Long before Bram Stoker made it the realm of vampires, twisted forests, and Gothic castles, it was gold that drew people to Transylvania. The storied region of central Romania, bounded by the towering, wintry peaks and deep, wooded valleys of the Carpathian Mountains, is home to the third largest deposit of the lustrous metal in the world, and the largest in Europe. Rich deposits of copper, iron, lead, salt, sulfur, coal, manganese, and natural gas exist alongside the gold, making it one of the continent’s preeminent mineral districts.

Its human history runs as deep as its veins of ore; successive generations of people, from Bronze Age hunter-gatherers to Roman armies and modern mining corporations, have sought its vast mineral resources. It was a desire to better understand the beginnings of that legacy that drew archaeologist Colin Quinn, then a Ph.D. candidate in the U-M Department of Anthropology, to Bucium in western Transylvania, but he quickly learned he didn’t have to dig deep to discover a vibrant living history just beneath the surface.