Clapham Junction, also known as Misrah Ghar il-Kbir (N 35° 51.13 E 014° 23.82) is a very interesting place. It is located on the southwest coast of Malta 2 km east of Dingli. It is an area the size of several football fields and is literally covered with cart ruts. In fact the name, Clapham Junction, was coined because the tracks resemble the railway switching yard of Clapham Junction in the UK. There appear to be more cart tracks at this one site than in all the rest of Malta combined. This site is best viewed from the air and the best photo I've seen is by Daniel Celia in the book, Malta Before History 2004, on page 396 available from MaltaOnlineBookshop
When I think of this location, the only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that the entire site is the base of a large quarry with all the Upper Coralline Limestone (UCL) removed from above it. The entire surface looks worked over, which makes sense for a quarry floor. Its about 25 Ha (250,000 sq meters) in surface area with the main exit of the quarry heading north and east toward Buskett and Valletta. Assuming that say 2 meters of rock was removed from the entire surface (an arbitrary estimate) then the material removed is about 250,000 x 2 = 500,000 cubic meters of rock, not much by today’s quarrying standards, but an enormous size for a prehistoric one. No doubt this amount of rock must show up somewhere if it was indeed removed from the site, probably in the form of rubble. It certainly wouldn't have been shipped off elsewhere because it would have had very little commercial value. I suppose it could be part of the enormous number of rubble walls that now cover the island but I hypothesize that much of it went into the land around Malta that flooded during the final -17 to -5 m rise in sea levels following the last ice age. ..also coinciding with the period when the island was occupied by the temple builders, from 7200 BP to 4500 BP. This of course, assumes the temple builders are primarily responsible for the tracks, rather than later settlers who also harvested rock from the site.
The caves, Misrah Għar il-Kbir, located within this area, and
apparently of Bronze age origin, are a post quarry construction. More recent and
obvious rock cuts are evident in various places, (Saliba
and Conti 1998 sites A-H) particularly around the perimeter, so the quarry has been used
as a source of UCL for a very long time. A local man (red pickup in photo) told me
that large slabs of rock were cut and dragged down the hill by local farmers (up to 100 pulling
on ropes) as recently as this past century.
With the exception of a small deposit near Valletta, Clapham Junction is the closest and most convenient source of UCL for most of the eastern side of the island (see diagram below. UCL is shown as dark green) and Buskett is a short walk away on the path toward this eastern destination, as well as Rabat and elsewhere. This particular rock was rough and fissured enough so that it could be broken up with simple primitive tools, perhaps an advantage over other sources of similar rock. Besides rubble, rock slabs have also been removed. This shows up us as more obvious quarry sites where there are clear cuts visible (Saliba and Conti 1998 sites A-H). There is a new study, sponsored by Heritage Malta, recently completed, in which the entire site was digitized using accurate state of the art 3D surveying techniques. A 3D virtual tour will soon be possible, allowing researchers to explore the site on their computers. Heritage Malta survey 2005 This will certainly help solve this riddle once and for all.
The ruts themselves are interesting. When I first visited the site, I had trouble finding ruts at all. Most are very shallow, sometimes barely visible, and cover the entire surface, reflecting, I hypothesize, the mining activity and rock removal from the entire area. There are some deeper ruts that are where the carts may have collected for their descent towards Buskett. These tracks were probably maintained with some type of fill. Likely they were ground down to smooth the cart passage to begin with, and then wore down with further use. When their depth reached 50 to 60 cm, the carts may have bottomed out and the tracks were likely refilled with either a very hard and durable material, such as Torba, a rock-like cement made by the temple builders (if wheels were used) or a slippery material like sand (if slides were in use). I would expect to find evidence of filling, particularly further away under the farm fields where the fill may have survived erosion, or in large cracks that needed to be traversed along the way. There should be datable material in the sections of rut that filled shortly after their use, also likely present under the farm fields where the tracks disappear nearby. There are also prominent tracks disappearing over the escarpment cliff created by the Globigerina quarry to the west.. ..though I have no idea why. Perhaps these tracks lead to another source of UCL that was also transported along these tracks. The problem is however very complex due to the evident use of the site throughout the prehistoric, ancient and more recent times.
Buskett, less than 0.5 km away, is one of the few areas of Malta with a year round spring fed water supply. It is the logical site for a settlement or camp where the prehistoric quarry workers may have lived.