Excavation reports remain buried, violating EU rules
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Excavation reports remain buried, violating EU rules

Public denied access to developer-funded archaeological studies

Excavation works at the site in Wesgħa tal-Ġganti, Mosta.

Excavation works at the site in Wesgħa tal-Ġganti, Mosta.

Reports on developer-funded excavations to determine archaeological value are not available to the public despite EU rules clearly stating they should be accessible to all, it has emerged.

University professor Nicholas Vella, head of the Archaeology Department, insisted that despite Malta ratifying the Valletta Convention, in place to ensure archaeological remains are safeguarded and clearly stating all reports should be made public, this was not happening.

Prof. Vella spoke to Times of Malta in the wake of widespread outrage at the end of last month when construction work kicked off on a site in the limits of Mosta.

Following criticism that the developers had been granted approval despite the area potentially having underground features, the Planning Authority said that the site had “low archaeological value”.

According to the Superintendent for Cultural Heritage, Anthony Pace, this position was backed by an extensive survey of the area carried out in 2013, before approval was granted.

The university professor expressed concern, however, that information about such surveys, funded by the developers, was not being published and therefore could not be put under scrutiny by the independent ones of the superintendence.

Insisting the issue went beyond the Mosta site, Prof. Vella said that not publishing such reports went against the Valletta Convention, which stipulates that “all practical measures to ensure the drafting, following archaeological operations, of a publishable scientific summary record before the necessary comprehensive publication of specialised studies” should be taken.

In an office that does not have the personnel to function properly, it is impossible to do this in a timely fashion

“I am sure that for effective decisions to be taken, the office of the superintendence should request a report to be drawn up, which should include also a description and interpretation – however basic – of the finds recovered,” Prof. Vella said.

“Of course, in an office which does not even have the basic number of personnel to function properly, it would be impossible to do this in a timely fashion. The situation is not acceptable.”

Developer-funded excavations are works carried out to determine whether a site is of archaeological value.

Based on this report, the Planning Authority makes recommendations on whether the development should proceed.

In the case of the Mosta development, the case officer makes reference to a report prepared by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, dated May 2014, after the archaeological investigations at the site were carried out in 2013.

It was, as previously stated by the Superintendent, on the basis of this particular report that the Planning Authority made the recommendations for development to go ahead.

Times of Malta asked the superintendent for this information but was told no such report existed and the data gathered would be handed over on the condition that this paper met with Mr Pace on site.

On the implications of not publishing such reports, Prof. Vella insisted that apart from the fact that Malta was going against the EU Convention, it also raised concerns that the conclusions would not be up to standard.

“I do not question the integrity or the level of expertise in the office of the superintendent, but there is an issue between the actual archaeological excavations and the decisions, as there is a big gap in the reporting of what was discovered,” Prof. Vella said.

“What was found? Does anybody know what was found?

“No, we don’t, because unless you happen to pass by when excavations are being done, you wouldn’t know.”

Apart from the public being unable to properly scrutinise the findings, Prof. Vella went on, a lack of available infor-mation was leading the public to ill-informed conclusions.

The issue has long been worrying archaeologists, Prof. Vella noted, with the Archaeological Society of Malta having raised the alarm in 2015 in a letter sent to Culture Minister Owen Bonnici.

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