The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

An ode to Tal-Wej necropolis in Mosta

George M Mangion Tuesday, 11 May 2021, 12:48 Last update: about 2 years ago

Almost three years ago, there was speculation in the media leading to an extension of building boundaries in Tal-Wej on the limits of Naxxar and Mosta with unique shallow rock pool habitats. 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. Be that as it may, nature lovers continue extolling the habitat of land at Tal-Wej where a number of species that live here are uniquely capable of surviving these extremes. Rich garrigue and steppe are also found across much of Tal-Wej, providing an important expanse of habitat and supporting many important species of flora and fauna (see picture). Can we procure state funds to clean the tombs and rebuild broken rubble walls to cordon off such a heritage, which our forefathers left us to enjoy and cherish?

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Perish the thought that ghosts of our Bronze Age ancestors buried in the Tal-Wej necropolis will collectively rise from chamber tombs to solicit us to pay homage to their resting place. 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 is rich with rock pools being a few centimetres deep that sustain a unique community of flora and fauna.

These 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.

These pools appear after the first rains at the end of summer and persist throughout the winter months before drying up when the rains cease. The area is also listed as a Class A archaeological site, noting the move to register Tal-Wej in Mosta and Has-Saptan in Birzebbuga in the network of EU-protected sites was announced by ecology Minister Aaron Farrugia.

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

On the contrary, a 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 ruts 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 European level. A disturbing story is linked to a developer who requested permission to remove the top soil on a part of this protected area.

This was made under the pretext of an archaeological investigation although the developer did not state his 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. Quoting comments by 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. 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?

This subject runs parallel to another common complaint about lack of countryside by residents living in this densely populated island. They crave for elbow room to recreate themselves, for example, by taking part in healthy walks by the seashore. Can 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 inert waste 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 on this arid island. Naturally the question arises: ideas need to be hatched to find the millions (perish the thought about the €272m sleaze tender for building the St Vincent De Paul kitchen) as how to finance the cost of extending the circuit road.

To conclude on the Tal-Wej necropolis and other rich heritage, this article harkens the authorities to start an accelerated plan on how to continue embellishing the island of culture.

 

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The writer is a partner in PKF Malta, an audit and business advisory firm


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