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Thursday 18 September 2014

Archaeological treasures being 'left exposed in open-air sites'

Massive road-building programme has seen a surge in historical finds

Published 04/05/2008 | 00:00

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Priceless archaeological treasures are being "left exposed in open-air sites" because the National Museum of Ireland has accumulated so many artifacts that it has no place to store them.

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An unanticipated consequence of the massive road-building programme is that archaeology is one of the State's largest growth industries.

This year more than €25m of the National Road Authority's €1.68bn road programme will be spent digging up historical sites in the path of roadways and saving the material unearthed for the future.

But while the NRA's archaeological programme meets the highest European standards, the huge turnover of material has created a crisis for the cash-strapped National Museum.

Collins Barracks in Dublin was the main storage area for finds. But, according to Fine Gael spokesperson on the arts Olivia Mitchell, it is now so full that "curators cannot even gain access to the material let alone catalogue it''.

A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed that 1.5 million objects were awaiting classification and that there had been a four-fold increase in excavation licenses in a decade.

The Roads Authority says it expects to spend €300m on archaeological digs over the life span of Transport 21.

"It's like a conveyor belt at the moment, it won't stop. The museum is even telling archaeologists not to give them any more material," said the Fine Gael Deputy.

"We have a wealth of knowledge lying in an undocumented heap exposed to the elements or buried in an Indiana Jones-like crypt in. It really is appalling. People are on their hands and knees picking material out of sites and then it's being dumped in a heap."

The controversy is set to be even more embarrassing because Ireland will be hosting the World Archaeological Conference shortly -- and distinguished guests may be told that while unused e-voting machines are stored with care and attention archaeological treasures are dumped in the open air.

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