The Malta Independent 26 September 2020, Saturday

Superintendence of Cultural Heritage will continue its investigation into Tarxien tombs

Friday, 22 May 2020, 18:30 Last update: about 5 months ago

In the coming months, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage will continue its investigations into Tarxien tombs

Yesterday it was reported that an incredible, undisturbed tomb probably dating back to the Punic period has been found in Tarxien.

The National Heritage Ministry said today that during 2018 and 2019, a cluster of seven tombs were discovered during construction works in the south-eastern limits of Tarxien. The plots, all neighbouring each other, included land that had not been developed before.


The area is known to have had a tomb discovered in 1974 (Museum Annual Reports). The tombs mainly consist of the typical shaft and chamber tomb which were in use about during the Punic and Roman periods, found across the Maltese Islands, about 2500 to 1800 years ago.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage ordered archaeological monitoring during the early stages of development as a permit condition in view of the known archaeological sensitivity of the site, which resulted in the discovery of these tombs. "As in similar cases, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage directs archaeological investigations on site through freelance archaeologists registered and approved by the Superintendence, who monitor the works as representatives of the Superintendence on site, and where required assist in the investigation and documentation of the newly discovered feature," a statement by the National Heritage Ministry read.

An excavation team from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which includes an osteologist, carried out the investigation of two sealed tombs. One tomb included the remains of two adult skeletons, an amphora (large water jar) and a patera (a double handled bowl). After the burial of the two individuals, the tomb was sealed with a large stone slab. The second tomb included a number of funerary pottery urns containing burnt human bone. The urns were covered with either bowls or plates. Deposited inside the chamber together with the urns were a trefoil jug, an oil lamp, a number of small pottery vessels, an amphora and another patera. This chamber was also sealed with a large stone slab.

The latter tomb was used between the Punic and Early Roman Period, between the 4th and 2nd Century BC. This necropolis shows that burial practises in the classical period varied within the same context, including both inhumations and cremations. Discoveries in this condition are becoming increasingly rare because archaeological remains are finite and non-renewable. More importantly, this discovery further proves the need to have monitoring conditions included in development permits as well as to have professional archaeology monitors on site to be present during development works.

In the coming months, the Superintendence will continue its archaeological investigations in other tombs found at this site. The contents excavated, including the human remains and the ancient objects are also currently being studied by the Superintendence. "The studies will give us some information about the individuals buried in the tombs (sex, age, traumas and whether they suffered from particular diseases), as well as helping us understand the funerary practises at the time of burial."

On completion of these studies, the results and site context will be published, the ministry said. "Currently, the Superintendence has set up a temporary exhibition at its offices in Valletta, displaying information on the site and showcasing some of the objects from one of the tombs excavated."

The Superintendence is also planning to embark with an information campaign on the site for the local community. "The Superintendence acknowledges the co-operation and support of the developers of the site and their architect, and is working with them so that the tombs can be preserved and integrated within the development project."



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