Ancient silos uncovered in Safi hangar works in 2018

Hangar works in the archaeologically sensitive site of Safi green-lit without conditions for archaeological monitoring

Malta’s heritage watchdog discovered eight ancient silos had been excavated from their fills by developers, and the fills had already been removed from the site on its first inspection
Malta’s heritage watchdog discovered eight ancient silos had been excavated from their fills by developers, and the fills had already been removed from the site on its first inspection

It was only thanks to a timely ‘notification’ that the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage could intervene to protect archaeological remains found during soil clearing works before the construction of an aircraft hangar in 2018.

That permit had, in fact, not even included a condition requiring archaeological monitoring.

But development works had already been carried out before and during the time that the discoveries were made, they had not been subject to archaeological monitoring.

Malta’s heritage watchdog discovered eight ancient silos had been excavated from their fills by developers, and the fills had already been removed from the site on its first inspection.

The Superintendence gave direction for the remaining fills in some of these silos to be archaeologically excavated by archaeologists, so that the “ancient cultural material from the soil can be retrieved and studied in order to continue interpreting these ancient features.”

A further three silos were left unexcavated and “preserved for future generations”.

Apart from a total of eleven ancient silos, numerous agricultural trenches, a well and “possible” cart-ruts were unearthed during this project.
Following careful documentation, the emptied eight silos were filled with concrete, required for “construction stability”.

The area, now transformed into a hub for the aviation industry in Safi, is known to harbour archaeological remains, yet permits in the area are issued through a simplified planning procedure – formerly known as a DNO (development notification order), now a slightly more detailed summary procedure.

Back in 2007 the Superintendence had only inspected the then new Lufthansa Technik site after a MaltaToday probe on a permit issued in the sensitive site, which had been approved in just four days after the Planning Authority received a DNO request on 24 May 2007.

The Superintendence’s annual report also documents other archaeological discoveries in the airport area, for example, a fuel storage facility which resulted in the discovery of an underground rock-cut feature. This feature includes “an access shaft leading to a corridor”. According to the Superintendence it remains unclear to what period this feature belongs and what function it could have had. Agricultural trenches and wells were also unearthed at this site.

Roman tombs found in Marsa road works

The archaeological surveillance of infrastructural works at the Marsa/Paola Junction, revealed three ancient tombs probably dating to the Roman period, which still contained human remains, as well as evidence of ancient quarrying and a set of cart-ruts.

Most of the investigated features were preserved in situ and back-filled although some of the features had to be rock-cut since major services relating to drainage management were planned to pass through the archaeological area.

In St Julian’s, the former Cloisters townhouse which will be turned into an eight-storey development, revealed a truncated bell-shaped well in its garden. The site was cleared from soil under archaeological surveillance. According to the report, works revealed a series of long regular channels, a number of rectangular cuts and one truncated bell-shaped well, all related to gardening.

Another project yielding significant archaeological discoveries was the development of the university’s new student residence, which included evidence of quarrying, wells, cart-ruts, and agricultural trenches. The Superintendence directed the developers to preserve the cart-ruts.

Foundations of Bormla market at AUM

The foundations of the Bormla market building were near the area earmarked for the extended American University of Malta campus. The site was modified in the early 19th century during which the fortifications were removed and a marketplace constructed to serve the locality. In 2018, clearing works revealed the foundations, which were later documented under the direction of the Superintendence.

Development boom testing

With 415 new monitoring cases handled by the Superintendence in 2018, the number of cases for monitoring continued to increase from the 373 cases the year before. But cases carried over from one year to another decreased. Overall cases decreased from 799 cases to 725, underscoring the great effort of the archaeology monitoring team in 2017 to reduce their backlog.

Limited resources saw three new officials joining in 2018, one of whom resigned and another deployed to the EU-funded FRAGSUS project. Yet the total staff in the monitoring section is just five cultural heritage executives and one administrative assistant.

The Superintendence is also tasked to provide feedback on planning applications. In 2017, just four officials had to reply on 164 applications every month; in 2018, the staff was doubled to tackle 182 applications a month.

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