A group of ancient tombs dating back to the Punic period were discovered during excavation works for the construction of a new primary school at the Archbishop’s Seminary in Tal-Virtù, The Times has learned.

According to Nathaniel Cutajar from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the discovery is of “great scientific interest” and “confirms the archaeological importance” of the Tal-Virtù area in Rabat.

The superintendence is responsible for all scientific investigation of cultural assets, including archaeological excavations. An investigation of the discovery is under way by its team of archaeologists.

The Archbishop’s Seminary has a planning permit to build a primary school extension to its secondary school. Site plans have to be changed after this discovery.

“The superintendence is working in close collaboration with the seminary authorities and with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to redesign the project, allowing it to proceed while ensuring these archaeological discoveries are protected,” Mr Cutajar said.

The discovery of these tombs, he added, was immediately reported to the superintendence by the seminary authorities following the start of construction works on site.

School headmaster Fr David Cilia said the discovery was made on September 21 and the heritage authorities were on site the day after.

“The discovery creates mixed feelings because on the one hand it enriches the country’s archaeological patrimony but on the other hand it complicates our school building plans,” Fr Cilia said.

He confirmed that the seminary had to change its plans and was in the process of submitting fresh designs that would safeguard the Punic tombs. “Work in the area where the tombs were found has been stopped but is continuing in other areas of the construction site unaffected by the archaeological remains,” Fr Cilia said. As is normal practice in such instances, a cultural heritage monitor has been app-ointed to oversee the works.

ksansone@timesofmalta.com

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