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Malta. Easter 2006 Part III

Easter Sunday

We had planned a family day out to the beach for today but me and my lad were up early and decided to sneak out to have a look at the nearby Xemxija rock cut tombs. My lads not one for megaliths but loves his wildlife. Over the past few days we had found grasshoppers, geckos, false scorpions, multi coloured beetles and a praying mantis so the prospect of mooch around the Maltese countryside was enough to convince him to come with me.

The tombs at Xemxija are significant for a number of reasons. They were excavated by Evans in the 1950's and yielded a whole host of material. The majority of the finds dated to the Ggantija phase but there were also some sherds of Tarxien pottery and some later Bronze Age burials were also found along with some axe amulets.
Another feature of these tombs is that some of them are lobed which indicates that there is probably a link between the lobed nature of the caves and the similar layout of the temples.

Plan after Trump
There have even been attempts to link this lobed shape to the shape of the 'fat lady ' or goddess figurines that have been found on the islands.
The are some examples here:
It has been suggested that the temples could be a reflection of a Neolithic fertility goddess but this is just one theory of many.

Here's a few links. I'll not comment on the content.

Another reason why the tombs are important is that many animal bones were excavated here giving us a good idea of what animals existed on the islands during the Neolithic.
Bones found included sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, horse, dog, cat, deer, rabbit and hedgehog.

The tombs themselves are not too difficult to find and you can drive to within a dozen yards of them. To reach the tombs you need to turn off the main road (route 1) at the roundabout at the top of the hill at Xemxija, there is also a church on this roundabout. Turn into Xemxija and drive past the derelict hotel complex to the top of the village. The tombs are beside Triq bil-Preistorja which is the last road at the top of the hill. Park on this road. The tombs are at the top of the small rise about half way along the road. When we visited we drove to the end of the road and then when mooching around the fields on the hillside until a very nice lady pointed us in the right direction.
A word of warning, You need to keep your wit about you in this area . It seems to be very popular with hunters. I used to drive past this hillside on a daily basis and there were always at least a couple of four by four vehicles parked on the hillside.

The tombs themselves are basically just holes in the ground. I stuck my head into most of them and was greeted by the hum of wasps or bees in three of them which kind of put me off going any further into the tombs. What I did find remarkable was that the tomb builders had picked a horizontal surface to tunnel into.

The limestone here is very hard so excavating the tombs vertically in to the bedrock must have taken a considerable effort. It would have been far easier to cut horizontally into the strata a little lower down in the Mistra valley where there are cliffs and natural caves. Which leads to the question why all the effort? What was the significance of this particular hill?

The hill is not the highest in the area but it does have good view over St Paul's Bay and the coast beyond or at least it would have if the village were not in the way. It is possible to pick out the location of the Buggibba temple in the distant sprawling resort.

There is also a good view over the Mistra valley to Melliha which is situated on top of the next significant hill top.

All in all the Xemxija tombs don't offer much in the way of spectacular remains but if you are wanting to build up a picture of Maltese Prehistory and maybe understand why certain locations were chosen then it's worth coming here, sitting yourself down and having a good look around you. I would never describe Malta as a pretty place then again I would never describe the Maltese landscape as boring. I'll take interesting over pretty any time.
My lad would say that it's worth visiting the site because there are lots of huge ant's nests and you can spend time feeding dead insects to the ants.

A Maltese Proverb
Qabda trab, erba' kaptelli u harja f'wicc kull ma kelli.
A handful of dust, four capitals (of a column) and shit on all I possessed.

fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
11th May 2006ce
Edited 11th May 2006ce

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