Cultural heritage saved through mine development

Written by David Jennings

David Jennings

York Archaeological Trust CEO David Jennings

Over a decade as the CEO of Oxford Archaeology has given me a wide range of experience and appreciation for development-led archaeology in numerous countries. From my standpoint, the future of Roşia Montană is dependent upon a concerted programme aimed at the preservation, restoration and provision of safe access to appropriate archaeological sites and the restoration and revitalization of the historic and protected village of Roşia Montană. The area needs an urgent and essential clean-up of the polluted environment and un-remediated scarred landscape; the installation of a modern infrastructure; the establishment of sufficient economic activity to support a viable community; and, the establishment of a tourism industry, if this activity is to form part of its long term sustainability. The scale of investment this will require and the absence of realistic alternatives during the recent years of debate, all point to the opportunity of the development of the mining potential accompanied by heritage and sustainable development programmes as the real heritage and community opportunity for Roşia Montană.

If this is not all achieved in the short term, there will be continued degradation of the architectural heritage in the historic core of the town which is in an advancing state of dereliction and the intangible cultural heritage of the mining community is already under considerable threat through the cessation of mining, depopulation and social degradation. Action not taken soon and at a significant expenditure level will most likely lead to lost opportunities for gathering knowledge and preserving the heritage involved at Roşia Montană.

Throughout my career I have been involved in some of the largest archaeological projects in Europe. I have lectured at numerous international conferences and spoken on expert panels in front of French, UK and Romanian parliaments. I recently moved to another leading UK archaeological charity, York Archaeological Trust that provides both professional services to the development sector and also runs four visitor attractions, providing educational access to archaeology and heritage to more than 500,000 visitors a year. This has brought me back to the historic city of York where I first obtained my archaeology degree from the University of York before undertaking research on Roman archaeology at the University of Oxford. I am a Member of ICOMOS UK.

I am passionate about Roman archaeology and feel honoured to have worked on so many projects of such significance throughout my career. I have also worked on World Heritage Sites both within the UK and abroad. For Oxford Archaeology, an approach from Roşia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC) in 2008 to provide an international expert opinion was the opportunity to understand more about a project we had only heard about through colleagues in the archaeology profession. In 2011 I was asked personally to opine on three main subjects regarding the Roşia Montană Project in Romania: (i) the quality of the archaeological research undertaken to-date; (ii) the preservation and conservation strategies adopted in relation to the archaeological remains; and (iii) the proposed programme of heritage research proposed by RMGC for the future.

My overall conclusion, following examination of the project in the context of international best practice, was that the project has been executed in a professional manner and it attains standards of practice that are at least comparable with those undertaken on other major European projects. In a number of areas it is performing well beyond the normal expectations of developer-funded projects.

It is clear that the project has used highly qualified, nationally and internationally recognised personnel using well-planned, extensive and standard procedures in scientific research. With mining archaeology an under-developed concept within Romania, the research over a decade or more has sought international expertise, providing opportunities to develop international collaboration and capacity building in the country. It is commendable that prompt and well-produced publications of the results have been achieved and the robustness of the archaeological processes is clearly shown. I conclude that it is clear that sufficient archaeological investigation has been undertaken and that there is no reason to withhold permission for the mining proposal on archaeological grounds.

Furthermore, it is apparent that the project has taken a professional duty of care to pursue appropriate strategies for each element of the archaeology. The decisions taken with respect to preservation-by-record or preservation in situ for each site are justifiable, proportionate and are of the character that can be benchmarked favourably against numerous major projects.

What appears to confuse the local discussions on this project in Romania is that the importance of the archaeological results is not due to the rarity of the resource, rather it is a reflection of the lack of previous investigation on this scale. There is extensive evidence of Roman mining in Romania and elsewhere across the Roman Empire, (more than 500 sites known in Roman Spain) but it is very rare to get the opportunity to explore a mining landscape on such a large-scale. This has only been possible because of the investment of RMGC and should be seen as an immense contribution towards the advancement of scientific understanding.

This has been a major research exercise costing more than $32 million to-date. In the UK, where I live, the total heritage budget for the high-speed rail link from the Channel Tunnel to London a distance of 111 km was in the order of $31 million against a total construction cost of $9.3 billion. At Heathrow Airport, the new Terminal 5 project covered 260 ha, had a total construction cost of $6.8 billion and a heritage budget of $16 million.

With RMGC committing to spend an additional $70 million at Roşia Montană on cultural heritage activities, I have to conclude that this cannot be characterised as minimal compliance with either Romanian legislation or international best practice. At a European level many large infrastructure projects will invest in some form of educational programmes but they rarely attain the levels envisaged here. The proposed programme is ambitious and beneficial in terms of integrating the cultural heritage into proposals for the wider economic regeneration of the area. This should be the subject of positive comment and in terms of the project’s commitment to realising and capturing the long-term scientific, educational and economic value of cultural heritage, I think the project is in the upper tier as regards international best practice.