Cart Ruts

Cart Ruts

The formation and function of cart ruts form part of the most intriguing problems in Maltese archaeology.

The term ‘cart ruts’ is generally understood as referring to equally aligned pair of grooves, furrows or perhaps tracks, apparently worn or cut into the bedrock and having the appearance of great antiquity.

These features are widely distributed across both islands wherever rock is exposed. Isolated examples of similar lineaments have been identified in other countries and usually these were associated with old quarries. Yet, none of these form systems remotely as elaborate as those on the Maltese Islands. Indeed, nowhere else in the world is the phenomenon of perplexing paired grooves in bedrock so prevalent.

The amount of ruts observed at a given site can vary extensively, just from one pair to a multitude of pairs. They also range in length: from a few to several metres. Ruts often meander for no obviously apparent reason; they can fade in and out; sometimes they stop abruptly; disappear under walls and buildings, and in a few instances disappear over the edges of sea cliffs; in one instance a pair of ruts enters the sea and continues for some distance under water. The fact that the modern landscape pattern takes no notice of them whatsoever demonstrates that these ruts are indeed ancient.

The ruts invariably occur in pairs, consisting of grooves of narrow V-section, though with a more or less rounded bottom, some 7cm wide. The width at the top naturally depends on the depth, which can be anything up to 60cm at one extreme, but can dwindle to nothing at the other.

Studies done regarding this aspect have revealed that ruts lefts by recent carts differ from the ancient ones in two respects: (i) they tend to be very much broader and shallower (ii) unlike ancient ones, they invariably show heavy wear on the surface rock between them left by whatever animal was used.

The logic of the ruts’ layout is the biggest dilemma and some doubt whether these were indeed the result of the movement of vehicles around the countryside. What seems inescapable is that they were in no sense planned as a system but developed organically and over a long period of time.

Another argument is what loads were carried on these vehicles? To produce that amount of wear, they were presumably heavy and frequent, over a long period of time or all three. Some have suggested that considering that they are often close to quarries, they could have been used to carry large blocks of stones that were required for the construction of the Neolithic temples. However this can be dismissed quite rapidly because although there are examples of ruts near both temples and quarries, none has been found to run to a temple and only two terminate in a quarry.

Since no technique has yet been devised, to date these cart ruts remain undated. Periods running from the Neolithic to the Order of St John have been contemplated; the Bronze Age and Classical Periods being the most favoured.

The most complex group of local cart ruts are located near Dingli Cliffs at a prehistoric site known as Misraħ Għar il-Kbir and more popularly nicknamed Clapham Junction.


References:
Trump, David, H (2008) Cart-Ruts and their impact on the Maltese landscape, Malta, Gutenberg Press.
Weston, Gordon, E (2010) The Maltese Cart-Ruts: Unraveling An Enigma, Valletta, Progress Press.


Clapham Junction Cart-Ruts
Clapham Junction Cart-Ruts
Clapham Junction
Clapham Junction
Aerial View of Clapham Junction
Aerial View of Clapham Junction