Period of Use / Rut Formation / Vehicle
The following page provides a general summary of the various features concerning the cart-rut phenomenon. Internet users are invited to submit their views which will be commented upon by the author in what hopefully may become an ongoing discussion of this unique archaeological heritage.

One of the most enigmatic features in the Maltese landscape remains the existence of cart-ruts.  These paired,  parallel tracks can be found in about one hundred and fifty sites across the islands.  Found also in other countries such as Greece, Sardinia, Italy and Sicily, they occur in their greatest number on the Maltese Islands
It is generally held that these cart-ruts are the result of human activity, with the ruts themselves being the last evidence for a transport network of the past.  The absence of any archaeological deposit associated with these trails has resulted in a number of contested hypothesis regarding the period of use, the vehicle and transported goods carried by the ruts.  A summary of the main points concerning this phenomenon follows:-

Period of Use
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The only real association which can throw light on the date of the ruts is the occurrence of cart-ruts crossing the shafts of Punic tombs.  Thus, it has been argued, that the cart-ruts had already served their purpose when the tombs were dug, dating the ruts to not later than the early Phoenician occupation of the islands.  Those who contest this claim, doubt the Punic nature of the tombs described.



A number of ruts are found close to Temples, including those of Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Tal-Qadi, Tarxien, Skorba and Borg l-Imramma.  It is thus postulated that these ruts served as trails on which the megalithic blocks were carried to their final destination.

A much greater number of ruts are not associated with any Temple remains.  The ruts between Hagar Qim and Mnajdra seem to be leading elsewhere while other ruts found near the other Temple sites could easily be accounted for by other destinations.

Bronze Age


Bronze Age settlements are often found on promontories or hilltops for defensive reasons.  A number of these settlements namely that at Borg in-Nadur, Qala Hill, Misrah Ghonoq and Wardija ta’San Gorg have cart-ruts approaching them.


Closer inspection of the cart-rut sites mentioned may indicate otherwise.  At Borg in-Nadur the cart-ruts could equally be associated with the megalithic temple in the area or the Roman Olive industry at Ta’ Kaccatura.  At il-Wardija ta’ San Gorg, the ruts approaching the settlement stop more than a hundred metres away, and are only traced east of the Bronze age settlement at Ta’Zuta going towards a totally different direction.  No ruts have been found in the immediate vicinity and directed towards the settlement.



Ruts are often found near Roman surface quarries, and occasionally ruts are observed to go towards these structures.  In the case of ruts found in other Mediterranean countries, a clear association with classical remains exists


Proof for the Roman nature of the various quarries is lacking, while cart-ruts are not found near major Roman enterprises like the cities of Melitae and Gaulos.

Rut formation
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Two hypothesis attempt to explain the formation of the cart-ruts:-

Deliberate Formation

The first of these holds that cart-ruts were deliberately carved to facilitate the vehicle’s voyage.  Support for this suggestion can be seen at a number of cart-rut sites were despite a very irregular surface the ruts’ bottom is level for long distances (Picture 11).  Modern Ruts with metal rims are also known across the islands, but the profile produced by these is recognizably different.  With wood being the most suggested material of contact between the vehicle and the ruts bottom, too many trees would be needed to produce the ruts. This amount of wood was simply not available after the temple period.

Formation secondary to vehicle wear

The second hypothesis however refutes the first claim, and proposes that most of the ruts’ profile was produced by the wear produced by the vehicle. At a number of sites (Ta’ Cenc, Mensija, Misrah Ghar il-Kbir ) a number of ruts occur close to each other. It would thus make no sense to dig so many ruts close to each other.  On other sites the ruts’ profile actually consists of  two vehicle trails giving a clear indication that a considerable amount of wear was produced by the vehicle itself, and making it unlikely for the possibility of deliberate formation of the rut.

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The vehicles proposed to have travelled across the ruts include the sledge, the cart and the slide car.  All these vehicles have their problems when confronted with different aspects of the ruts’ profile, namely variability of distance between the ruts, sharp turns and shape of the ruts itself.

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