Clapham Junction Series

Start Date & Time: 12/11/2016 - 12:00 am

End Date & Time: 12/11/2016 - 12:00 am

‘Clapham Junction’ Series – Cart-Ruts

The Mysterious Inheritance

On Sat 12th November 2016, a party of 21 FAA members assembled at ‘Clapham Junction’ near Buskett to meet Gordon E. Weston, author and expert on Malta’s cart ruts, who published “The Maltese Cart-Ruts:  Unravelling an Enigma” (2010), and “3000 years of Maltese Heritage” (2015).  Gordon took us on a 2-hour guided tour of ‘Clapham Junction’, which is the largest and most well known and most important of the numerous existing cart-rut sites in Malta.  A coloured cart-rut map was provided to all attendees.   On the tour Gordon pointed out particular features of the cart-ruts, and answered the many questions surrounding the Maltese cart-rut phenomenon such as, are the ‘ruts’ actually cart-ruts, how did they come to form in the bedrock, when did they first begin to form and what is their cultural significance?  Also, throughout the tour, Gordon gave an account of the local flora in bloom at several of the sites visited.

At the first cart-rut location, Gordon described the area as an inter-change of multiple cart-rut roadways, which were given the nickname ‘Clapham Junction’ in the early 20th century, as they resembled the busy rail network inter-change system inWandsworth, South London.  The origin, formation and function of the cart-ruts are intriguing in Maltese archaeology and have been debated for many, many years.  These ancient roadways cut into the Upper Coralline Limestone, are observed as single or multiple parallel pairs having a standard centre to centre gauge of 1.4 metres, which fade in and out or stop abruptly or even disappear under buildings.  Many intersect each other at junctions.

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At the Quarry location near the top of the hill, the question posed was ‘What are the cart-ruts used for?’.  It appears that cart-ruts are found close to quarries, thus it has been inferred that cart-ruts were indeed associated with quarries.  One cart-rut was observed intersected by a Phoenician tomb, which shows that the cart-rut pre-dated the tomb.  It is inferred that Bronze Age is the most likely age of the cart-ruts.  However, there is no exact age dating of these cart-ruts.

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Gordon explained how cart-ruts were formed.  He said that in pre-historic times the whole area had been covered with soil and that surface tracks had originally been created by wooden-wheeled carts. Then other factors came into play including soil erosion, rainwater becoming acidic after lengthy settling in depressions in the limestone ruts, causing weakening by acid erosion and further deepening of the ruts into the forms we see today.

Cart-ruts appear V-shaped and can be 7 cms wide on bottom and up to 60 cms wide at top.  Several deep cart-ruts 20 cms wide have stepped edges caused by abrasion by the cartwheel.  These cart-ruts, apparently worn or cut by sleds or cartwheels into the hard Upper Coralline Limestone bedrock, have developed over a long period of time to produce the amount of wear, presumably due to heavy and frequent loads.  It is observed that these cart-ruts nearly always go to higher ground, where there were probably settlements.  In this case they led uphill converging to the farmhouse.

On the walk up to the farmhouse, the group observed multiple ‘ripple-like’ marks which were cut into the bedrock (see photo below).  Gordon explained that these were deliberately cut into the bedrock to provide grip for the mules pulling the cart up the slippery slope.

The cart-ruts leading up the hill to the farmhouse probably disappeared under the farmhouse at the top of the hill.  Gordon then led us to the opposite down-hill side of the farmhouse, where the cart-ruts appeared again.  Here they were observed as two sets of very deep parallel cart-rut tracks. (see photo below).

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This last location marked the conclusion of the ‘Clapham Junction’ guided tour, which all FAA members found extremely informative and thoroughly enjoyed.  A well deserved thank you to Gordon Weston.

FAA members then proceeded to “The Cliffs” restaurant on Dingli Cliffs for light refreshments.

Derek Moss

FAA Member

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