**Besides their buildings, those pre-diluvian people left us a network of cart-ruts dug in the surface rock of Malta. This fact shows that they were regular travellers, and also that they travelled regularly and repeatedly over the same routes; they didn’t just wander about. These ruts in the solid rock show that they have been so dug that wheels could run along them.
Sir Temi says about the cart-ruts: “The only reasonable explanation is that the track was originally cut for and not by the wheels. The engineers of those days, instead of making a road, as the Romans would have done, by filling up the rugged, uneven surface with a loose material, traced a furrow in the rock along the projected track on the principle of the modern tramway.”
Some commentators suggest that these ruts are of Roman origin. Sir Temi’s response is that “in several cases the shafts of the well-tombs were cut across the cart-ruts, thus proving not only that these were pre-Punic, but also that they had already fallen into disuse in Punic times.”
To this I add that there are cart-ruts near the Ghar Hassan limits of Hal Far and going towards the sheer cliff there. These are now underneath aircraft-dispersal areas. Local fishermen and Bradley the historian mention such cart-ruts on Filfla islet. Near Hagar Qim there are several sets, one of which is the one in the photo, about 300 yards East of the ruins and going towards them. There are also cart-ruts on top of Ras il-Pellegrin, a South-West cliff near Gnejna Bay. These ruts go to the very edge of the cliff, with about a hundred feet sheer drop towards the sea. Why would the Romans need these cart-ruts in these very strange places?
There are those, including Miss Celia Topp, who say that “the tracks are nowhere found in the vicinity of any known temple”. But how could anybody find any cart-ruts near any temple, if the land near the temples is now all cultivated or otherwise developed? Nobody has ever searched the ground systematically to map out all surviving cart-ruts. All the known ruts have been stumbled into on the bare rocks, and these ruts are now so worn out that no one can do any detailed study based on them.
In the 1930’s my father and I used to clean out two sets of ruts which he had discovered, so as to be able to show them to tourists and other interested people. One of these sets is in a field about 300 yards to the East of Hagar Qim and runs in a West by North direction towards the temples.
Another set, made up of a junction of two pairs of ruts, is about a hundred yards further away, in an unused part of the road leading to the temples of Hagar Qim. But although my father used to clean them, they have since been allowed to fill up again.
The cart-ruts near Hagar Qim were discovered by my father in a field under his care. These ruts were covered with soil, and so have been perfectly preserved from weathering. That is why I have been able to make such a detailed study of their characteristics.
The system used in the digging of these ruts is of the same type as that used by the Hagar Qim people to cut channels in blocks of stone, so that they could then cut these up to the desired size. This shows that the ruts are contemporaneous with the temples.
If the ruts had been cut by wheels, their depth would be in principle uniform – and the bottom would only go up and down in keeping with the formation of the surface of the rock. But the ruts have been cut through the rock, to make the bottom of each rut as level and straight as possible. Where the ruts pass along a slanting hillside, a deep rut has been cut on the higher part while very little has been cut on the low side, as our sketch shows that this was done so that the cart would remain level when passing along the ruts.
This proves without any doubt that these ruts must have been cut by tools to make a clearly defined way for the wheels to run along, a kind of tram-lines made of stone instead of steel, just as Sir Temi says. Where the ruts are in a straight line they are narrow, but when they come to a bend, even a slight one, they become wide to permit for the rubbing of the wheels and to prevent their getting jammed. Those people certainly used wheels in these ruts, because no other form of transport, no type of sledge would fit them.
From the form of the ruts I have deduced that the wheels had to be of stone in the form of a bi-convex lens with a central bore to take the axle. When fitted with an axle of hardwood lubricated with the fat of one of the animals they used to hunt, such wheels would have been very efficient. I suspected that some of these stone wheels must have survived, but that they had been mistaken for hand-mill grinding-stones. During the 1950’s I made enquiries at the British Museum and also at the Museo Nazionale della Scienza in Milan, but nobody knew of any such stone wheels. I should explain that one difference between a grinding-stone and a wheel of this sort is that the bore of the wheel must be perfectly cylindrical in shape, while that of a grinding-stone is just an ordinary hole of no regular shape.
There is a very interesting groove at the bottom of the ruts. The rut is not worn out uniformly over the whole of the bottom. Although the base of the rut is 4½” wide – and sometimes wider, on the side of the inclination of the track there is a groove, about 2½” wide, and about ½” deeper than the rest of the base of the rut. This extra depth is in the part worn out through the use of the rut by the rim of the wheel. It shows that the rim of the wheel was about 2″ wide, and not more. If the wheels used had been made of wood, they would not have worn away the stone in this way.
All the characteristics of these ruts rule out the use of sledges. Sledges of the Eskimo type would not turn round a bend with the grooves on the inside of the bend. A Red Indian sledge would not be able to move through the deep and steep ruts with the groove on the inside of the rut. That is why the only conclusion has to be wheels.
After contacting the museums of London and Milan with no positive result, I wrote in a newspaper article on Cart-Ruts: “It does not appear that any such wheels have been found anywhere in the world.” But then, some years later, I discovered the remnant of a cart-wheel lying in the forecourt of the Tarxien Temples. It is made of lava.
It is a worn-out wheel, about 6″ thick, and of a slightly oval shape, measuring 16″ × 13″, with a 3½” cylindrical bore. The guides used to show it to visitors, describing it as a grinding-stone.
At last, we know the shape of the wheel, and what it was made of.
Further investigation of the ruts has revealed that when those road-builders found a gap in the ground with no solid rock on its surface, they filled in that gap with some other stone or with other material that was not as solid as the rock. In time, this filling gave way somewhat under the weight of the cart, and so the edge of the solid rock became worn out in a downward curve.
There are those who claim that no animals were used on these ruts, because, they say, there are no middle-track signs between the ruts. This is because they have noticed the tracks of modern carts, where these pass over beaten earth. They have not examined those tracks that pass over solid rock, where animal-hooves shod with steel shoes and nails don’t even scratch the surface. The ruts in one of our pictures are, in fact, regularly crossed by a modern steel-shod animal and cart, but the only tell-tale signs left between the ruts are notches deliberately made with a pick-axe, so that the animal doesn’t slip when pulling the cart over this rock.
Now, if a modern steel-shod animal doesn’t even scratch the solid rock with its steel nails and shoes, how could an unshod prehistoric animal make the slightest mark on the hardened crust of the rock with hooves which of their nature don’t make any scratches at all?
If those prehistoric people had animals they sometimes sacrificed and killed for food, they certainly also had animals to work for them.
I mentioned earlier that the age of the cart-ruts is the same as that of the Neolithic Temples that were destroyed by the Great Flood caused by the opening of the Gibraltar gap caused by a fault or rift-valley running from Gibraltar up to the southern coast of Malta. Witness to this is the sheer drop of the cliffs of more than a hundred feet into the sea. The cart-ruts on Ras il-Pellegrin which go at right angles to the cliff up to its very edge show that these cart-ruts were made BEFORE those sheer cliffs were formed.
These are my conclusions from my observations of perfectly preserved cart-ruts found near Hagar Qim:
- The ruts were cut by tools and not worn out by the wheels. The cart-ruts were made in order to construct a regular route along which wheeled vehicles would travel smoothly, like a tram-car.
- They were cut to different depths to level up sloping ground, so that the vehicle would not slope to either side.
- They were cut wider where there was a bend in the road so that the wheel would not get jammed.
- The bottom of the rut was about 4½” wide and sometimes (at the bends) even wider. But only about 2½” of it have been worn deeper by about ½” due to the rolling of the rim of the wheel inside this groove (Fig.1).
- The undulating surface of the rock does not affect the smoothness of the bottom of the rut. In some bumpy surfaces there are 15″ from the top of the rock to the bottom of the rut, while nearby there may be only 6″ or even less (Fig.1 and Fig.2).
- Sledges could not have been used, because of the reasons mentioned above.
- They used wheels made of lava in the form of a bi-convex lens, about 6″ thick in the middle and 2″ thick at the rim. The wheel had a diameter of at least 3′ (about 1 metre) and a central bore of 3½” diameter for an axle of hardwood smeared with animal fat.
- These cart-ruts belong to the Pre-Diluvian Stone-Age era when the Mediterranean area was still mostly land, before the South coast of Malta subsided.
- The gauge or the distance between the ruts from centre to centre is 4′ 8″. This is a most stable gauge discovered by those people, and this gauge is still used today by our modern railways.
Webmaster’s note: Although Michael Weber, limiting himself to one place of decimals, has rounded down this figure to “ca. 1,4 m” on page 64 of his 1994 German translation of Joseph’s text, in both editions Figure 2 more correctly expresses this gauge in metric terms as 142 cm. On page 34 of the 1993 reprint of the 1990 second edition of his Malta – An Archaeological Guide David H. Trump had still given “1.30 metres” as “the gauge, i.e. the distance separating the two ruts of a single pair”, but, interestingly, on page 36 of his revised 2000 edition this “average” gauge of his has become “1.41 metres”, which is, indeed, the “average” between 1.40 and 1.42. Whatever the gauge, it cannot correctly be determined by averaging out its normal size and its various invariably greater widths at bends in the system. As to establishing the precise average width of all known cart-ruts on Malta and Gozo, nothing remotely approaching the required preliminary labour of detailed measurement has ever been attempted.
- What has been said above isn’t just a theory. It is all based on proof obtained from solid facts that nobody can deny.
[I recently discovered that one of the practical uses the ancients had for these ruts. Two sets of ruts are going towards the face of a surface quarry with two different layers of rock visible, one layer being about 8″ (20 cm) thick, the other about 24″ (60 cm) thick. The ruts here were not being used to carry blocks of stone, but to transport supplies (and perhaps even the workers themselves) between this quarry and their place of work, no doubt together with such tools as the heavy crowbar-like wooden logs they employed to move stone-blocks about, once these had been cut and readied. These particular sets of ruts are near a quarry-face on the top of Girgenti hill going towards Clapham Junction.