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Milan cathedral rests atop pagan temple

Woe to those who try to halt progress. But in Milan, Italy, and Shropshire, England, archaeologists are unearthing artifacts from ancient past, and now researchers must decide what to do with the land and priceless relics. During excavation, construction above the ground stopped.

In Milan, the gothic, white spires of that city’s invaluable heart was found to be built directly over layers of previous buildings. The finding, revealed on Jan. 31 said it is a pagan temple dedicated to Minerva, goddess of wisdom.

According to news releases from the Architectural Institute of America, the remains of the ancient Mediolanum Forum were found under the basement of the “wedding cake” Milan cathedral.

About 166 meters by 55 meters of a floor paved in “Verona stone” was found. It is accessible through a side entrance for visitors and researchers to enter, work and tour. The Fondazione Cariplo, a charitable foundation in Milan, and the Lombardy regional government are co-partners in the dig, which is part of a project for a Milan Archeology route being readied for the 2015 Milano Expo, according to Regional Cultural Councillor Christina Cappelini.

Bloggers commenting on the excavation herald these efforts and are pleading with archeologists to display and recognize the past gods and goddesses of the ancient pagan site.

There are similar movements and comments behind a site in Shropshire, England, where on Jan. 21, “Past Horizons” posted updates from a dig there regarding the 3,000 year old “Oswestry Hillfort Pegasus Stone.” The horse-shaped stone shows distinct equine features and what looks like an effort to “erase” the image through chipping away the back section of the animal (or the innocent plough cuts from a farmer before it surfaced in that field).

Construction adjacent to the old hill fort location ceased since uncovering relics in 2008. Naturally, there have been calls to build, as well as calls to stop excavating permanently for a new housing site. There will always be at least two sides to every dig where an ancient past remains hidden. For every construction site, there will be similar problems. We have it here in Jamestown.

This city was built around two rivers, a railway, Fort Seward, sacred American Indian burial mounds and on top of previous structures. Each city and its authorities have to weigh the value of new buildings and whether those structures might obviate burial sites below, or intrude into sacred places nearby. It is a delicate balance.

That balance is something the State Historical Society of North Dakota takes very seriously. Without its concern and responsibility, the bones and pottery shards from ancient burial mounds in Jamestown might be scattered or lost and never correctly recorded.

Much of Jamestown’s history has been recorded, and some has been by the city’s unofficial historian, Mary Young. Former Fort Seward caretakers and its current 20th Infantry officers added data as have newspapers and national archives (communications from Fort Seward, telegrams, etc). While Jamestown grows and new construction takes place, the ground beneath is examined for historic relics and construction decisions have to be made to continue or stop. It’s never easy.

If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.