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Ancient wine presses cut into rock faces

Centuries ago, come September, galleys would be rowed into Mġarr ix-Xini harbour and loaded with amphorae filled with wine that had been pressed in the valley.

Winemakers would fill shallow basins with grapes and, once pressed, the juice would flow through holes and channels into a deeper collecting holder, all carved into the rock.

These wine presses, said to date back to 500 BC, can still be seen embedded in the Gozitan valley and are being studied and documented in a project carried out by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Sannat and Xewkija local councils with the support of Camilleri Wines.

Apart from safeguarding heritage, the project offers an interesting insight into Malta and Gozo's past.

"What is not seen today is that Mġarr ix-Xini valley was functioning as a main artery, as a seaport... It functioned as a huge agro-industrial area," explained Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Anthony Pace, who leads the project together with archaeologist George Azzopardi.

He explained how the presses, dug into the ground, were made of a shallow basin upon which an additional structure was mounted to press the grapes.

The juices would flow into the deeper basin and this motion was aided by the fact that the presses were built on an incline. Similar presses are present in Malta in the Mġarr Valley in and near Mnajdra, in an area known as Misqa tanks.

Such presses have also been identified in various parts of the world such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Syria and South Africa.

Mr Pace elaborated that winemakers would have minimised losses through seepage by first filling the basins with water so the rock would soak up the water. Excess water would then be removed shortly before pressing.

He said it was believed that, once pressed, the wine was collected in amphorae and shipped off to Sicily on galleys that came into the harbour.

Since the project started in 2005, 15 presses have been identified, documented and mapped. Pieces of pottery, including drinking glasses, were also found during excavation works that helped date the presses.

Next summer the second excavation will take place, with the help of students and volunteers. The next step, Mr Pace said, would be to publish the data.

On hearing about this project, which has revealed more about the history of local winemaking, Camilleri Wines wanted to support it through its Mystic Araar, vintage 2007.

For each of the 3,333 limited edition bottles produced, Camilleri Wines will donate €1 to the project, Claudio Camilleri, head of sales and marketing, said.

"Each year we would like to pitch our vintage towards corporate social responsibility and, this year, we're supporting cultural heritage," he said.

This is the second time Camilleri wines is producing the Mystic Araar wine.

The brand was launched in 2008 when the first batch of limited edition vintage 2006 wines were handed out to the winery's clients. The aim was to raise awareness about Malta's national tree which is in danger of extinction - the Sandarac gum tree, more commonly known as Is-Siġra tal-Għargħar, from where the brand gets its name.

That year the company had committed itself to plant 50 trees for three years.

Mystic Araar vintage 2007 - a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot - can be bought for €25 a bottle and comes in a silver tin with an information leaflet about the Mġarr Ix-Xini project.

Hill of Tara

Tara Lecture Series 2009

Tara Lecture Series 2009

Wednesdays in July.

Hill of Tara Visitor Centre

July 1st
'How the Ancient Irish viewed the Skies'
by Terry Moseley, Irish Astronomical Association

July 8th
'Galileo and the Copernican Revolution'
by Professor Markus Woerner,NUI Galway

July 15th
'Irish Astronomy in the Nineteenth Century'
by Professor Trevor Weekes, Smithsonian Institution

July 22nd
Exploring the Cosmos: the view from Hubble and Beyond
by Dr Deirdre Coffey, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies

All lectures are Free of Charge
All Welcome!

Organised by the Office of Public Works in association with
the International Year of Astronomy

Newgrange (Passage Grave)

Autumn Lecture Series at Brú na Boinne Visitor Centre

Wednesdays in
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre

September 3rd 7.30pm

A Room with a View:
The Earlier Prehistoric Landscape of Brú na Bóinne
by Dr Conor Brady
Dundalk Institute of Technology

September 17th 7.30pm

Meath's Landscape: what the Builders
of Loughcrew and Newgrange found.
By Dr Robert Meehan
Consultant Geologist

October 8th 8.00pm

Of Meat and Men:
Animals and Humans in Ancient Co Meath
By Dr Finbar McCormick
Queens University, Belfast

October 22nd 8.00pm

Newgrange Passage tomb and the Cursus:
There's more to see than meets the eye
By Kevin Barton
Earthsound Associates

Free of Charge- All welcome!

Bremore (Passage Grave)

George Eogan "lashes Bremore Port location"

Expert lashes Bremore port location

"Speaking at a recent meeting of the Balbriggan Historical Society, Professor George Eogan said the area on both sides of the Delvin River from Gormanston to Bremore is a large Megalithic cemetery dating from 3,500BC.

He said this has been recorded, researched and written about for well over 100 years and added the mounds on this site are legally protected under the National Monuments Act of 1930.

The meeting was attended by a number of luminaries including former Green Party leader Trevor Sergeant and the Fingal County Manager.

Prof Eogan believes that Bremore may have been the first point of entry for the settlements of what is now known as Fingal/East Meath and the Boyne Valley area.

He has written a detailed report on the history of the area and the historical value of the site at Bremore.

Local historian Brendan Matthews has also expressed his concerns about the development of a new port on such a historical site and raised the issue as far back as 2005.

He said that in the immediate vicinity of the proposed deep-water port, there are the remains of at least five megalithic tombs or burial chambers, while to the north of Bremore there are the remains of at least another six tombs scattered over a wide area from Knocknagin to Lowther Lodge.

However, responding to the professor's report and lecture, CEO of Drogheda Port, Paul Fleming said they recognise that there is archaeology at Bremore and will deal with it in an upfront and professional manner.

He said the archaeology of the site was just one element in what was a complicated and multi-faceted site selection process which took two years to complete.

Other factors included the importance of the deep water site, the road network and accessibility, the absence of any major residential activity, the availability of a landbank and the environmental impact in terms of its carbon footprint, he said.The archaeology is just one of the elements involved and we will deal with that in an upfront way. We have engaged our consultants who will carry out an environmental impact study (EIS) and they will be working with us over the next six to nine months, he said.We intend to deal with the archaeology in a world-class manner and we will, of course, take on board anything said by Professor Eogan."

Loughcrew Complex

Loughcrew Estate for sale

The Naper family have owned the remaining old estate at Loughcrew since the 1600's but are now selling up and moving on. The sale includes the gardens and coffee shop where the key for Cairn T can be picked up off-season.

Newgrange (Passage Grave)

Robert Hensey Lectures, June 11th

Two Short Lectures
Robert Hensey
NUI Galway

When Space and Time Collided:
A Ritualistic Perspective on the Beginnings of Astronomical Alignment in Passage Tomb Tradition

Between Salmon and Ceremony:
Seasonal Ritual in the Boyne Valley

Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre
Wednesday June 11th 2008
Free of Charge


Lecture: Is Knowth the Key?

An Illustrated Lecture

The Prehistoric Solar Calendar:
Is Knowth the Key?


Dr Euan MacKie
Honorary Research Associate,
National Museums of Scotland


Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre

Tuesday 25th March


Free of Charge

Newgrange (Passage Grave)

Brú na Boinne Winter Solstice 40th Anniversary Lectures 2007

The Office of Public Works
Celebrates the 40th Anniversary
of the
Winter Solstice


Lectures at Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre at 8pm

Wednesday November 7th 2007

What the Builder Saw:
The Prehistoric Astronomy of Newgrange

By Terry Moseley, President of the Irish Astronomical Association

Wednesday November 14th 2007

Tombs with a View:
New Thoughts on an Old Puzzle

By Frank Prendergast, Dublin Institute of Technology

Loughcrew Complex

Autumn Equinox marked in Co Meath

A short video with some very nice footage of the equinox on 20th Sept 2005 by RTE, the Irish state broadcaster.

A gallery of my own photos from that morning:

Click on the photos for larger versions.

Hill of Tara

M3 through Tara gets the go-ahead from Minister

The Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, has cleared the way for the construction of the M3 motorway by issuing directions to Meath County Council on how archaeological work is to be conducted.

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Mr Roche said that stringent conditions would apply.

Commenting on a controversial interchange one kilometre north of the Hill of Tara, the minister said the National Roads Authority was putting in an alternative lighting scheme and extensive landscaping.

He added that in order to protect the landscape around Tara he told Meath County Council to ensure that the new development plan protected the rural character and archaeological heritage of the area.

Given concerns that massive developments would take place along the new motorway, the minister said he would consider using his powers to direct the council to amend its plan if it was not up to standard.

The controversial project was approved by An Bord Pleanála two years ago, but many archaeologists and historians have argued that part of Ireland's most important heritage site will be destroyed.

The Director of the National Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, had submitted a report to the Environment Minister in which it is reported he opposed the routing and, in particular, an interchange north of the hill.

My TMA Content: