Heritage Malta archaeologists have identified and started to expose the remains of a prehistoric structure at Xrobb l-Għaġin, more than a century after they were first investigated. The remains will be documented and studied and – if studies confirm the possibility – some of them may be removed so as not to be lost as the cliff edge at Xrobb l-Għaġin gradually wears away. This project is the first of its kind for Malta.
Details about it were announced at a press conference on site, addressed by the Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, Owen Bonnici; Heritage Malta’s Chief Executive Officer, Noel Zammit; and Vincent Attard on behalf of Nature Trust, the entity in charge of Xrobb l-Għaġin Park where the prehistoric site is located.
The remains of a small prehistoric structure at Xrobb l-Għaġin were first discovered by Temi Zammit and Thomas Ashby at the start of the 20th century. When the structure was excavated, it was found to be very close to the cliff edge and parts of it had already collapsed. For this reason, the few decorated parts discovered were removed and the structure was gradually concealed again, probably through natural means.
The project being currently conducted by Heritage Malta is particular in that the spot where the structure was erected thousands of years ago is now on an eroding cliff edge. This posed quite a challenge for the archaeologists’ safety during excavation works. In fact they had to be strapped to a tower crane during the whole process so as to be out of harm’s way should the cliff edge give way. It was in this manner that, from September till December 2021, the archaeologists excavated two long trenches in order to identify the structure’s exact location. In the preliminary phases of the project, Heritage Malta was also supported by the Restoration Directorate.
In this first season of excavations, the team identified parts of flooring and structures that, however, could not be compared to the specific parts of the structure documented by Ashby since they were only exposed in narrow trenches. Heritage Malta’s Archaeological Excavations Department, in charge of these excavations, this year therefore embarked on a process whereby the area bearing the most interesting elements was excavated in quadrants.
This system yielded the desired results. The structure’s remains have now been identified without any trace of doubt and have started to be uncovered again, more than a century after they were first investigated, so that they may be documented manually, digitally and virtually. By the end of this season of excavations, a condition assessment will also be conducted to inform the decision regarding which parts of the structure might be relocated at a safer spot in the park, away from the eroding cliff edge.
Minister Owen Bonnici said that this is another link in a chain of initiatives that give a new meaning to better accessibility for Malta’s cultural heritage. He praised the efforts of the workers involved, highlighting that this was a complicated process where both the remains and the workers had to be kept constantly out of danger. This attests to the workers’ dedication and professionalism.
Noel Zammit described the Xrobb l-Għaġin project as an ambitious endeavour which once again acknowledges the abilities and experience of Heritage Malta employees in their respective fields and which puts the agency at the forefront of its sector. He mentioned the previous phases of the project, where in-depth studies aided the precise identification of the area to be researched, through remote sensing, geological analysis and seabed evaluation.
Vincent Attard expressed Nature Trust’s satisfaction at having an important site for the history of Malta forming part of this public park. The relocated remains will be accessible the hundreds of people visiting the park, which is in the south of the island and has a recreational and educational purpose. The plan is to have all works completed by the end of this year so that this place may once again be enjoyed by the public free of charge.
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