The Malta Independent on Sunday, 27 April 2008, by Noel Grima –
One of the most important archaeological sites in Malta – and most of it is still in private hands
Skorba is accepted by all as one of the most import-ant archaeological sites in the Maltese Islands.
Excavations led by David Trump in the 1960s unearthed remains from all the known phases of Maltese pre-history, from the Ghar Dalam era (5000 to 4300BC) to the phase now known as the Skorba phase (4500 to 4100BC), to the temple period (3600 to 2500BC).
However, enclosed behind a flimsy wire-netting fence is not only just a part of the actual Skorba area but also the less important part. The more important part lies outside the wire netting and is in private hands.
The government has known about this for decades and the proposal for the government to buy or expropriate the land has been meandering around in
government corridors in the Lands Department and elsewhere for years.
In addition, one of the farmers who owns the land actually wants to give the land to the government.
And yet, up until now, the land remains outside the fence and at the mercy of everyone.
This fact was highlighted in the exchanges between the officials from Heritage Malta who gave presentations, and a very interested audience, mainly from Mgarr, who attended a seminar at Mgarr school last Tuesday.
Maria-Elena Zammit, Joanne Mallia and David Cardona from Heritage Malta gave presentations on the Med.Archeo Sites programme in the EU’s Interreg IIIB Archimed programme in which Malta is partnered by associates from Greece, Sicily and Italy.
Furthermore, in the course of the very interesting presentations, members of the audience advised the Heritage Malta people of yet another site in a very rich archaeological area, which the Heritage Malta people had no idea existed.
Just in front of the government estate, these people told the meeting, there is an oak tree near which is a cave with megaliths.
Although the focus of the EU-funded programme remains the two temple sites at Skorba and Ta’ Hagrat, it has enabled a more detailed analysis of the whole area between Zebbiegh and Mgarr and has shown, if there was any need, not just the importance of further excavations and study but also greater preservation of the remains. Much has been disturbed over the years, with remains used for farming,
children playing around the unguarded remains and disturbing important evidence and, lately, with development. However, the residents of the area have not lost hope that some day, somewhere, another hypogeum will be found. It was noted that prehistoric temples go in twos – Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, the Tarxien and Corradino temples – and that they tend to have a hypogeum nearby.
The two World Heritage sites, especially Skorba, are very important because they mark what is probably the very first human encampment in Malta: the nearness to the sea, yet far enough to be able to see any invaders, the water resources and the fertile land all helped the first inhabitants to settle there.
The stratified remains in the soil at Skorba have enabled researchers to discover important details about the day-to-day life of those times: the animals they kept, even the food they ate.
Remains of huts surround the two temples at Skorba, though these may have been used for ritual purposes.
Ta’ Hagrat, excavated by Sir Temi Zammit in 1916, has two structures, the oldest of which is even older than Ggantija.
David Cardona then gave a very interesting
presentation of the other areas in the wide buffer zone linking and surrounding the two temple sites. The big field just in front of Zebbiegh church has four tombs, two sets of cart ruts and a quarry that cuts through the cart ruts and surrounds yet another burial site.
The area near Skorba has two more quarries and four burial sites, one still used by farmers for animals and to store tools. There is also a small cave, with
possibly a rubble wall inside, pointing to its possible use as a dwelling in the troglodyte period. There are also two British anti-air batteries, one of which has been turned into a cistern.
Nearby there was yet another system of cart ruts and a quarry – today apartments occupy the site.
Perhaps the most important site in the area is the Tar-Radd cave, with an important burial ground nearby. One of these has stairs down to the burial place, which has two chambers, while the other was re-used in palaeo-Christian times, as evidenced by Christian symbols engraved on the walls and remains.
Finally, the Ta’ Hagrat area also contained remains, but at least one burial site is now itself buried under the police station!
People at the seminar expressed concern that
construction work, especially in the Tar-Radd area, continues despite enforcement notices and is rapidly destroying yet more heritage.
The EU programme is leading to at least two important developments.
One is a 3D model of both temple sites, the work of an Italian team (available soon), which will enable people to explore the sites just as if they were there in person.
Secondly, a book will soon be published on the whole project. It has already led to an important development: boxes of the remains unearthed in
previous excavations were still unopened since the time of those excavations. They are now being opened and each item, including animal remains and stone tools, is being catalogued and analysed.
The mayor of Mgarr, in conclusion, said that there are even more remains than had been mentioned in the seminar. He urged people to report anything that could be related to heritage and called for more studies, excavation and preservation of even more sites.