I assume a date coinciding with the temple period and before that. ..though the Bronze age canít be ruled out. It just seems to me that this was a home grown technology that developed on the island over a considerable period and without apparent outside influence.. ..much as the temple culture evolved.. The pervasiveness of the artifact throughout the island is similarly intense, both cart ruts and Temple sites are found almost everywhere, and finally, the frequency and depth of their occurrence at or below sea level makes the choice of this period compelling.. ..to me anyway. We now know that sea levels have risen less than 5 meters since the beginning of the Bronze age whereas there was more than a 12 meter rise of sea level, during and immediately preceding, the time of temple building. With known cart ruts in shallow water in St George's Bay near Birzebugga as well as other ruts entering the sea elsewhere, it is compelling to attribute them to an age when the current shoreline was much further from the sea. Archaeologists are divided on this topic. A temple period date is supported by Sagona 2004, Zammit (1928,20) and Hughes (1999, 72) while Bonanno, Trump and others propose various other more recent dates coinciding with the Bronze age and later. "Punic tombs provide a terminus post quem a c. 700 BC for the ruts (Pace 1995, 59), thus discounting the Phonecian-Punic population at the outset as the creators of the cuttings." (Sagona 2004) The debate is sure to continue for some time yet. Indeed, all these ideas may have some validity if we assume that the ruts were created during the temple period and reused from time to time since then.
..And I also canít believe that the temple builders invented the construction techniques of Temple Building for the purpose of constructing temples. Temple Building was probably a derivative capability learned from some more mundane construction needs in which they learned to quarry and cut stone and transport them a long way. Temples are simply the remaining artifacts of a civilization that would have built many other things. Cart ruts are, I believe, the additional evidence they have left behind. Originally built for the purpose of mining and transport of building materials, they may subsequently have been used for simpler tasks, like moving farm produce, earth and other materials. Once evolved and perfected, the lessons they learned from mining and the constructions it served, enabled the skill of temple building.
It might be possible to estimate the amount of material moved about on the ruts by the depth, lengths and frequency with which the ruts occur. Certainly the collective temple sites added together would be a small part of this, which is why I surmise, there isnít much direct association between them, nor would I expect that. A single temple construction would not likely have caused ruts deep enough to be evident today, particularly if material was being brought to the site from different directions.
Similarly I hypothesize that the ability to create the very hard artificial surfaces (Torba) found on some temple floors is likely learned elsewhere, and may also appear where ruts needed to be refilled and repaired. I speculate that the ruts preceded the temples. The fact that Torba is only found on internal temple floors today suggests to me that it is vulnerable to dissolution from rain, and so couldnít survive 7000 years of weathering outside, even if it was regularly used as a filler in cart ruts. If any repair material, like Torba, is to be found in the tracks, it will be hidden and protected under soil laid down soon after the tracks were made. Alternatively, if no cement-like Torba is found in the ruts, then the fill may have been loose sand, or similar material, to allow slides to run efficiently along the tracks. Some fill however seems likely otherwise the tracks would have been very uneven and bumpy and hard to traverse.
The evidence for human power as one source of propulsion seems almost certain (human-like footholds are apparent in some steeper sections of ruts, Trump 2002), though Iíve heard that the Maltese Ox, ďthe gendusĒ, now almost extinct, have good balance and will follow a narrow track reliably, a trait they may have been selectively bred for. I wonder if they could navigate along a rut? How wide are their hoofs.. ..would they fit in the narrowest ruts? Could they navigate a rut up to 60cm deep? The answer is likely no to at least the last of these questions, however if the ruts were filled or otherwise maintained, it is conceivable that the Oxen, like the carts, were able to walk in the tracks. And if not in the tracks, why are there not worn tracks elsewhere on the rock? Certainly with a powerful animal like the Ox available to do the work, it seems unlikely that men would have done most of the pulling. Temple period illustrations show an Ox of that period that seems very similar in appearance to those still alive today, and may have been the ancestor stock. I surmise that both Oxen and men may have done the carting, with men assisting in the difficult stretches and the Oxen doing the routine work. If they followed tracks reliably, they could do most of the carting with minimal human involvement, the tracks keeping both cart and animal on course for great distances. Visit AllMalta.com for more info on the Gendu..
Other cart ruts on Malta
Some of the anomalies of other ruts on the island are most interesting and I hpe to investigate them myself when I next visit Malta. The bumps along the tracks, where they occur, must be much harder than the surrounding stone and hence did not wear. That is certainly the case in some places (Trump 2004). The track wore down elsewhere to make the bump. It may have been easier to periodically fill the tracks with Torba, for example, before and after the bump, to make the section passable, rather than hack away to remove the harder rock. What is left today is the worst state the track ever got into. The fill has since disappeared from erosion. The same logic applies to other bumps and ledges, ..probably they were ramped while in use. The examples of double ruts running parallel may be instances where one track became too deep and warranted too much repair.. ..a new parallel track being easier to create. Periodic side tracks would also be necessary to allow carts to pass. The tracks around sharp bends are also worth investigating further. That fact that some are banked supports the idea that they were at least initially carved to facilitate smooth passage. Sharper bends such as those at San Pawl Tat Targa near Naxxar should show repair evidence, since they are the most likely to cause problems for carts after they were worn down, and hence may have required refilling or other repair with a material such as Torba. Of course, if settlers from different time periods reused the tracks, as is likely in at least some cases, then the wear patterns will be ambiguous.
The mean depth and width of the ruts as they pass through different rocks of varying hardness should also teach us a lot about their usage and the characteristics of the carts themselves. Clearly the tracks through the soft globigerina limestone rocks should follow a dissimilar depth distribution as through hard coralline rocks. Since they wore down faster, we would expect a larger number of them being deeper for longer stretches. The distribution should show truncation at their maximum functional depth of 50-60cm. after which they would have required repair, refilling or rebuilding. It is inconceivable to me that a track would be abandoned once its depth in some places caused carts to bottom out. At least for some time, it would be practical to fill the ruts at their deepest sections to keep the passage functional. For the most part, the ruts as they appear today would be far rougher and uneven than they were while in use. The repair or fill material, for the most part, is probably washed out.. ..but surely not everywhere.. The composition of this fill material would identify the people who made them. If it resembles Torba, then it would have to be of the temple period. Once again, the ruts may have been reused more than once, and for different purposes, so their original shape and usage pattern may have changed after they were initially carved.
There is also the issue of time and erosion. Water is certain to collect and run along the tracks, so we would expect a much higher rate of erosion in the tracks compared to the surrounding rock, but how much more? Did erosion deepen or distort the shape of the tracks? What were they really like while in use?