2020 Roncesvalles Ossuary

The 2020 Aditu Archaeological Field School is a research project investigating the origins of the medieval ossuary located at Roncesvalles (Northern Navarre, Spain) just a few miles from the French border. The purpose of the project is to investigate what is rumoured to be the burial site of the rearguard of Charlemagne’s army, ambushed in the Battle of Roncesvalles and immortalised in the medieval French work “La Chanson de Roland.” In addition to its historical significance, the location has long been an important rest stop for pilgrims hiking the Camino de Santiago from France, as it represents the traditional first stop upon crossing the Pyrenees mountains and entering the Iberian peninsula.


The ossuary consists of one of the oldest structures that forms part of the religious complex of Roncesvalles. Historical sources, as well as previous interventions at the site, have attested to the long chronology of burials present within the ossuary, and this project anticipates being the most extensive excavation undertaken to date at the site.

In 2020 our aim is to better understand the history and importance of the structure through continuing to excavate the upper layers of the complex. The focus of the field school will be on ossuary excavation methodology and the analysis of commingled remains, and will be accompanied by lectures on human osteology, calculation of MNI, archaeological practice, Basque and medieval archaeology and relevant topics related to field methodology and finds processing.  The field school represents a rare opportunity to excavate a unique site of huge historical significance and gain insight into different types of field and laboratory methodologies within commingled contexts.

The team responsible for the excavation, Aditu Arkeologia, has carried out excavations in Navarre for the past 12 years, including previous field schools at the sites of Santa Maria de Zamartze, San Miguel de Aralar and a field season at Roncesvalles in 2019. Results from the anthropological analysis of remains uncovered at the site will form part of a wider study of the population of Navarre during the Medieval period, and samples from articulated burials are expected to provide data to be used in stable isotope analysis.

The field school is aimed at students or graduates of archaeology and associated disciplines, although if places are available it will be open to anyone that has an interest in developing their knowledge and skills in archaeological field methodology. At least a basic knowledge of human osteology is strongly preferred, as although classes will be provided, the upper layers consist of primarily disarticulated remains and the ability to recognise fragmentary skeletal elements will be essential. Students will spend 7-8 hours per day engaged in field work or in the processing of materials recovered from the field. Throughout the course, students will become proficient in excavation procedures, field drawing, documentation, and find processing and analysis.

Please note that a decent level of physical fitness is necessary to get in and out of the ossuary, as well as to work for extended periods kneeling. The ossuary is a large space, measuring 10m x 10m, but has no windows and only one opening for access. As such, this may be a difficult site for those suffering from severe claustrophobia.

Session dates: July 2-20 and July 24-August 12

Accommodation: Board and accommodation will be provided at the Sanctuary, including self catering breakfast and lunch (ingredients provided), and a variety of dinners served at the site. All necessary facilities are provided (electricity, hot showers, dormitory accommodation). Students will be given 2 rest days in the middle of each session.

Cost: The cost per session is 1750 Euros.

For more information and applications please contact: fieldschool@aditu.info


The exterior of the ossuary

Access to the ossuary

The ossuary

Disarticulated remains in the upper layers of the ossuary

1 photo

Sorting remains by element as part of the determination of MNI


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