Italferr, the engineering company of the FS Group's Infrastructure Hub, since the 1990s has been the first major engineering company to have an in-house staff of professional archaeologists capable of managing all the archaeological activities functional to the design and execution of railway works.

The construction of large infrastructure projects, such as railway lines, has been an exceptional opportunity for scientific research aimed at understanding the historical processes of land use. The growing sensitivity towards cultural heritage in the 1990s led to the need not only to study and experiment new methods of approach aimed at safeguarding and making the 'heritage' of our ancestors that Italy richly abounds in usable, but above all to make possible the passing through of a civil engineering structure of major importance.


Collaboration with local Archaeological Superintendencies

The method adopted by Italferr and the Archaeological Superintendencies on the occasion of the construction of high-speed/high-capacity railway lines can be considered 'pioneering' within the field of a new intervention strategy aimed at studying, already in the design phase, the impact on the archaeological heritage of the new railway network so that it would no longer be an obstacle to be overcome (or circumvented) but rather an element characterising the territory, as well as a design aspect of the work itself. It was precisely on the occasion of the construction of the high-speed lines that preventive archaeology was discussed for the first time, no longer in theoretical terms but by drawing up a reference standard and defining an operational and practical model via increasingly detailed steps, with the aim of creating a heuristic process aimed at identifying the archaeological context in greater detail.

In this scenario, Italferr has equipped itself with a technical staff of archaeologists and other specialists in order to be able to directly carry out all the investigations required by the preventive verification of the archaeological relevance in the various design phases.

Italferr's archaeologists follow all the activities inherent to Preventive Assessment, such as studies, design and execution of archaeological investigations, valorisation of archaeological assets, with particular focus on:

·       optimisation of the interaction between archaeological heritage and infrastructure development;

·       greater environmental sustainability of the works;

·       proper management of interference resolution;

·       optimisation of costs and time.

More specifically, in collaboration with the territorially competent Superintendencies, Italferr carries out throughout Italy the drafting and assessment of archaeological studies, the planning of archaeological investigations, the execution of prospecting, coring, sampling and archaeological excavations, also in extension, in accordance with the various in-depth phases of the Preventive Assessment procedure, up to the valorisation of the ancient assets discovered.

This approach has made it possible to achieve significant objectives, such as:

·       the reduction of encountering archeological artefacts during construction

·       a 50% reduction in excavation costs

·       a 50% reduction in the time required to carry out archaeological investigations, compared to the High-Speed Railway experience


Synergies and multidisciplinarity

Its archaeological activities, fully integrated with the design phases, reflect Italferr's expertise in deploying the necessary multidisciplinary approach. In fact, the team of archaeologists actively collaborates with the other specialists involved in the design and execution of the activities.

Italferr possesses awareness and sensitivity in the construction of strategic infrastructures destined to determine important transformations of the territory. In this sense, Italferr has the dual objective of realising works that are fundamental for the development of the country, and of safeguarding and enhancing Italy's immense historical and archaeological heritage.


Campania and Sicily: territories that tell the story of ancient peoples

Among the preventive archaeology activities carried out as part of Italferr projects throughout Italy, those carried out in Campania and Sicily have seen notable recent commitment which has given the opportunity to further increase knowledge of these territories rich in history and ancient habitation.

Significant examples are represented by the archaeological investigations carried out as part of the design of the Naples - Bari and Palermo - Catania routes, with the realisation of excavation surveys and in extension along all the areas envisaged by the project.

In particular, during the preventive activities carried out on the Naples-Cancello, Cancello-Frasso and Frasso-Vitulano routes, it was possible to acquire valuable information useful for reconstructing the complex stratification of the territory and the settlement dynamics that followed one another in the various eruptive sequences that characterised the Naples and Caserta area above all.

Again, along the Lercara-Caltanissetta Xirbi and Palomba-Catenanuova sections, two vast residential complexes were brought to light, showing how it is possible to combine protection requirements with the design of new infrastructure. In both cases, the investigations carried out made it possible to study design solutions useful for the correct insertion of the railway structure while guaranteeing the need to acquire the new historical data that had come to light and to preserve it by returning it to the land.

Thanks to the close collaboration with the Cultural and Environmental Heritage Superintendencies of Caltanissetta and Enna, excavation activities are continuing in both contexts with the aim of identifying the archaeological areas in their entirety and carrying out the future project to enhance the sites.

Sicily is also already known for having made, within the framework of railway projects, the sensational discovery of over 9,000 tombs in the necropolis of Himera, the scene of an epic battle in 480 BC between a coalition of Greeks of Sicily and the Carthaginians.

The discovery of the necropolis, made during the construction of the Palermo-Messina railway line, has once again highlighted the importance of integrating archaeology with the construction of the railway, guaranteeing the protection and archaeological research of the site.

The continuous and synergic relationship between the Cultural and Environmental Heritage Superintendency of Palermo, RFI and Italferr has led to a shared solution, by which it has been possible to combine requirements and find a technical solution for the construction of the railway.

Following the preliminary investigations, once the limits of the enormous area of archaeological interest were fully understood, a route variant located outside the perimeter of the ancient city was studied to allow the excavation of the necropolis. The overall recovery of the context made it possible to understand how, even 2,500 years ago, historical, landscape and environmental components intertwined to form a 'colonial landscape' that still strongly characterises the area today.


Towards which future?

In its commitment to safeguarding cultural and archaeological heritage, Italferr has recently turned its attention to increasingly effective and advanced strategies. In recent years, the growing challenge represented by NRRP projects has required a significant commitment to ensuring compliance with the established deadlines.

In this context, Italferr's priority was and is to ensure the rapid execution of the archaeological investigation phase without affecting the tight schedule of the administrative process.

In order to achieve this, the Archaeology Operations Centre has intensified the use of non-invasive investigations and modern methodologies, increasing their application in recent years.

The results obtained at numerous railway sites have shown that the most advanced technologies and tools are able to provide a detailed characterisation of the archaeological data, with obvious advantages for the processes of assessing and mitigating the impact on the ancient assets. Italferr was able to achieve very high quality results, especially in balancing speed, cost, technical precision and good results, all objectives of fundamental importance for the practice of preventive archaeology.

In an area with a rich archaeological heritage, the implementation of a railway infrastructure can be a major challenge. However, with careful planning and an integrated approach combining design and protection it is possible to overcome these difficulties.

Italferr also engages in archaeological enhancement activities, since this is a key element in ensuring that the territory can preserve the signs of its past and pass on historical information to future generations.

The combination of planning and protection makes it possible to develop an integrated strategy that not only preserves archaeological sites but could make them accessible to the public by promoting them as tourist and cultural resources. The objective is to leave the territory with a sign of its passage and to transmit the historical data discovered to future generations, thereby consolidating awareness of its heritage and the ability to protect it.

The creation of a balance between infrastructural needs and the preservation of the historical-archaeological heritage is a challenge that, if tackled with due care and competence, can produce excellent results.