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.
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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 (Picture 11). 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
(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 ruts itself.
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