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Network News • 25-03-2021

Mysterious cart tracks at Tal-Wej need conservation

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today on 25 March 2021

Our rich heritage in Tal-Wej area calls for conservation and protection after recent attempts were made by developers to turn it into another Sliema concrete jungle. Tal-Wej area is an open green space on the limits of Naxxar and Mosta with unique shallow rock pool habitats. These pools being a few centimetres deep, sustain a unique community of flora and fauna that have adapted their reproductive cycles to the short lifespan of these rock pools.

The ecological and archaeological importance of Tal-Wej, which lies outside development zones, is self-evident and has already been recognised by the authorities who have over the years granted various levels of protection to the area, including a 2011 scheduling of the freshwater rock pools and adjacent buffer zones. The area is also listed as a Class A archaeological site. The move to register Tal-Wej in Mosta and Has-Saptan in Birzebbugia in the network of EU protected sites was announced by ecology Minister Aaron Farrugia.

Other important attributes include rich garrigue and steppe providing an important expanse of habitat and supporting many important species of flora and fauna. Among these archaeological treasures are a number of classical tombs littered across the different fields, ancient quarries, Ashlar blocks and more. Any visitor can see that such sites have a deep historical value – although no one would know its value as there are no informative signs whatsoever.

On the contrary, the state of neglect makes visitors doubt the historical value of the site, in addition, what one assumes to be classical tombs, for example, are now filled with weeds and some even contain rubbish.

What is certain is the absence of archaeological information on-site ideally provided to educate visitors. Thus, one can admire how the area is of considerable cultural interest, with a vast array of archaeological features that include cart ruts, Punic tombs and many others. These cart tracks have confounded archaeologists as to their origin.

One may speculate that cart tracks provide only indirect evidence of human endeavour and were not intended to convey any special meaning on methods of Bronze Age transportation. There can be no doubt, however, that they were the result of human labour since no known natural force can produce practically parallel winding grooves on the rock surface stretching over distances of hundreds of metres. In fact, almost all published studies of ancient cart tracks have generally focused on conjectures, with little or no reference to any scientific evidence on their formation in solid rock.

The good news is that Tal-Wej was recently nominated for protection as a Natura 2000 site, which would have ensured that it would be adequately safeguarded at the European level. A disturbing fact refers to a developer who requested permission to remove the topsoil on part of this protected area.

This was made under the pretext of an archaeological investigation although the developer did not state its intentions for the site known as Tal-Wej, Triq is-Seneskalk. It was thanks to a number of environmentalists who lobbied unsung and unaided to protect this sacred burial ground from the ravages of demolition that resulted in the request being withdrawn.

In another instance, three landowners, are objecting to the award of a Natura 2000 protection order. They filed an appeal against the designation of Tal-Wej as an Area of Ecological Importance, which would eventually form part of the EU’s network of protected sites. Almost three years ago, there was speculation in the media leading to an extension of building boundaries in Tal-Wej. This was fuelled by a mysterious online advert on a property website – which has since been removed.

The greed to cash in by building on such ODZ sites continues unabated. Quoting visitors, they are ashamed to witness how this site is practically a dumping ground for discarded building materials which, makes you doubt its importance yet it embraces dolmens, cart-ruts, ancient quarries, shaft and chamber tombs, Karstland, vine trenches, a 16th-century chapel and two corbelled huts.

Can we expect state funds to clean the tombs and rebuild broken rubble walls to cordon off such a heritage that our forefathers have left us to enjoy and cherish?

Perish the thought that ghosts of our bronze age ancestors buried in the Tal-Wej cemetery will collectively rise from chamber tombs to solicit us to pay homage to their resting place.

The duty to clean up the site and preserve this heritage is yet another problem to a beleaguered and cash-strapped Mosta council stoically armed with intentions to get Tal-Wej heritage preserved. Does it have to be a pipe dream to wake in the morning and enjoy an early walk in a preserved habitat replete with signage at Tal-Wej? Surely with the current Easter Covid-19 lockdown, it is a pity that this habitat is not popular for visiting couples – once they all observe social distance and wear masks.

This subject runs parallel to another common complaint by residents living on this densely populated island. They crave for elbow room to recreate themselves, for example, by taking part in healthy walks by the seashore. Ideally, apart from building new superhighways and widening roads – we start to extend the shoreline on reclaimed land as has been achieved in Sliema ferries and Msida.

Many studies presently gathering dust on PA shelves have been commissioned to examine the feasibility to reclaim acreage of shoreline using building waste (such as the mass of debris in Maghtab).  The recreated foreshore track would, in effect, function as a peripheral bypass catering for families and joggers – all can enjoy refreshing seaside walks.

Naturally, the question arises, as to how to finance the cost of extending the circuit road. The answer can be part of the €95 million annual MTA budget plus a toll from commercial bodies making use of advertising billboards and other marketing concessions. The signage will be regulated in size so as not to obstruct views.

To conclude on the Tal-Wej and other rich heritage, this article aims to draw attention to the authorities. Can they start an accelerated plan to embellish the island of culture? Due to the pandemic, foreign arrivals are low so this is an ideal time to use our surplus and seriously upgrade our touristic product.

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today on 25 March 2021
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