|14th April Good Friday
I decided to have a run over to the west coast and visit the Dingli cliffs followed by the famous Clapham Junction Cart Ruts.
There isn't a great deal for the prehistoric purist at Dingli, there's a nice church and some other bits and bobs but what drew me here was the height of the place. At 250 metres above sea level Dingli Cliffs are the highest point of the islands. On the landward side there are beautiful vistas of the island and views looking over to Gozo. It is said that on clear autumn days you can see Mount Etna on Sicily from this point. To your west is the sea and the beautiful uninhabited island of Filfla. Beyond the horizon lies the North African coast.
I guess if you want to see prehistoric cart ruts then Misrah Ghar il-Kbir aka Clapham Junction is pretty much the place to go. However cart ruts are not just a Maltese phenomena, they can also be found in Sicily, Spain Sardinia Greece and France but I guess the reason why the Clapham Junction cart ruts have become so famous is that there are so many of them in such a small area.
The site can be a little tricky to find especially if you are coming at it from the Dingli cliffs. Your safest bet is to get on the Rabat to Busket gardens road and look for an area between two large modern quarries.
The cart ruts themselves are pretty remarkable when you consider their age. I should mention something here about the age of the ruts. There is a lot of debate on this subject. There are a number of rock-cut Punic tombs in this area and at least one of the tombs cuts through a set of cart ruts. The tombs have been reliably dated a have been dated to the later centuries BC. This means that at least some of the ruts are older than this date.
Punic Tombs cut into the bedrock
Most of the experts seem to agree that most of the ruts are pre-Punic but opinions differ from this point onwards. Some argue that the ruts are from the temple period whilst others, including Trump favour a Bronze Age date.
The debate around the use of the ruts isn't much clearer than the dating debate, however many experts seem to favour the idea that the ruts were made by some kind of vehicle but after this there seems to be all sorts of opinions. Trump states that 'Wheeled vehicles do seem to attract the least serious objections'.
Ok I can accept that the ruts may have been used for vehicles but why were so many parallel ruts needed? At Clapham Junction there are multiple tracks parallel tracks, all running in the same direction.
As a visitor I guess you could probably spend the best part of an hour following the ruts around this limestone plain, they are fascinating but I'm going to contradict myself here and tell you that I found them to be are pretty unremarkable and felt quite under whelmed. However, what I really did enjoy about Clapham Junction was the Ghar il-Kbir caves and the rock cut Punic graves.
The caves are quite easy to find. Just walk a few couple of dozen yards uphill to the top of the limestone area and you're there. Back in geological time the caves were all underground but then as tends to happen with limestone, the roof of the largest cave or a series of caves collapsed leaving a large cavity in the ground with a number of caves many of which are interlinked, around the margins.
It's well worth scrambling down into the caves, they are lovely and cool and provide a bit of welcome shade from the Maltese sun.
The caves were occupied up until the nineteenth century and when you climb down into them you can see evidence of walls and entrances. No evidence of prehistoric occupation has yet been found in the caves but considering that a set of cart ruts start on the margins of the caves I'm sure this site would not have gone unnoticed by the prehistoric Maltese.
Posted by fitzcoraldo
8th May 2006ce
Edited 8th May 2006ce
fitzcoraldo's TMA Blog
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