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The Stone Tracks of Malta's Bronze Age

In several areas of the island of Malta, and the nearby island of Gozo, there are intricate networks of parallel tracks dug into the limestone rock which apparently appear to be of artificial origin. They are called "cart ruts" due to their resemblance to the tracks left by carts. There are several theories on their nature, but so far none seems to be definitive, since the study of the grooves offers more questions than answers: how were they formed and if artificial, who or what made them?

Stone Tracks in Malta
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Stone Tracks in Malta

The intricate network of "stone tracks" on the islands of Malta and Gozo is one of the most insidious enigmas that archeology has been trying to unravel for years. These are parallel grooves engraved in the rock reaching a depth of 60 cm, with an average distance between 110 and 140 cm.

Some grooves cross each other, while others branch off in another direction, forming a sort of “railway switch”.

The age and purpose of the tracks is still a mystery, but scholars generally assume that the tracks date back to 2,000 BC, when new settlers from Sicily arrived and began the Bronze Age on Malta.

Several theories have been put forward as to the origin of the tracks. Some scholars believe that the furrows were formed as a result of the continuous passage of carts or sleds carrying heavy loads across the island, such as stones from quarries or megalithic blocks to build temples.

Over time, the grooves would become deeper and deeper. When the area was abandoned, rainwater would then have dissolved the limestone rock creating the tracks in the rock.

Other scholars propose that the furrows were used as irrigation channels for the distribution of spring water up to the agricultural terraces. But this theory is more unlikely, given that it is not clear why two parallel channels would be needed.

The Maltese archaeologist Antonio Bonanno proposed a more recent age of the ruts, hypothesizing that they were made by the Phoenicians around the 7th century BC. The ruts, in his opinion, would have originated from the erosion produced by the wooden wheels of the Phoenician chariots. It is important to note that Malta's limestone is very soft and loses up to 80% of its hardness when wet. The wagons would thus easily have created the furrows following the same tracks.

The problem is that many ruts are located in rather steep and dangerous terrain, which raises the question of whether the sleds or carts were pulled by people or animals. Given the rugged nature of the terrain, one might think that they were pushed by people. In this case, how would they push monolithic blocks weighing up to a ton?

As reported by the official website on the Cart Ruts of Malta, the most intricate network of ruts is found on the site of Misrah Ghar il-Kbir, a prehistoric settlement near the Dingli cliffs. The site was nicknamed “Clapham Junction” by Englishman David Trump, as it reminded him of the London station's railway network of the same name.

Stone Tracks in Malta
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Stone Tracks in Malta

The furrows seem to be present everywhere and go in all directions, covering an area of ​​approximately 8 hectares. Some traces actually reach as far as the ancient stone quarries, supporting the hypothesis that the traces were used for some type of means of transport.

Furthermore near the tracks there are enigmatic rectangular structures, very similar to platforms. They are scattered throughout the island, have a length between 11 and 37 m and a width between 8 and 15 m.

In the immediate vicinity you can usually notice a small building. At the moment, no explanation has ever been provided about these additional structures on the island and whether they are somehow connected to the stone tracks. The tracks all over the island are clearly visible on Google Maps.

Tracks like those present on the islands of Malta and Gozo have also been found in other places in the world, such as in Sardinia, Sicily, Greece, Spain, France and Germany. However, not all of them seem to have the same origin and not all of them seem to have the same purpose. But of all, those present on Malta are certainly the most impressive. It is very likely that they were used as a means of transport... but what moved on them?

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