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The Ancient Wheel-Rut Enigma


A Russian Geologist Is Defying the Conventional Dating Dogma

A story in the Alternative News section of Atlantis Rising #124 chronicled how anomalous tire and tread tracks of what could be ancient machines—found mostly in Turkey and Spain, but other places as well—are providing a major archaeological mystery. Now a respected Russian geologist says he believes the tracks could be 12 to 14 million years old.

Dr. Alexander Koltypin, director of the Natural Science Research Center at Moscow’s International Independent University of Ecology and Geology, has been studying ancient ruts appearing in ground that has been petrified since the middle to late Miocene era. Often intersecting very ancient geological fault lines, which they, thus, must predate, the tracks cannot be dismissed as of recent origin.

Koltypin has investigated numerous petrified sites in Malta, Italy, Kazakhstan, France, and even in North America. In Turkey, one cluster near Sofia covers an area of about 450 square miles. In Cappadocia are several such areas as large as 300 square miles. Some of the tracks are comparable in width to modern vehicles with tires about nine inches wide.

The conventional theory, found in the very few works previously discussing the subject, was that the tracks were caused by lightweight carts or chariots. (Of course, according to orthodoxy, modern humans were not around at such early dates.) The ruts are far too deep, says Koltypin, to be made by such small conveyances—even those that could have been drawn by camel. After conducting many field studies in various locations and extensively reviewing scientific literature on the local geology, he speculates that the tracks might have been left by the builders of underground cities found in places like Cappadocia; but he says they are far older than is conventionally believed and could have been left only by heavy machinery.

Dr. Koltypin’s research and many pictures can be found on his website and in several YouTube videos. —ED



Back in 1995 I visited the island of Malta. I was interested in the very old megalithic monuments (once considered to be the oldest man-made stone structures in the world, going back over 7,000 years) as well as the cart ruts. Malta has a number of ancient monuments like Hagar Qim that draw tourists from around the world. Tourists in Malta will also often visit the cart ruts.

The general theory on the ruts is that the ancients were transporting goods on sledges that gouged the tracks into the rock—or that the vehicles were wheeled carts that were transporting goods, and, as other carts followed, the ruts were made over time. Another suggestion has been that some ruts were used for channeling water in some complex and now lost irrigation system. The Maltese archaeologist Anthony Bonanno thinks the ruts are devices of the Phoenicians, putting them in the time period of the seventh century B.C. This is a time after the other monuments were built. It is said that some ruts go into the ocean, indicating that they were there before the sea rose to its current level.

Researchers from Portsmouth University in the UK suggest that wooden-wheeled carts eroding soft limestone while it was wet may have caused the ruts. Professor Mottershead of Portsmouth University (UK) says, “The underlying rock in Malta is weak and when it’s wet it loses about 80 percent of its strength. The carts would have first made tracks in the soil, but when that eroded, the cartwheels ran directly on the bedrock, making it easier for other carts to follow the same tracks.” (Wikipedia)

During my 1995 visit, I awoke early one morning to explore the mystery of the cart ruts at various places around both Malta and its sister island Gozo. The ruts can be found at a number of sites, such as Busewdien in St Paul’s Bay, Naxxar, San Gwann, and Bidnija. A thin and shallow pair of cart ruts runs into the sea at St. Georges Bay (Birzebbuga) on Malta. At Mellieha Bay, a set of cart ruts run parallel to the seashore.

After a bus ride into the interior of the island, I came to Clapham Junction, the most famous intersection of cart tracks. This area is now referred to by its original Maltese name: Misrah Ghar il-Kbir. The Clapham Junction name was given by an Englishman who said the ruts reminded him of the busy railway station Clapham Junction in London.

I left the bus at the village of Dingli and set out for the Dingli Cliffs, where, hundreds of feet below, the sea crashed into the island’s west side. A Maltese man in a dump truck stopped abruptly and gave me a ride to the scene of the cart ruts.

A dirt road led to a signpost pointing the way further. Later, at a grassy rock field, where over 30 ruts converge and radiate outward in multiple directions, I wandered about inspecting the many weird ruts carved into the rock. Many pairs of tracks ran in perfect parallel, at a distance from each other, curiously matching the old British gauge for railway tracks. They ended abruptly over cliffs.

Conventional Research

Scientists have studied the anomalous ruts since the turn of the twentieth century. M. A. Murray, in a 1928 article entitled, “The Cart-Ruts of Malta,” published in the British scientific journal Man, argued that the archaeological evidence for human origin for the tracks is fairly strong. There seems, he said, to have been a network of these roads over the whole island of Malta. The age of these ancient roads seems indicated; not only by their connection with the megaliths, but also by the fact that they were made when the configuration of the island was different from its present condition.

These ancient tracks are remarkable in many ways. They go over cliffs; they are of consistent gauge; and crisscross both Malta and Gozo. The more researchers looked into the cart tracks, the more mysterious and puzzling they became.

The British archaeologist H. S. Gracie wrote in a 1954 article for Antiquity magazine (28:91–98) entitled, “The Ancient Cart-Tracks of Malta,” that the barren hilltops of Malta are scored in many places by ancient ruts cut deeply into the rock: “They can be seen also on the slopes and on the lower plains,” he wrote, “but less frequently because these areas are normally under agricultural soil. They always occur in pairs from 52 to 58 inches apart and were quite clearly used by vehicles.”

“Rut depths,” says Gracie, “range from a mere smoothing of the surface to more than 2 feet. The greatest depth noted was 27 inches, and there were several measurements between 22 and 24 inches. These are the mean depths of a pair of ruts taken from the highest point of the intervening rock. A wheel to negotiate such ruts would need to be 5 feet in diameter, allowing only 6 inches for the hub.”

There are sometimes sharp turns in the tracks. “In no case,” Gracie found, “was there any widening or flattening of the bottoms of the ruts such as would necessarily have been formed by a sledge runner. Sledges, therefore, could not have been used.”

Frequently a track will “bifurcate,” Gracie reported, “the two parts coming together again after a short distance.”

“The date of the road system is more difficult to arrive at,” said Gracie. “Tracks pass over Punic graves in at least four places. At Imtarfa, the lip of the rut is a sharp right angle, indicating that the rut is older than the grave, which has cut through and truncated the rut.”

Gracie believed that a simple system of natural tracks joining settlements with each other and with springs and the sea was formed about the beginning of the first millennium BC but possibly earlier.

British-Maltese researcher David Trump on his website mentions a number of sites around Malta where cart ruts can be seen on the seabed, as at St. George’s Bay (near Birzebbuga Bay). He says that St. Georges Bay also has a strange, thin, shallow pair running into the sea near the underwater cart ruts. He mentions other sets of ruts that run parallel to the seashore at Mellieha Bay.

Trump also reports on submerged cart tracks and other shapes that may be buildings on the seafloor out from St. Julian’s, towards the village of Pembroke.

Also mentioned briefly, is that the massive harbor of the capital Valletta is reported to have many, large stone structures on the seafloor. It was well known, Trump says, that “a megalithic structure once existed inside Valletta’s Grand Harbor, at the foot of Fort Saint Angelo.” The historian Jean Quintinus said that this temple extended over “a large part of the harbor, even far out into the sea” as late as the years 1536 and 1606. The historian Megeiser (1606) said that he could see that it was constructed of “rectangular blocks of unbelievable sizes.”

One of the mysteries of the cart ruts is that while grooves for the wheels are clearly worn, there are no similarly worn tracks between the ruts for any draft animals. It has been suggested that sidecars were used in moving quarried blocks or other cargo, yet there are no tracks or depressions showing that animals or men pushed or pulled the carts.

Were the hypothetical carts self-powered? Did a primitive form of steam engine move them along their rock-cut tracks? Were they electric vehicles of some kind? It is clear that the ruts were made in a world now long gone and that much of it is now underwater.

Part of the mystery of the Malta cart ruts is that they seem to be from a time before the Mediterranean was flooded as we find it now. Was that 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age? Or was it hundreds of thousands of years earlier? Geologists can, and do, argue about this.

What was going on with these cart tracks? What were they hauling? In my 1996 book, Lost Cities of Atlantis, Ancient Europe & the Mediterranean, I suggested that it had something to do with nearby rock quarries, of which there are many on Malta. The giant blocks used at the megalithic sites of Hagar Qim and Mnjadra and others, I argued, were transported by carts that made the ruts. But did they have an independent power source? That is an enduring mystery, as we do not see any ruts for draft animals.

The late researcher Phillip Coppens wrote that Italian researchers Conti and Saliba believed the whole network dates back to Phoenician-Roman times, when large ashlar blocks were extracted from quarries. Conti and Saliba conclude that dating of these ruts is of only secondary importance: “Cart-ruts and quarries could have been a system which saw its birth in the Neolithic Period and continued to be used until the Classical and possibly later periods.” The rock was rough and fissured enough, so that primitive tools could easily break it up. The quarries at Misrah Ghar il-Kbir still show signs of drilling, which is of a similar type what is found in the unfinished sections of the Hypogeum, suggesting Neolithic hands might have engineered the first cart ruts.

“Good rock is good rock,” said Coppens, “whether in Neolithic, medieval, or modern times. Thus, when we look southwest of the site, there is a huge modern quarry, more than 25 meters deep; underscoring that a quarry is often not used in just one historic period, but that it has retained its importance for eons. However, that the rock might not be as good as one might think—at least not if one looks for hard rock—is a conclusion drawn by the previously mentioned Professor Mottershead, who developed a cart to fit the cart ruts and estimated its weight and the stresses that would be involved when it was moved over the rocks. Mottershead argues that in some places the rock is so soft that after heavy rain, the passage of a single cart could cause the rock to fail and result in the deep ruts. In wet conditions, the rock loses eighty percent of its strength—which is why there are so many ruts.

It is known that some of the stones for the Maltese temples came from afar, just like some of the stones for Stonehenge, which were transported for several miles. Not only was it because it had to be the “right type” of stone, it seems that the stones were often taken from religiously important sites. Noting that several Maltese temples were built on top of hills, it might be no coincidence that “Clapham Junction” is located on a hill. Was stone once quarried here because these rocks were deemed sacred? We will likely never know, but if not Misrah Ghar il-Kbir, then perhaps some of the other sites on the island, from which the stones were taken, were held sacred.

Still, for an island that had no rail infrastructure, Clapham Junction will remain its single greatest contribution to the “art” of such modes of transport. Indeed, one often forgotten aspect is the question as to where the workforce that quarried these stones could have lived. Though no trace exists, it has been proposed that nearby Buskett is one of the few areas of Malta with a year-round, spring-fed water supply. And hence, the two sites in this area that bring tourists—Buskett Gardens and Clapham Junction—might also have been the ones that saw human habitation in ancient times. Good sites, like good stones, will always attract people, regardless of the times in which we live. And though the ruts might not yet have revealed their true age, they have unveiled their purpose.

We may never know the origin of all of the cart ruts around the world, but their prevalence would seem to speak of a prehistoric world that shared the same gauge of cart for their many rock quarrying and moving tasks.

It is interesting to note in this regard that Egypt is not known for cart ruts, yet it is a place of many megalithic monuments. The mystery continues.

CAPTION: Typical stone road in Turkey, intersected by a fault line (photo by Alexander Koltypin).

Prehistoric wheel ruts on Malta, origins unknown.

Ancient quarry at Misraћ Gћar il-Kbir in Siġġiewi, Malta.

March/April 2018 – #128

Out-of-Place Artifacts