Archaeology and construction: requalify and innovate without forgetting the past

Heritage is undoubtedly an asset for all but is finite and vulnerable. As far as archaeological and architectural heritage is concerned, the pace of construction, the modernisation of cities and the increasing alteration of landscapes are some of the main threats. Undoubtedly, the real estate and construction sector has made positive advances by including archaeological remains in their projects and preserving the original design of the renovated buildings in an increasingly authentic and respectful way. However, despite the various efforts, incompatibilities between construction and heritage preservation are sometimes noticeable. Therefore, we want this article to address the sector’s role in conservation and the benefits of protection for all parties involved.


Article 78, paragraph 1 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic states that “Everyone has the right to cultural enjoyment, as well as the duty to preserve, defend and value the Cultural Heritage”. Currently, in Portugal, Archaeology is duly regulated, and archaeological works must be authorised by the Heritage management entities, namely the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and the respective Regional Directorates of Culture, and are carried out by professionals in the field.


The real estate sector’s Role in Archaeology


Much of the work carried out in archaeology is linked to the construction sector within the scope of rescue archaeology. The construction projects are sometimes conditioned to carrying out archaeological works when these take place in special protection zones, of which the historical centres and zones adjacent to classified Monuments and conditioned areas defined by the Municipal Director Plan (among others) are examples. Furthermore, archaeological works are intimately connected to all projects requiring Environmental Impact Studies.

Archaeological intervention within the construction scope may occur before the beginning of works (drilling, prospecting, geophysical studies), during their execution (archaeological monitoring) or both. The primary purpose of these works is to minimise the physical impact on heritage, preserving it when possible and/or documenting its existence (preservation by record), which happens in most cases.



A healthy articulation between the entities responsible for the development of projects and those that work with cultural preservation would bring several types of benefits to the real estate and construction sector:

  • Opportunity to adapt the project to the existing heritage and integrate it, as far as possible, enhancing it as a differentiating factor for the market.


  • Prevent the vestiges from appearing primarily in the construction phase, reducing delays in its execution and consequent financial setbacks for owners and builders.


  • Preserve more vestiges since projects are still embryonic and can more easily be altered or adapted to the pre-existing reality.


  • Plan interventions better and thus cause less damage to heritage due to the short deadlines for carrying out these works.


  • Raise general awareness of the importance of archaeological and cultural heritage since only what is known, understood and liked can be protected.


All in all, the union of these two worlds can make an effective contribution to spatial planning and sustainability “(…) since archaeological excavations contribute to articulate the past and the present of cities, helping to shape new urban scenarios, where history can constitute itself as an element that simultaneously integrates populations, regenerates spaces and stimulates economic activity”. (Martins and Ribeiro 2010)

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