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This is the text only of a chapter  “THE WAGON RUTS (Cart-Ruts)” in the book ” The Stone Age Temples of Malta – and its Antediluvian Culture ” by Joseph S. Ellul.



Fig. 1 These sketches show in detail how the specific patterns of the cart ruts came about.

In addition to their constructions, the Pre-Diluvian people left a network of “wagon tracks” in the rock surface of Malta . A possible proof of the fact that these people no longer roamed about randomly, but already had a planned traffic. The rock tracks are designed in such a way that carts could drive over them.

Sir Temi commented on the tracks: ” The only reasonable explanation is that the tracks were not made by but for the chariots. The engineers of the time did not build their roads like the much later Romans, by building embankment-like road surfaces out of loose material , but they made grooves that follow more the principle of modern trams. ”

Many people think that the cart tracks are from the time of the Roman Empire. Sir Temi commented, ” In many cases the tracks run at right angles to the tombs or wells, but never through or over the grounds, which does not show that they may not be of Roman times, but that they are in antiquity have fallen into oblivion “.

Complementing this are the examples of the tracks at Ghar Hassan, which border Hal Far and run out into the reef. They are now on the airport grounds. The historian Bradley also mentions such cart ruts on the islet of Filfla, and this is confirmed by many fishermen. Many such tracks exist near Hagar Qim, one of them also runs towards Hagar Qim. Other traces can still be found today on the Ras il-Pellegrin plateau, in the southwest cliffs of Gnejna Bay. They lead to the cliffs, which drop about 30 m perpendicularly to the sea. Why would the Romans build roads to such unusual places?

Fig. 2 As early as the 1930s, JS Ellul and his father discovered many well-preserved cart ruts on Malta.

Like Miss Celia Topp, many believe that such tracks do not lead to and around all temples, but unfortunately the land around the temples is mostly used for agriculture and is therefore covered with a thin layer of earth. So far no one has looked for clues underground there. All known cart ruts are carved into the surface rocks, but they are so worn that they can no longer be used for study.

In the 1930’s my father and I cleaned two pairs of tracks that he had discovered so that we could show them to tourists (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3) . One of those pairs can be found in a field about 270 m east of Hagar Qim, running west to north. Another pair, which forms an intersection with two others, lies on a disused road to Hagar Qim. Although my father uncovered them, they are now filled with dirt again. My father discovered the cart ruts under a field he managed. The tracks were filled with dirt and perfectly intact, so I could study them well.

The way in which the tracks were probably made corresponds to the system of separating the stone blocks for the temple construction of Hagar Qim, ergo both the temples and the tracks are from the same period. As for the characteristics of the tracks, it must be said that they do not always have a uniform depth, which they would have to do if they were caused by wagon wheels. However, the tracks go through small bumps and hills and it happens that they are very deeply indented in the hillside, next to it in order to stay level, but are almost not sunk into the ground (Fig. 1) .

Fig. 3 Many small holes that were hewn into the rock with pickaxes probably meant that the draft animals got more ‘grip’ and didn’t slip so easily.

So the wagon tracks were not made by wagons but for wagons. As long as the tracks run along straight stretches, they are very narrow, but when they come to a bend, they become very wide to prevent wheel jamming. Another option than using wheeled transport does not exist in connection with the tracks.

From the shape of the tracks it can be concluded that the associated wheels must have been biconvex and had an axle hole in the middle. The axes were probably made of hard wood lubricated with the fat of the animals hunted. I suspected that if the wheels were found, they would surely be mistaken for millstones. So in the 1950s I asked the British Museum in London and the Museo Nazionale della Scienza in Milan if they knew anything about those stones, but no one could tell me anything about the stones, let alone show me one. The difference between a millstone and a stone wheel lies in the nature of the axle hole. If it is a wheel, it must be a perfectly machined cylindrical opening.

The tracks are a very interesting type of groove, not worn in all places over the years. The base of such a groove is about 6 cm wide, sometimes a little wider. At bends where the grooves are a bit wide, there is still only a 12 cm wide, slightly deeper track (see also Fig. 1 ). From the whole it can be concluded that the traces come from about 5 cm wide stone wheels. Had the wheels been wooden, they could not have deepened the grooves any further.

Fig. 4 This wagon wheel made of lava rock, which JS Ellul found next to the Tarxien Temple, is an inconspicuous yet sensational find.

Sleds with curves, such as those used by Eskimos or the gliding aids of the North American Indians, would get stuck in the grooves. After not getting a positive response from London and Milan, I wrote about the tracks in a newspaper article: ” It doesn’t look like there are any other similar bikes anywhere in the world “. I was wrong, because near the Tarxien temples I found just such a wheel, made of lava rock, albeit very worn (Fig. 4) .

The wheel, which is very badly worn, is 15 cm thick and slightly oval in shape, measuring 40 × 33 cm, with a central cylindrical hole about 9 cm wide. The guides explain to the tourists that it is a millstone. But we now know from what and for what purpose this stone was made. Further investigation showed that when the “groove builders” encountered an area that was not made of solid rock, they filled it with rubble, which was usually not as strong as the rest of the rock. However, the filling material gave way after a while and so the groove was worn even deeper in the filled areas.

Fig. 5 Cart ruts at Dingli (Malta). The strong weathering testifies to the old age of this prehistoric ‘tram’.

There are those who claim that there could not have been draft animals pulling the wagons through the gullies. They think that today’s carriages would also leave their mark on the paved floors. But they didn’t notice that the […] draft animals with their shod hooves left no traces on the solid stone floor. The only traces that can be found (Fig. 3) are pickaxes used to make small scratches in the ground to prevent the animals from slipping when pulling the wagons over the rocks.

So if today’s shod horses don’t leave marks with their hooves, how could the unshod animals of prehistory have left marks on hard rock, especially if they don’t naturally mark? And if prehistoric people kept animals for food and sacrifice, why not keep them for work animals as well?

As already mentioned, the Cart-Ruts are as old as the Neolithic temples and thus also witnesses to the downfall that was caused by the opening of the Gibraltar breach. This opening was in turn caused by the formation of a large fissure or fissure that stretches from Gibraltar to the south coast of Malta. These events are witnessed by the steep end of the cliffs, which plunge more than 30 m down. The cart-ruts of Ras il-Pellegrin, which lead directly onto the cliff and end abruptly there, clearly show that they were built BEFORE the present-day shape of the cliff was formed there.

Therefore I would like to summarize again my conclusions from the observations of the perfectly preserved Cart-Ruts before Hagar Qim:

  • The tracks were created using tools and not wheels. They served regular, quiet and regulated “rail” traffic.
  • Grooves of different depths were created to compensate for unevenness in the terrain (Fig. 1 – Fig. 2).
  • Tracks have been widened at bends to prevent snagging (Fig. 2).
  • Although the grooves are about 4½” (approx. 11.4 cm) wide and at times even wider in the curves, the actual grooves, which accommodate the rims of the wheels, are approximately ½” (approx. 1.3 cm) deeper reaching tracks only approx. 2½” (approx. 6.4 cm) wide. (Fig. 1).
  • Holes or very large bumps were filled to about 15 cm. The uneven surface of the rock does not affect the flatness of the bottom of the track. In some places it’s 15″ from the top of the rock to the bottom of the track, while right next to it it can be as little as 6″ or less. (Figures 1 and 2).
  • Curves or sliding aids could not slide along the narrow grooves.
  • Lava wheels with a biconvex shape were used. The wheels were about 15 cm thick in the middle and about 5 cm outside. One wheel was almost a meter in diameter with a 9 cm hole in the middle. The hardwood axles rested in the holes and were lubricated with animal fat.
  • The traces are clearly from the Stone Age and here before the Deluge. They were created at a time when much of the Mediterranean Sea was still land.
  • The average spacing of the grooves is about 1.4 m, a measurement that is used on many railways today (Fig. 2).
  • The points already mentioned are all verifiable facts and not unproven theories.


Notes and Sources

This contribution by Joseph S. Ellul © first appeared as the chapter “THE WAGON RUTS (Cart-Ruts)” in his book ” The Stone Age Temples of Malta – and its Antediluvian Culture “, which can be found on the Internet as a freely accessible online edition. (Link Broken)*


Image Sources

(1) (no longer online)

(2) (no longer online)

(3) (no longer online)

(4) (no longer online)

(5) , Malta – Archaeological