One of the most enigmatic features in the Maltese landscape remains
the existence of cart-ruts. These paired, parallel tracks can
be found in about one hundred and fifty sites across the islands.
Found also in other countries such as Greece,
Sardinia, Italy and Sicily, they occur in their greatest number on the
It is generally held that these cart-ruts are the result of human activity, with the ruts themselves being the last evidence for a transport network of the past. The absence of any archaeological deposit associated with these trails has resulted in a number of contested hypothesis regarding the period of use, the vehicle and transported goods carried by the ruts. A summary of the main points concerning this phenomenon follows:-
Period of Use
(your comments here)
The only real association which can throw light on the date of the
ruts is the occurrence of cart-ruts crossing the shafts of Punic tombs.
Thus, it has been argued, that the cart-ruts had already served their purpose
when the tombs were dug, dating the ruts to not later than the early Phoenician
occupation of the islands. Those who contest this claim, doubt the
Punic nature of the tombs described.
A number of ruts are found close to Temples, including those of Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Tal-Qadi, Tarxien, Skorba and Borg l-Imramma. It is thus postulated that these ruts served as trails on which the megalithic blocks were carried to their final destination.
A much greater number of ruts are not associated with any Temple remains. The ruts between Hagar Qim and Mnajdra seem to be leading elsewhere while other ruts found near the other Temple sites could easily be accounted for by other destinations.
Bronze Age settlements are often found on promontories or hilltops for defensive reasons. A number of these settlements namely that at Borg in-Nadur, Qala Hill, Misrah Ghonoq and Wardija ta’San Gorg have cart-ruts approaching them.
Closer inspection of the cart-rut sites mentioned may indicate otherwise.
At Borg in-Nadur the cart-ruts could equally be associated with the megalithic
temple in the area or the Roman Olive industry at Ta’ Kaccatura.
At il-Wardija ta’ San Gorg, the ruts approaching
the settlement stop more than a hundred metres away, and are only traced
east of the Bronze age settlement at Ta’Zuta going towards a totally different
direction. No ruts have been found in the immediate vicinity and
directed towards the settlement.
Ruts are often found near Roman surface quarries, and occasionally ruts are observed to go towards these structures. In the case of ruts found in other Mediterranean countries, a clear association with classical remains exists.
Proof for the Roman nature of the various quarries is lacking, while
cart-ruts are not found near major Roman enterprises like the cities of
Melitae and Gaulos.
(your comments here)
Two hypothesis attempt to explain the formation of the cart-ruts:-
The first of these holds that cart-ruts were deliberately carved to facilitate the vehicle’s voyage. Support for this suggestion can be seen at a number of cart-rut sites were despite a very irregular surface the ruts’ bottom is level for long distances (eg. Mensija ruts). Modern Ruts with metal rims are also known across the islands, but the profile produced by these is recognizably different. With wood being the most suggested material of contact between the vehicle and the ruts bottom, too many trees would be needed to produce the ruts. This amount of wood was simply not available after the temple period.
Formation secondary to vehicle wear
The second hypothesis however refutes the first claim, and proposes
that most of the ruts’ profile was produced by the wear produced by the
vehicle. At a number of sites (Ta’ Cenc, Mensija,
Misrah Ghar il-Kbir ) a number of ruts occur close
to each other. It would thus make no sense to dig so many ruts close to
each other. On other sites the ruts’ profile actually consists of
two vehicle trails giving a clear indication that a considerable amount
of wear was produced by the vehicle itself, and making it unlikely for
the possibility of deliberate formation of the rut.
(your comments here)
The vehicles proposed to have travelled across the ruts include the
sledge, the cart and the slide car. All these vehicles have their
problems when confronted with different aspects of the ruts’ profile, namely
variability of distance between the ruts, sharp turns and shape of the
The following are links to sites of interest to the cart-rut phenomenon.
Cart-Ruts at Misrah Ghar il-Kbir
Cart-Ruts by Yves Cali
Tagliate and Pitigliano
Central Wyoming (Deep Rut Hill)
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