Published by SAFECORNER on behalf of the author Francesca Haack
As Rome builds the third line of its subway, workers continually chance upon archaeological material. This paper discusses the ethical considerations behind the project. Some of these considerations are the necessity to satisfy all groups affected by the project, including archaeologists, commuters, the government, and construction companies, and the obligation to publish and study the finds. Other questions of archaeological ethics that arise are what to do with the plethora of artifacts uncovered, how to store and conserve them and what should and should not be destroyed. The paper begins by discussing and analyzing the archaeological discoveries and ethical considerations of metros in other Mediterranean cities, namely Athens, Istanbul, and Naples. It goes on to discuss the lack of emphasis on archaeology during the construction of Rome’s first two metro lines as compared to the methods and findings so far from line C. Finally, the paper outlines the ethical problems above and suggests solutions, stressing that solutions should be feasible and satisfactory to everybody involved.
The modern age has allowed a previously unfathomable number of people to live in a small area. The last century has witnessed the beginning of the widespread use of cars, trains and skyscrapers. Particularly in big cities, traffic congestion and the smog it produces have become major problems. Seeking a solution, many major cities have constructed an underground railway system. While subway systems are a convenient and environmentally-friendly solution to smog and congestion, in archaeologically rich metropolises, subterranean digging can become complicated. In Rome, a city of some 2.5 million people, commuters as well as hordes of tourists create a demand for public transportation that cannot be satisfied by the two present underground metro lines and the city’s buses and trams. Of course, Rome is also a metropolis that has been continuously occupied for at least 2,700 years. Every square meter of earth beneath the modern city contains archaeological treasures that cannot be ignored. In order to maintain a livable city while respecting the archaeological record, city planners in Rome must work closely with archaeologists as they plan and build the third “C” line of the metro system.
History of subways and classical archaeology
Rome is not the first big city to build a subway through the remains of an ancient city. Since so many other cities have faced the same difficult task of finding a balance between archaeological preservation and modern necessity, Roman city planners and archaeologists have at their disposal a wide range of ideas and expectations regarding metro digging. In order to analyze the archaeological and ethical issues surrounding the construction of the subway in Rome, it is helpful to first examine metro projects in some other cities of archaeological importance in the Mediterranean region.
The Athens metro project, inaugurated in 2000, is probably the closest counterpart to Rome’s C line project because of the type of cultural materials to be found as well as the size and importance of the city from ancient times through the present. Rather than simply plowing through archaeological strata, metro diggers took the opportunity to do a salvage archaeology excavation. In fact, the 70,000 square meters uncovered constitute Athens’ “most extensive single archaeological excavation and investigation” ever, according to the Minister of the Environment, Urban Planning and Public Works, Kostas Laliotis. The Athenian metro was a significant undertaking monetarily and temporally as well: the project cost $2 billion and took 22 years to plan and another 10 to build, largely due to the plethora of archaeological material uncovered. In the early 1990s, the technical design of the metro was finalized in meetings between archaeologists and city planners. The final plan, which incorporated suggestions from archaeologists, stipulated that digging should be far from the ancient walls and that any tunnels should be far below archaeological strata.
Photo 1. Stratigraphy of the antiquities wall of Athens Metro Syntagma station
The most pressing concern of archaeologists, however, was what to do with the over 32,000 artifacts uncovered during construction. One creative solution was to build miniature “museums” inside the subway stations. The 8-mile-long, 2-line system features 14 stations, many of which display archaeological material uncovered during the excavation. Commuters can see ancient artifacts in these innovative “metro-museums” without the effort of going to a separate museum. The Syntagma Square station even boasts a 7-meter by 40-meter long cross-section displaying the archaeological strata found at that shaft (see photo 1). Another creative use of the material is for archaeological training: the main rooms of a 3rd century balneum uncovered on Amalias Avenue are being reconstructed by the University of Athens at their Zographou campus “where it will serve as a training site for students of archaeology.” Finally, 514 of the more impressive movable finds were displayed in an exhibition entitled “The City Beneath the City” at theMuseum of Cycladic Arts.
Athens: The City Beneath the City
Photo 2. Bronze studs from a dog collar, 1st -2nd century CE
It was intended as a highly educational exhibit, with artifacts arranged by place of discovery rather than by type, so as to preserve their original context. Professor of Classical archeology and director of the museum Nicholas Stampolidis tried to exhibit a wide assortment of material, ranging from the entire grave of a dog, including grave goods and its collar (see photo 2), gold jewelry and clay toys to a grave stele erected to those who fell in battles of the Peloponnesian War. “The objects in the exhibition,” he says, “were selected on the criteria of their being representative as much of the place of their discovery and their provenance as of their quality, the material of which they are made, and, finally, their date.” Between the metro-museums, the archaeological training site and the exhibit, Athens successfully integrated archaeologists, engineers and even the public into their metro project.
Another significant project currently underway is the so-called “Marmaray,” a $2.6 billion, 75-kilometer railway including a tunnel under the Bosporus Strait to connect the European and Asian halves of Istanbul. A subway system is desperately needed in this location, since at present only two bridges cross the Bosporus Strait and both are heavily trafficked. The ferries that cross the strait are equally overcrowded. At present, only 3.6% of motorized transport in Istanbul is by rail, but once Marmaray is completed, that number could jump to nearly 28%. Of course, in a city that has been continually occupied for millennia, artifacts and monuments are bound to show up, so Istanbul is facing the same need to mediate between history and modern life that Athens did. In light of the archaeological remains they were sure to find, Istanbul’s deputy governor said the city would reroute the subway “if we come across remains of an ancient city, or a theater or any ancient relics.” Archaeologists moved the pieces of an 11th or 13th century boat and plan to display them in a station exhibit similar to Athens’ metro-museums, but the city did not uphold their vow to reroute the subway. This boat is just one of 23 shipwrecks archaeologists have uncovered so far at Yenikapi, the site of a 4th century port and the area where the tunnel emerges (see photo 3).
Photo 3. Yenikapi , the site of a 4th century port in IstanbulA Byzantine sunken boat
Foreigners are harshly critical of the Turkish archaeologists as they excavate “the greatest nautical archaeological site of all time.” The director of the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, Ismail Karamut, claims that so far nothing has been found that would “change the archaeological history of Istanbul.” But foreign archaeologists say that a site’s value “is in the eye of the beholder” and Italian archaeologist Eugenia Bolognesi notes that, “In Istanbul, people don’t think it’s important unless it’s a big monument.” UNESCO official Manji Yang agrees, claiming that, “A case as important as Istanbul should also have non-Turk experts.” Foreigners also criticize Istanbul for employing solely “poorly financed and trained” local archaeologists and are particularly critical of the city’s choice to tear down the walls of a 15th century bazaar. But the city actually left all decisions about what to do with archaeological finds in the hands of the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul. Museum staff were to report to the site and decide on a find-by-find basis the fate of each artifact. It is unclear whether project engineers and archaeologists would have agreed to such a simplistic plan if they had known everything they would find, but Karamut admits that archaeologists knew “that there was an [ancient] port around there.” Finally, one must not forget the financial pressure to finish the excavation quickly: according to Wired magazine, archaeological delays cost Turkey $1 million a day. Unfortunately, it seems that the city officials and archaeologists working on the Marmaray project lack the funding and the cooperation needed to effectively build the tunnel while respecting Istanbul’s cultural heritage.
Naples began work on its 2-line subway system in the late 1980s, but work on the €1.8 billion (about $2.6 billion) project is not scheduled to finish until 2011. The subway’s route is currently 13 kilometers long with 14 stations, but this comprises only about half of one line. As in Athens and Istanbul, the extreme delays over the last 20-odd years have been almost exclusively due to archaeological finds such as a second-century ship, medieval tombs, and the mosaic floor of an Augustan palace. In fact, stations at sea level above the ancient city remain unopened while all of the stations on the Vomero hill are completed, although making a subway change elevation requires much more complex engineering than building a subway at sea level.
Photo 4. Mini-museum at Museo metro stop in Naples
City planners, engineers, and archaeologists are collaborating to complete the excavation carefully and are highly concerned about the artifacts they uncover. Archaeologists have already restored three ships and plan to both return them to where they were found and make them visible to the public. As in Athens, Naples has built a mini-museum in the “Museo” metro stop, directly below the enormous National Archaeological Museum (see photo 4). Two more metro-museums will open in 2008. Also, Giannegidio Silva, president of Metropolitana di Napoli, says, “We will rebuild the temple that we found [at the Duomo station] and include it in the station. It will be very striking.”
Still, such meticulous work is at the cost of efficiency. If city officials were not as concerned with Naples’ cultural patrimony, surely they would have completed the metro by now. Interestingly, the official web site of Metropolitana di Napoli mentions nothing about the cause of the delays nor the amazing artifacts and monuments that workers have found. It would seem, then, that at least in the eyes of the metro authorities commuters in Naples are not interested in the archaeology behind their subway system. If it is true that commuters are uninterested, should Naples excavate so slowly and meticulously or just push ahead with construction?
The Roman “C” line metro project
Photo 5. Map of the Roman metro; gray lines represent the current lines A and B, green line is the new line C
Rome is currently expanding its metro system with a third line, “line C.” City officials have decided that a third subway line is needed to accommodate the smog and street congestion due to Rome’s growing population of over 2.5 million. In addition, as Fiona Winward writes, the C line will reach further into the suburbs than the existing two lines and cover the “‘hole’ in the city centre that is bypassed almost entirely by the existing metro A and B lines” (see map in photo 5). But such an expansion carries a hefty price tag: at an estimate of three billion euro (about $4.3 billion), the C line will cost significantly more than even Athens’, Istanbul’s and Naples’ undergrounds. According to Metroitaliane, the company in charge of the project, the state will cover 70% of this cost while the city and province will pay 18% and 12%, respectively. So why will the project cost so much? For one thing, workers are removing 17.5 million cubic feet of dirt by hand so as not to damage any artifacts, an expensive and time-consuming process as we have seen in the building of other subway systems. In fact, the first part of the line is not expected to be open until 2011 and the entire line until 2015 , but those dates could change based on what archaeologists uncover. But as lengthy and costly as the project might be, the newest addition to Rome’s underground is providing an excellent forum to discuss the ethics of metro-building in an archaeologically rich metropolis.
As we have seen in the above subway projects, archaeologists and city planners must strike a balance between efficiency of transportation in a modern city and respect for the history of an ancient one. Including all involved parties in every step of the process, beginning with the planning phases, helps to achieve understanding between dissimilar groups and to promote solutions that satisfy everyone. During the initial planning phases of the project, archaeologists and engineers decided to build the C line 30 meters below street level to avoid tunneling through strata with evidence of human habitation. Still, as technical director Giovanni Simonacci says, “The issue is not the metro itself, which is going to run far enough below the surface that there is no risk” but rather “how to get people from the surface of the city down to the metro line without disturbing an important historic structure.”
Archaeology has changed a lot in the past few decades. Lately there has been an increasing care worldwide for the recording and conservation of artifacts, as well as interest in involving all affected groups at sites, worry about looting and debate about the merits of salvage archaeology. With metro projects in particular, there are the additional concerns of storing or destroying all the material uncovered in such an enormous excavation. In 2008, then, as Rome builds its third metro line, it is encountering issues that people simply did not worry about when Rome built the existing twolines B and A, inaugurated in 1955 and 1980, respectively. When Mussolini began construction of line B in the 1930s, there was little concern for the artifacts uncovered as he worked toward his goal of quickly creating a modern Roman Empire. Piles of dirt and artifacts were thrown away and diggers even broke off a piece of the Colosseum. The preservation office became much more involved thirty years later when in 1962 workers began construction on line A of the metro. When workers chanced upon the massive Baths of Diocletian, they “moved some [artifacts], destroyed some and changed [their] plans to avoid destroying more.” Despite the growing awareness of the archaeological value of the sites, city planners and archaeologists were completely at odds. In order to expedite construction, workers tried to cover up any finds to avoid interference. Simonacci, who also worked on line A, recounts the lack of cooperation between engineers and archaeologists: “We’d find something and the [preservation office] would swoop in…we would have to cover it over and change the route of the line. We lost years.” Construction of line B resulted in the loss and destruction of countless precious artifacts that may have added to our knowledge about ancient Rome, while the story of line A highlights the frustration and loss of time that occurs when archaeologists and city planners do not work together. Forty-some years after construction first started on the A line, archaeologists and city planners are finally attempting to work together on the C line. In this joint venture, they are not using the construction models of Rome’s first two metro lines, but rather contemporary work in Athens, Istanbul, Naples, and other cities.
Photo 6. Aerial view of excavations at Piazza Venezia. Click image below for more related photographs by Martin Conde
Although barely into the project, archaeologists have already made some amazing discoveries. Besides the expected Roman coins, toys, and pottery, they have also uncovered a 2,000 year old compass and a skeleton possibly belonging to a woman who ruled the area 3,000 years before the founding of the city. Archaeologists have also found a 15th century glass factory in Rome’s largest square, Piazza Venezia (see photo 6), that they deemed important enough to move the station that was planned there. In addition, they have unearthed what is possibly theStagnum of Agrippa built in 25 BCE, a huge artificial pool in which, during a dinner party, “Nero and his guests were towed on a raft” filled with exotic animals while being seduced by prostitutes on both banks of the pool. In a historically significant find in November 2006, workers even uncovered part of the Aurelian Wall, through which discovery we now know that the walls defending Rome were twice as tall as previously believed. Archaeologists are bound to discover countless more artifacts as construction continues, and the excavation may continue to change the known history of Rome.
The main question that metro building raises, both in Rome and in other cities, is what to do with archaeological finds once they have been uncovered. Documenting finds and maintaining their context is of great concern to archaeologists, so they record the position and photograph everything they find. As far as displaying the objects they do decide to keep, Roman archaeologists are faced with the challenge of finding museum space and storage in a city already teeming with artifacts. In December 2006, the Olearie Papali, previously a papal warehouse, opened the exhibition Memories from the Underground: Archaeological Finds From 1980-2006, which displayed artifacts uncovered in Rome over those years. In a wonderful collaboration of archaeologists and city workers, the exhibition was primarily financed by the construction companies that unearthed the artifacts. Plans are also underway for at least one metro-museum mimicking those in Athens and Naples. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to save, publish, store and display every find from such a massive excavation. In fact, Angelo Bottini, the chief Roman archaeological official, admits, “for a lot of this stuff, all we need to do is document it and then destroy it.”
The other significant concern that the construction of the metro’s line C raises is how much or how little time and money to devote to archaeology as opposed to quickly creating transportation. In Rome’s past experience, the public seems quite supportive of the archaeological attention going into the metro. In Italy, nothing happens quickly but people accept that as a fact of life. In addition, Silvana Rizzo, top aide to Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli, says, “In the last 10 or 15 years there’s been enormous attention on the part of the public” to ancient Rome. Italians are increasingly both aware of and proud of their cultural patrimony, as one can see in cases such as that involving the Getty Museum, which recently returned stolen antiquities to Italy. In addition, Bottini suggests that globalization produces countries with a “greater desire to establish an identity, and archaeology is an identity.”
Officials are also generally in favor of meticulous excavation prior to metro construction. Although it would drastically change the look of Rome’s main square, Mayor Walter Veltroni has agreed to change part of Piazza Venezia into a museum if an important discovery is made there. Unlike during the construction of the previous metro lines, in Rome today “archaeologists are not aligned against development as a matter of course,” says Bottini. Still, attention to archaeology can be very frustrating for city planners. “There are treasures that are underground that would stay buried forever,” says Enrico Testa, chairman of Roma Metropolitane SpA. “But as soon as we uncover them, our work gets blocked.” As with any public works project through an archaeological site, the only way for both city planners and archaeologists to be satisfied is for both groups to be willing to collaborate and make sacrifices.
The archaeological ethics of the project
Like all archaeological excavations, the digging of line C of the Roman metro brings to light a host of ethical considerations. In fact, due to the vast amount of material being unearthed, ethical considerations regarding the metro’s construction are of utmost importance. The field of archaeological ethics stresses the need to satisfy all affected groups. Though ancient Rome does not have any immediate descendant groups or living communities that share its culture, various groups do still have a vested interest in the project. On the one hand, urban planners and the government constitute one group, while archaeologists and the Italian Ministry of Culture make up another. Perhaps left out, however, is the largest group of all: common citizens, commuters, and tourists who will make up the ridership of the completed metro. Most archaeologists, of course, would favor more thorough digging and the publication of all finds. If the government and city planners could have their way, the metro might be built much more quickly and inexpensively, but at the cost of lost knowledge and the destruction of valuable archaeological material. Commuters would doubtlessly also like the metro to be available immediately, but commuters are the same citizens who have recently become interested in their cultural patrimony.
Archaeologists also face the ethical consideration of how best to treat artifacts. As stewards of the past, we as archaeologists and enthusiasts feel a responsibility to protect the dwindling archaeological record. There is no space to display or even store every find from such a large-scale excavation. Some archaeologists might even be inclined to call the Ministry of Culture irresponsible or unprofessional for allowing a project that, for lack of space, will inevitably destroy thousands of artifacts. And in this case there is no need to excavate in order to protect artifacts from looting; the modern streets and buildings above the material make looting virtually impossible. As long as there is little danger of looting, it is always best for the artifact to leave it in situ for future archaeologists with more advanced technology. But leaving everything in situ does not let us learn from the artifacts; what is the purpose of protecting the archaeological record if we cannot also learn from it? But as journalist Fiona Winward points out, “the great irony of…a new metro is the opportunity to dig in areas that would otherwise be off limits” and to learn from that otherwise inaccessible material. Moreover, smog from cars and buses severely damages monuments above ground. As we have seen, underground transportation can cut above-ground traffic significantly and therefore help protect precious archaeological material that is already exposed in Rome. Most importantly, if we as archaeologists condemn construction of the metro, we are disregarding the wishes of urban planners and commuters, the two other significant groups affected by the metro line.
The final ethical consideration archaeologists must face in construction of the metro line C in Rome is whether they are obligated to publish finds. Logistically, it would be impossible to study and publish every artifact that workers uncover as they clear the path for the subway. With limited time, money and labor, archaeologists and city planners must work together to develop a standard for publication. If not every artifact can be published, should archaeologists choose only the most interesting finds, an even sample of unusual and commonplace finds, or perhaps only everything uncovered at a single entrance shaft? It is unfair for archaeologists to say that we are ethically obligated not to dig at all if we lack the time, money and labor to publish and study the finds extensively. Outweighing the unfortunate destruction of artifacts and the unfeasibility of publishing every last find is archaeology’s responsibility to the living community, the 2.5 million people who need a third metro line to get to work and school every day.
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Every archaeological dig poses problems. Be it a living community that claims cultural affiliation to a particular site, a lack of economic resources to complete a study, rampant looting of a site or two groups with opposing goals, each site comes with a particular set of challenges which the developing field of archaeological ethics aims to mediate. A third metro line is certainly needed to increase public transportation to the city center and the suburbs of a city as big and congested as Rome, yet the archaeological material beneath the city is irreplaceable and distinct from any other in the world. In the case of the C line of the Roman metropolitan subway, then, metro officials face the struggle of accounting for the wishes of the public as well as those of the government, urban planners, archaeologists and themselves. While this is no easy task, effective communication is the only means to ensure that everyone’s concerns are heard. As we have seen in Athens and Naples, good communication between all parties, beginning in the early planning stages, can lead to a successful metro project which benefits both urban planners and archaeologists. Unfortunately, as seen in Istanbul, groups do not always consult with each other about decisions. If this is the case, subway construction can face much criticism and encounter unforeseen problems such as a lack of funding and unclear protocol about what to do with finds. Luckily, Rome has learned from the mistakes of Istanbul and followed the good examples of Athens and Naples in its own project. Though some artifacts must be destroyed and not everything can be published or excavated thoroughly, archaeologists are still able to gather new and exciting information every day from sites that the metro has uncovered. Thanks to the cooperation and communication between urban planners and archaeologists, the construction of line C of the Roman metro is setting a new precedent for creative and collaborative efforts in archaeology.
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Francesca Haack is a senior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She will be graduating in May 2008 with a Classical Languages major and a Hispanic Studies minor. Upon graduation, she hopes to travel and teach English abroad, probably in Latin America. During her junior year of college, she studied abroad in Rome and saw signs and construction sites all over the city for the new metro line that is being built. She became curious about how the city was handling the archaeological material uncovered, and whether people were interested in the archaeology behind the project, so she chose to research this for her senior seminar class. This paper is one of three SAFE essay contest finalists chosen from the Macalester College Archaeological Ethics Seminar taught in Fall 2007.