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      Cart-ruts: (Form and Function)

Cart-ruts are a little-understood prehistoric landscape feature found in several Mediterranean countries (plus a similar feature in Bolivia). Their origin, form and function is still largely undetermined and an international research incentive is currently in progress to determine their nature.


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Article: Investigating Historical Traffic Routes and Cart-ruts in Switzerland, France and Italy




   Cart-ruts: What were they For?
Maltese cart-ruts.French cart ruts

The earliest reference to cart-ruts was made by Gian Francesco Abela in 1647 who suggested that they were used to transport stones from quarries to the sea for exportation to Africa during the Arab rule in Malta. Since then they have been found in many places around the world, and their appearance is generally assumed to have been caused by the continued use of a specific route by a vehicle (wheeled or otherwise). However, this theory is countered by some stubborn facts. For example:

1). Examples of single cart-ruts have been found (2).
2). Ruts have been found running at angles of up to 45(2).
3). Cart-ruts have been found running deep underwater (2).

In addition to the arguments above, other contentions concerning their function, their variety of shapes and sizes, and their tendency to meander and divide has fuelled the debate over the origin and function of all cart-ruts. It is clear that there are differences between examples. The Bolivian ruts (see below), are believed to have functioned as ritual or ceremonial, an idea which is supported by the engravings alongside them. The French ruts however (below), are known to have been produced as a result of quarrying in Roman times, and therefore provide a qualified example of true cart-ruts, made by the passing of laden vehicles.

While there is little doubt then, that some ruts were produced by carts, this is not automatically true of all ruts. There is also a distinction between the French ruts at Anse de St. Croix, which were made on sand, and the several examples of cart-ruts running in stone. The island of Malta in the Mediterranean is the best known cart-rut location in the world, and it is here that one can see the full range of features that have lent weight to the confusion over their origins.

The presence of �stone roads� or "cart ruts" in such countries as Malta, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Switzerland, Spain, Cyrenaica, Portugal, Azerbaijan and France has caused researchers to pay more careful attention to this largely unexplained phenomenon recently. Following a year long international study, scientists from these countries came recently to conclusion that such parallel furrows in the rock bed could not be made, as it was thought before, by wheels of carts crossing rocky outcrops precisely along the same lines with absolute accuracy. Besides which, the �roads� often run in close proximity to ancient quarries. (see Spain-below).




   When were the Earliest Cart-ruts made?

The dating of cart-ruts is mainly based on the argument that some pairs on Malta are cut by Punic tombs. For this reason it is suggested that at this time the cart-ruts had already served their purpose. Owing to this fact, which is valid for only a very small percentage of the total number of cart-ruts found in the Maltese Islands, their dating was placed by David Trump in the Later Bronze Age. He strengthens his arguments by saying that in few sites, ruts clearly run up to the entrances of Bronze Age villages. The Portuguese cart-ruts can also be traced at least back to the bronze age through carvings found alongside the ruts in places.

The cart-ruts found running under-water are proving to be a blessing to investigators as they both suggest an earlier origin date and at the same time, offer an excellent means of dating (through their relative depths underwater). Although at present, this technique is still in its infancy, we would hope that at some time in the near future this ambition may be realised. An example of the potential antiquity of the ruts on Malta is offered by the following extract, supported by findings on the island of Filfla:

Hancock makes reference to 'Father Emmanuel Magri, the first official excavator of the Hypogeum at Hal Safleni', who 'recorded the presence, up until the end of the nineteenth century of cart-ruts on the tiny uninhabited island of Filfla', a small island about 5 km south of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples. He then adds that in 1912, R. N. bradley commented on cart ruts near Hagar Qim - noting that they ran "over the precipitous edge of the cliff towards Filfla" (2)...The conclusion of this information is that cart-ruts once ran all the way from Hagar Qim to Filfla across a land bridge, which has collapsed since humans first came to the island.

Maltese researchers have more recently dated their �roads� to circa 4,000 � 5,000 BC. (5)



   How Were Cart-ruts Made:

There are several theories that attempt to explain the formation of cart-ruts.

Maltese cart-ruts.They were made by the passing of numerous vehicles - This is the traditional view of the formation of cart-ruts. It is not likely to remain so for long though, as evidence suggests otherwise in certain cases. At present, for example, in Malta, the global capital of cart-ruts, with a reasonably constant gauge across the islands, there is no evidence whatsoever of any contemporary vehicles, and examples of single ruts have been found..

They were cut by hand - This theory is the current outside favourite, although the idea is incredible when viewed as a pan-European feature, it is plausible that many ruts may have been started at least by human hand. The variety of shapes and sizes of internal dimensions of the ruts lends weight to this theory, although their frequency at certain locations (i.e. Clapham junction, Malta). stretches the imagination.

They were made by the passing of  a single vehicle - Evidence of this can be seen at Anse de St. Croix, along the seashore. The fact that single sets of ruts run for long distances suggests that they were not used for regular transport of goods, as without regular 'passing points', the routes would have had to have been one-way only. The visual appearance of many 'junctions' of ruts certainly favours this theory, an idea which is supported in the article by Dmitry Bekh-Ivanov, a russian geologist at the following link: (




   Why were the Cart-ruts Made:

Quarrying - Having pointed out that there is no evidence of carts in Malta, that by no means precludes the idea that there might have once been carts on the island. The drawings (right) are of prehistoric wheeled vehicles in India, proving (for the pedantic) that the wheel at least existed in prehistory.

The general consensus is that most cart-ruts were produced as a result of transporting stone from a quarry to the shore such as the ruts at Anse de St. Croix, France. The same is suggested from ruts in Azerbaijan, and from Malta. However, while this may be true of some ruts, it is clearly not so for all, as many ruts have no association with quarrying whatsoever.

The examples above however, confirm such an association exists and research on the Maltese ruts concludes a similar association at some locations. However, Trump mentions that quarrying at certain sites is secondary and occurs as a result of the ruts providing a good source of easily extractable stone (1). It has also been noticed that on Malta, some ruts run for many kilometres, more than is necessary to obtain a good source of stone.  It seems that while some ruts have an association with quarrying, the fact remains that many do not.

The idea that they were used for transporting goods seems immediately rational, except that the ruts have no 'passing points' suggesting that they were for one-way only.

Ceremonial paths - It has been suggested that the ruts may have been 'carved' and that in certain cases, such as the Bolivian ruts, it is certainly reasonable to assume that they, at least, were created for ceremonial purposes as they also have carved symbols running beside them along their entire length. This theory is clearly not true or all ruts however, and it seems very unlikely that so many ruts were created purely for ceremonial practices.




   Examples of Cart-ruts:

Examples of cart-ruts from around the world.

Malta - The island of Malta is home to the highest concentration of Cart-rut's in the world. They are dated to at least the latter centuries BC. (1) On Malta, the Cart-ruts are traditionally associated with prehistoric quarrying, although there are several objections to this theory as an absolute. Maltese cart-ruts.

The Maltese cart-ruts can be seen to run into the sea in places and have also been found underwater around the islands, where they have been observed to run as single lines (rather than in pairs). It is also suggested that some ruts once ran to the small island of Filfla across a land bridge, which has collapsed since humans first arrived on the island. (2)

After adjusting to the presence of the ruts, small inconsistencies begin to appear, such as their varying depth, shape or course, until the possibility occurs that each rut may have been made by a single passage of a vehicle at a time when the substrate was softer.

(More about the Maltese Cart-ruts)


French cart ruts



France - 'The date and purpose of the ruts at Anse de St. Croix is known. They were worn by wagons carrying building stone from the quarries to the waters edge. From there it was shipped across the bay to build the walls of the Greek city of Massalia, modern Marseilles in Provence, within a few years of 600 BC' (1)

(More about Prehistoric France)


Portuguese cart ruts


Portugal - 'Strada's Real' - The Portuguese Cart-ruts are also known as  'Strada's Real' or 'Royal streets', and have been associated with pilgrimage in tradition.

Some of the ruts are said to have been used until recent times, although bronze-age markings appear alongside them, suggesting a continuous usage of over 2000 years. (Ref: Piodao Museum, Portugal)

(More about the Portuguese Cart-ruts)


Spain - Spanish cart ruts recently fell in the spotlight following a recent Culture 2000 Project entitled:

"The Significance of Cart-Ruts in Ancient Landscapes"

The project involved the National Museum of Archaeology in collaboration with the Restoration Unit, Works Division, Ministry for Resources & Infrastructure, The Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Urbino, Italy and APROTECO - Association for Economic Development of the Valley of Lecrin, Granada, Spain.

The investigation involved two sites (only); One in Malta, called 'Clapham junction' and the other in Spain, located in the village of Padul near Granada, known as Il Camino des los Molinos. 

 The project commenced in October 2004 and was estimated to take one year to complete.





Switzerland - (Vuiteboeuf, Canton Vaud) - It is said that the parallel ruts in the region of Canton vaud were cut into the rock, and usually on steep slopes.

It is believed that since carts did not have brakes, the tracks were made to prevent them from losing control. The tracks in this area are traditionally thought to be Roman, although recent research apparently indicates that some may have been built in the 13th or 14th centuries. 



Azerbaijan - 'Apsheron', Cart ruts have been found on the Apsheron peninsula. Each of such �roads� consists of 2-3 (in some cases up to 5) furrows having depth from 5 to 50 cm. These ancient tracks can be met on Apsheron peninsula at several places � between Turkan and Hovsan villages and next to Surakhani, Gala and Dubendi settlements. The �stone roads� existing on the Beyuk Zire (former Nargin) island in the Baku bay were mentioned by the famous researcher of Baku Sara Ashurbeily. Most of the �roads� were destroyed with time; extant portions stretch up to 100 meters and most of them directed to the Caspian Sea. (4)

The complete similarity of Apsheron�s findings with Mediterranean�s was confirmed by specialists from Malta moreover, it  is quite probable that �furrows� from Apsheron may appear of the same age as Mediterranean�s, but Maltese researchers dated their �roads� by circa 4,000 � 5,000 BC. (4)

'Upon studying the cart ruts more carefully, we noticed that they all led from stone quarries directly to the sea. And they were clearly hewn out of rock by hand'.

Since then, we have learned that similar cart ruts can be found throughout the Mediterranean, along the seacoasts of Malta, Greece, Italy and southern France. Archaeologists hypothesize that cart ruts may date back as far as the Neolithic Age (10,000 � 8,000 BC) or at least from the Bronze Age (5,000 � 4,000 BC). It's quite likely that they predate the invention of the wheel. Some scholars suggest that the cart ruts themselves were lubricated, which would have enabled sledges, laden with heavy limestone blocks, to have been dragged.




Italy, Pompeii - The cart-ruts in this road were clearly made by wheeled vehicles passing over a period of time. The stones in the centre of the road are suggested to have been placed there to to keep a walkway clear of mud.

(More about Prehistoric Italy)


Samaipata, South America. - The ruts in the photos (left and right) come from 'El Fuerte', a mountain in the Bolivian jungle. They are not of the same class as the other, more correctly named 'cart-ruts' on this page as they , but it is possible there may be a relation in their design. They run from the top of the mountain, which has had numerous tanks and 'drainage basins', cut out of the rock. The site is believed to have been used for 'ritual' purposes, but very little is actually known about it. (3)

 Bolivian cart ruts

(More about Samaipata, Bolivia)


Souza, Brazil. - Cart ruts have been reported in 120 million year old rock near Souza, in Paraiba, Brazil.  

At present there is no further information on them.

YouTube Video of the Cart-Ruts:


(Photo Credits: Marcos Roberto)   


Cart-ruts on the Azores:


The presence of cart-ruts on the Azores is one of the most unexpected facts to present itself in the search for the first settlers on the Azores. As we have no record of their being made since the 'official' discovery of the Azores, we must assume that these were made by a people prior to the Portuguese re-opening the debate over pre-Columbian contact with the Americas.

(More about the Azores)



   Natural Cart-ruts: Greasy Creek, Kentucky.

It is important to recognise that on occasion, natural geological features can be mistaken for man-made ones as the following images from Greasy Creek, in USA demonstrate. Geological investigation of the area confirms that the 'cart-ruts' in the following images are a  natural formation.

At first glance, the features in the Photo's above could be mistaken for cart-ruts.

Closer examination shows them to be part of a larger limestone formation.

(Note that the ruts on the right are not parallel).

(Photo Credits: George Bertram)

More Photos of Greasy Creek:



1). David. D. Zink. The Ancient Stones Speak. 1979. Musson Book Co.
2). Cesar Paternosto. The Stone and the Thread. 1989. University of Texas Press.
3). G. Hancock. Heaven's Mirror. 1998. Michael Joseph Publ.
4). J. N .Lockyer. The Dawn of Astronomy. 1964, M.I.T. Press.
6). A. Service & J. Bradbery. Megaliths and their Mysteries. 1979. Macmillan.
7). D. Trump and D. Cilia. Malta: Prehistory and Temples. 2004. Midsea Books.
8). Petrie as quoted by Smyth, Our inheritance in the Great Pyramid, 1890 Ed, pp20.


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