner holdings lying on the two sides and their appurtenances dispersed throughout the village territory. The inner holdings as a rule took the form of a long rectangle, with its shorter side facing the street, whence a wide gate led into the court. The house was always constructed on one side of the court. By the thirteenth century the small hovel of the earlier period had been replaced by an oblong house with three rooms. It was generally a wooden construction, adobe and stone not being used for rural buildings before the early modern period. The entrance was in the middle of the house and led into the kitchen, which was equipped with an oven. From the kitchen two other doors led to the living room on one side and to the pantry on the other. The farmyard was beside and behind the house and was joined by a garden, and sometimes also by a small piece of arable land, at the other end.