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Trans Adriatic pipeline (TAP) in Albania: A potential opportunity for archaeology

Rudina Zoto and Mariglen Meshini

Cite this as: Zoto, R. and Meshini, M. 2019 Trans-Ariatic pipeline project(TAP) in Albania: A potential opportunity for archaeology, Internet Archaeology 51. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.51.7

1. Introduction

The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), 520km in length, will serve to transport natural gas from the Caspian basin to European markets. Within Albania, it goes overland for 215km, extending from the Greek-Albania border to the Adriatic coast, followed by a sea section runs for approximately 60km, from Fier to the midpoint between Albania and Italy, in the Adriatic Sea (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1: Selection of the TAP trail in Albanian territory. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

Selection of the route of the TAP trail in Albania has been a comprehensive process of assessment, in order to have a technically viable route for the pipeline combined with the lowest environmental, socio-economic and cultural impact.

During the evaluation process along the route of the continental track, a range of areas of cultural interest were identified: sites from the prehistoric, Late Antiquity, Classical and medieval periods, the most common remains of which were tombstones, open locations, hilltop fortifications, historic architecture, churches/monasteries, bridges and fortifications and Hellenic structures in the Korçë, Skrapar, Berat and Fier regions (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2: The two most important areas for cultural heritage along the TAP pipeline in Albania, Berat and Korçë. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

As an important link between the Western and Eastern Balkans, Albanian waters have carried intensive traffic since ancient times. There are more opportunities to encounter archaeological remains of these periods in areas near the coast than in areas under the sea, because ships usually sailed near the coast in order to maintain visual contact with the land. For this reason, it was expected that archaeological remains of the Greek, Roman and Illyrian periods, and of the First and Second World Wars, would be found.

From the assessment, it was apparent that the Cultural Heritage component (CH) could potentially be affected by field construction activities of the project, which in turn would affect the archaeology. Inevitably, a series of preventive measures would be needed:

Surface archaeological survey, as one of the most important archaeological processes, was carried out throughout the pipeline extension, to clarify the existing CH and to identify the archaeological potential of the areas. The methodology undertaken respected the scientific criteria: going on foot throughout the observed line, divided into tracts, each of which was walked by archaeologists at a distance of about 12m from each other. For areas with high archaeological potential and archaeological remains identified during surface observation, archaeological test pits were dug to establish the existence or not of deposits or archaeological structures.

During the first campaign of 66.8km, in the region of Fier near Berat, three areas were identified as having archaeological finds of Hellenistic and Roman periods; Roman 2nd century AD; Roman 4th century AD. During the second campaign of 69km, the Korçë region, six areas were identified with archaeological finds of the periods late Bronze Age and medieval; Later Antiquity; Iron Age; post-medieval; Roman 2nd to 4th century AD, and Later Antiquity and Ottoman. During the third campaign of 61km, Skrapar region in Berat, five areas were identified with archaeological finds of the periods Late Antiquity and Ottoman; Roman 4th century AD and graves of the same period; traces of structures and pottery of the Roman period; Ottoman 17th to 19th century; Prehistoric (Late Bronze and Early Iron Age) (Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3: The areas with a high potential for Cultural Heritage identified during the evaluation phase in order to assess the possible impact of the pipeline. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

As a result of the information gained from some of the archaeological pits that were dug, further archaeological rescue excavations were needed:

Figure 4 Figure 5
Figure 4: Satellite view after completing the archaeological rescue excavation in Fushë-Peshtan, Berat. Image: Archaeological Service Agency.
Figure 5: Archaeologists excavating at the archaeological site of Ullinjas, Berat. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

From archaeological excavations carried out under the TAP project, we'd like to briefly discuss the following.

2. Adding depth to existing knowledge

Archaeological finds of the Dërsnik area in Korçë belong to the Neolithic period and have uncovered new data about the typology and character of the settlements of this period for the Korçë region and beyond. Archaeological objects (ceramic containers for everyday use, flint tools and other objects) have enabled the recognition of different aspects of life as well as aspects related to the cult of worship. This archaeological site is among the largest of this period discovered in Albania (Figure 6).

Figure 6
Figure 6: View of the prehistoric site of Dërsnik, Korçë, taken from the air. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

Archaeological excavation in Turan, Korçë, where 170 graves were excavated and documented as well as traces of prehistoric dwellings, has brought the most interesting information and archaeological material, unexpected and undocumented until now in this region, belonging to the Later Bronze Age, Archaic Period, the 1st to 4th centuries AD and the medieval period (Figure 7).

Figure 7
Figure 7: Archaeologists excavating the site of Turan, Korçë. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

3. New archaeology resulting in route deviation

Fushë-Peshtan in Berat, belongs to the Ottoman period, and is among the rare sites excavated by Albanian archaeologists for this period, bringing important information regarding the development of this site from the period of Late Antiquity, and especially its development in the Ottoman period. Through it the connection with the city of Berat in the 17th to 19th centuries can be understood, as well as aspects related to everyday life. Due to the value of this site and the important scientific information it contains, the decision was taken to conserve the site in situ by diverting the TAP pipeline route in this segment (Figure 8).

Figure 8
Figure 8: The Ottoman period site of Fushë-Peshtan, Berat, which has been kept in situ. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

The entire process of TAP pipeline construction is associated with daily archaeological monitoring by private archaeological companies. During this process the largest and most important archaeological sites (such as Uznovë, Turan and Dërsnik) have been discovered. As a whole it has been a very complex process, where the Archaeological Service Agency, as the only state authority, has ensured the correct implementation, supervised standards and procedures in archaeological processes, and coordinated work between the developer and the licensed archaeological companies involved (Figure 9).

Figure 9
Figure 9: Specialists from the Archaeological Service Agency supervising the archaeological processes that took place during the application of the TAP pipeline project. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

4. Beyond preservation

Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), as a strategic project for Albania, and archaeological heritage have developed together, enabling not only the development through preservation but also promotion of its values.

Figure 10
Figure 10: Sustainable development scheme. Image: Archaeological Service Agency

Cultural heritage is made up of assets, places, landscapes, traditions and knowledge and it reflects the identity of a society. It transmits its values from generation to generation and its preservation favours the sustainable character of development. It is very important to ensure its identification, protection and development, and take into account the unique qualities and fragility that characterise it (Figure 10).


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