2009 - Archaeological Survey at Mgarr ix-Xini

Excavation works at Għar ix-Xiħ resumed this summer (2009), entering into the 5th season. As in previous seasons, these works were carried out by the Department of Classics and Archaeology of the University of Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. Apart from a number of participating archaeology students, a number of archaeology graduates also volunteered. These excavations form part of the Mġarr ix-Xini Valley Regional Park Project undertaken as a joint initiative by the Xewkija and Sannat Local Councils who are, thus, also financing the excavations.
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Having already reached the bedrock in various peripheral areas of the site during past seasons, work was now focused on the central area where deeper levels were reached, exposing more interesting deposits and, particularly, a huge stone wall aligned on a north-south axis. Having already exposed its surviving surface during past excavation seasons, this now-confirmed wall was initially thought to have been part of a stone pavement. Likewise, other features and deposits are becoming better understood and the emerging data is getting ever more clarified as the excavation is reaching advanced stages.
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There were other structural features which continued to be brought to light. These included the remaining extent of another wall of smaller dimensions than the previous one. Besides structural remains, evidence of localised burnings may suggest hearths or the use of fire in association with ritual activities undertaken on the site. But more interesting were what appeared to be remnants of crude pillars or standing stones, the precise purpose of which is unclear. However, these could have been used as offering tables like similar ones found at Tas-Silġ (Malta) and Ras il-Wardija (Gozo) sanctuaries. Hopefully, their true function and purpose will get better clarified during the forthcoming excavation seasons.
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As it draws closer to its concluding stages, the excavation is providing us with an ever more concise and complete picture of the site’s history and of its purpose and function. The data retrieved so far confirms that, originating as a cave site in remote geological times, the site was later (i.e. in historical times) modified and adapted to function as a small rural sanctuary dedicated to an unknown deity or deities. Ritual activity may have started already since late Phoenician times, continuing throughout Punic and Roman times, and apparently reaching its climax around the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. Surviving till around the 3rd century A.D., it gradually declined and was abandoned. The site was, subsequently, used as a field for agricultural purposes.

Fresh and useful information is also forthcoming as a result of the archaeological survey conducted in Mġarr ix-Xini valley. The indications achieved so far show that the trough sets scattered along the valley sides as well as in the valley itself were used to produce wine from grapes harvested from nearby vineyards. They were probably already in use since around the 4th century B.C. and appear to have remained active until late Roman times. This was confirmed by archaeological excavations undertaken last year at Tal-Knisja and recently this year at Tal-Loġġa in fields associated with some of these trough sets. As the already exposed troughs cannot be themselves excavated, archaeological excavations were and are being carried out in fields associated with certain trough sets so that information gained from the excavation of these fields would also shed light on the associated troughs and, by analogy, on the remaining ones too.

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