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Concern over development near 5,000-year-old Neolithic site in Xagħra

PA case officer’s report does not mention archaeological concerns in its reasons for refusal

In 2002, the Museums Department announced the discovery of a prehistoric site in Gozo, located in the district of Tas-Sruġ on the Xagħra plateau.

In 2002, the Museums Department announced the discovery of a prehistoric site in Gozo, located in the district of Tas-Sruġ on the Xagħra plateau.

Planned development close to an early Neolithic site in Xagħra, whose origins date back at least 5,000 years, has raised concern with the archaeological society, which is calling for urgent preservation.

An archaeological investigation in 2002 at Tas-Sruġ resulted in the discovery of mud brick walls, pottery and other remains dating back as far as the Għar Dalam phase, as well as Żebbuġ and Ġgantija phase pottery.

These date the site to the period between 5,000BC and 3,100BC.

For the Archaeological Society of Malta, such sites are “rare and important”.

The investigation of a similar discovery at Skorba in the 1960s radically changed our early understanding of Maltese prehistory. Another comparable site, Taċ-Ċawla in Gozo, has recently been investigated as part of a multimillion-euro, EU-funded project, the society told this newspaper.

The society, therefore, “urgently calls for the preservation of the remains of a possible prehistoric settlement at Tas-Sruġ”.

Set to be decided in the coming weeks, the development would see the construction of two maisonettes, four apartments and a penthouse, including a communal pool on Triq Sruġ.

The archaeological society also believes development should be halted until the site is thoroughly investigated.

The case officer has recommended the application for refusal and at one point in the report he refers to 1938 reports of the discovery of buried animal bones associated with Neolithic pottery shards in a field called Il-Qortin tas-Sruġ.

However, the case officer’s report does not mention archaeological concerns in its reasons for refusal, the society lamented.

Meanwhile, in its recommendations about the development, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage noted that ground disturbance in the area could uncover cultural heritage features that would mean the amendment of approved plans.

However, it registered no objection to the proposed development provided that works were archaeologically monitored.

It also recommended that features and remains of cultural heritage value discovered or noted during all stages of the development have to be protected in situ.

The discovery of cultural heritage features may require the rerouting of services, the Superintendence added.

In 2002, Museums Department director Tony Pace said that the Tas-Sruġ site and others were in a stable situation and could be left to lie for the time being.

Tas-Sruġ was important in view of pending development projects and Dr Pace maintained that it ought to be protected until it was excavated, after which further decisions could be taken.

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