What are Cart Ruts?

Cart ruts are parallel tracks running through rock, the typical width of a small vehicle or cart, 140 cm or so. In the Maltese archipelago, an area of only 316 sq km,  there are tracks almost everywhere at 150 or more locations, for the most part all similar. Most of them are in hard Upper Coralline Limestone (UCL) however that may simply be because many of the tracks in the softer Globigerina Limestone have disappeared from erosion or human activity. These ruts could be mistaken for ruts made in soft clay, at least that's how they seemed to me when I first saw them. ..however they are formed in rock, and in most cases, very hard rock. That's what makes them puzzling. For so many ruts in so many places worn so deep in hard rock.. ..it begs the questions, who? when? why? It suggests a very active society that moved lots of heavy material around. Certainly they are man made and prehistoric, though even this is disputed. Erich von Daniken for example, in his book, Chariots of the Gods, theorized that they were alien influenced or built, but that seems really far fetched to me, as does the notion that they were part of an irrigation system or field furrows. The evidence that they are at least 2700 years old is compelling since some tracks run through features (Punic tombs) that are at least that old and could not have been there when the tracks were made. Since we know that men occupied Malta for the past 7200 years or more, that leads to the conclusion that the tracks were at least initially made in the period 7200 BP (Before Present) to 3000 BP corresponding to the island's temple building period (7000 BP to 4500 BP) and the Bronze age (4200 BP to 3000 BP), and perhaps reused by later settlers.

The width between the parallel ruts is fairly consistent, almost the same as railway tracks.(1.37 to 1.41 m, Zammit 1928, Evans 1971 and Trump 2002) They run in lines, around curves, up and down hills, even switching back and forth on steeper slopes in parallel with modern roads, and as far as 2 to 3 km in a single stretch. But tying them to any specific period or purpose is difficult. They don't lead from or to any obvious destinations, prehistoric or ancient, and have left no datable material conveniently nearby. Sometimes almost random and carelessly bumpy, in other places they look to be intentionally carved  So the mystery remains and probably will for some time yet. The debate has raged now since at least 1647 when Abela, a Maltese historian, first puzzled over them.

Historically, these ruts have not attracted the same systematic or determined archaeological investigation as have, for example, the temple sites, though this appears to be changing now. Recent work by Trump, Saliba and Conti, Sagano, and Hughes, as well as the extensive digital survey of Clapham Junction all testify to the relatively intense effort devoted to solving the problem at the present time. It will be interesting to see what conclusions unfold from all this new work. Meanwhile modern quarrying and construction on the islands is permanently destroying much of the remaining evidence.

Cart ruts also appear in other places in the world, but far more rarely. It seems that Malta has more cart ruts on it than the rest of the world put together, and elsewhere the tracks are rarely the same as those on Malta, so looking elsewhere for the solution to this puzzle isn't productive. David Trump (Trump 2004) has only found one set of tracks outside of Malta that resemble those on the island. These are tracks worn in rock leading from an ancient quarry to the town of Messina.

If you want to read what others have to say about cart ruts, I strongly suggest that you look for articles by Dr David Trump. While most of his articles are in academic publications and very difficult to access, he has also written numerous articles for magazines and books. I particularly like his book, Malta Prehistory and Temples. It gives a balanced and detailed perspective on the entire Maltese prehistory. And if you can afford it, the book Malta before History is the best collection of current info (and superb photography) on Malta's prehistory, written by several of the leading authorities in this field, and includes a chapter on cart ruts by Trump. Both books are available from MaltaOnlineBookshop. Finally, if you have access through a University to academic papers, there are many written on this topic. If you begin with the recent papers listed on this site, they also reference much older articles 

If some of the ideas here seem bizarre and false, I take full credit. Where they seem sound and logical, it is probably an idea I have repeated from elsewhere. So much has been written on this topic that very little here or elsewhere is truly original. What is original on this site is my attention to the areas around Malta that were submerged at the time the first settlers arrived 7200 years ago that may contain more cart ruts as well as the human constructions they served. Keep in mind however, that neither the interpretation made here nor any other that has proposed in the past 300 years or more have ever obtained any widespread acceptance. It remains an unsolved mystery.

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