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Preserving cultural heritage during the construction of the GPNK

Published 2.1.2024

More than 2,000 archaeological finds were made during the construction of the President Néstor Kirchner Gas Pipeline. In this article, members of the project's Archeology team reveal all the details.

 

Archaeological investigations on a construction project begin long before the work itself gets underway. The archaeologists take part in an environmental impact study, including a heritage section, and identify those areas with a greater or lesser probability of producing archaeological finds. Based on these calculations, they put together a survey and monitoring plan and map out the route anticipating where the machines will be working, in order to survey any structural or material remains on the surface. If archaeological material is found, they cordon off the sector and carry out a dig to retrieve or protect the find, ensuring it is not altered.

This is how work prior to the GPNK project began for the team of archaeologists comprising Flavia Germano, Leonardo Mucciolo, Solange Fernandez Do Rio, Pablo Ojeda and Romina Silvestre. “We held training and awareness-raising courses with the workers employees to explain to them how important it is to preserve our heritage and how conservation strategies are implemented, because once one takes remains or finds out of context, they lose their value for research purposes,” details Germano.

During the construction of the pipeline, which runs through the provinces of Río Negro, La Pampa and Neuquén, the team recovered over 2,000 finds, mostly lithic material corresponding to waste from the crafting of stone tools, the remains of animal bones, and fragments of glass and ceramics, which are all of great value in building knowledge about the region’s history.

Work in the areas around the towns of Carlos Casares and Mercedes in the province of Buenos Aires yielded historical remains from the 17th and 19th centuries, such as earthenware, majolica, bone remains, ceramics, as well as some isolated finds of lithic artifacts. It’s important to highlight that the route taken by the pipeline crosses two major water courses, the Luján River and the Balta stream. These spaces “are extremely relevant” in archaeological terms because we know remains of extinct fauna and lithic artifacts have been recovered there. “This is why our work was fundamental to protect the heritage of the province of Buenos Aires and prevent it from being affected without stopping work from going ahead,” says Silvestre.

In the Río Salado area, part of the pipeline route had to be modified, because it crossed several archaeological sites. Germano explains that, in line with the Techint Engineering & Construction's policy, “the preference was to preserve local cultural and environmental heritage, and they ruled out any intervention on an access road to the pipeline course.” “Then, there was another area of paleontological importance on Cerro La Bota, which was taken into account when planning the pipeline course,” she Germano.

Mucciolo comments that the most critical points are usually to be found near rivers, which were often frequented by human beings to grow and prepare food as well as carry out other daily activities. “When working on Line 1, we were very close to the Colorado River, while Line 2 runs near the Salado River, which is where evidence of hunter-gatherer groups has been found, as they moved around according the availability of environmental resources. That's why we had to pay special attention to these locations, as we were sure we were going to uncover important finds.”

In the case of the province of Buenos Aires, watercourses can also be permanent or semi-permanent lagoons, which is why it is necessary to consider that the areas that are dry today could have held water in the past, meaning that materials could also have been deposited there.

All the findings were recorded in an inventory and simultaneously reported to the competent bodies of each province. Once the materials are handed over, each provincial agency is responsible for safekeeping them for further investigation.

The work that archaeologists undertake is above all preventive, to avoid the destruction of the remains found.

Germano considers that, “the end results were positive, as we trained a lot of staff who were very enthusiastic and keen to collaborate.” For his part, Silvestre points out that, “it’s key to highlight the commitment that everyone showed”, as much during the training as during the development of the drills. “The training meant that we were prepared and people knew how to act when materials were found,” she adds. Meanwhile, for Mucciolo, “it was really interesting” to participate in something that represents a positive development for the country. “Everyone on the project was committed to this result. It's good to be able to look back and say: 'We did our part in the best way, so that today we have the result we wanted: the gas pipeline inaugurated and up and running,'” he concludes.

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