Malta's first inhabitants

Għar Dalam Cave and Museum

Have you every wonder who Malta's first inhabitants were? What was around Malta about 200,000 years ago? Visit 70 meters of underground history and get to know more on the finds of Malta's oldest National monument  

Cave and Museum
Għar Dalam is a natural waterworn cave in the lower coralline limestone, located in the southeast part of Malta about 500 meters from St. George’s Bay, Birzebbuga.

The site is situated in the north-east bank of Wied Dalam. It consists of a cave, a Victorian style exhibition and a didactic display as well as a garden planted with indigenous plants and trees.

The Cave
This is a cave of mysteries because it has unravelled some of the Worlds secrets. Through the deposits and artefacts found inside this site we can understand more about the evolution of the island and its inhabitants

The cave stands 15.5 meters above sea level and is 144 meters deep. For safety reasons only the first seventy meters are accessible to the public.

Għar Dalam is the oldest of Malta’s national monuments. The Pleistocene mammalian fauna found in it reached Malta from the European mainland at the time of the glacial period of the Ice Age, about 200,000 years ago, when land bridges existed between Sicily and Malta.

At that period of time the levels of the Mediterranean Sea was considerably lower than they are at present.

These land bridges provided a pathway for the European fauna in escaping the unfavourable climatic conditions of Europe, when most of its northern and central regions were covered with ice sheets.

The ice sheets never reached Malta but the effects of the Ice Age were considerable. The abundant rain of the Pleistocene period caused floods and rivers, which excavated most of the Maltese valleys.

At Wied Dalam the river gradually eroded its bed into a subterranean tunnel until finally reached and penetrated the tunnel’s roof. Loads of Pleistocene animal carcasses, clay, pebbles, stones, soil and other debris were sucked and deposited in this cave.

The Museum
The Museum has two large halls on either side of the main entrance passage. 

The old exhibition hall was set up in 1936 by the curator of Natural History Dr Joseph Baldacchino.

It consists of a number of wooden showcases displaying a small sample of the items that were recovered from the cave during the excavations.

The display cases contain thousands of identical semi-fossilised bones decoratively wired on wooden boards, in Victorian style.

Four showcases with modern skeletons of a brown bear, a young African elephant, a young hippopotamus and a skull of an adult female fox, wolf and a red deer are also displayed for comparative purposes.

In 2002, a new exhibition hall was opened to the public.

It consists of a thematic exhibition, clarifying the formation and history of Għar Dalam and information about how and why the remains of prehistoric animals were found in the cave. It also explains the origin of Maltese rock formation and the exposed rock sequence of the islands.

Other display cases are dedicated to the Ice Age and its effects on Malta, evolutionary adaptations of Pleistocene animals to island conditions and Malta’s most important Pleistocene sites.

Prominently displayed are the organic remains of different Maltese Pleistocene endemic species recovered from the cave deposits.

Discoveries

Għar Dalam’s relevance as a prehistoric site was discovered in the latter half of the 19th Century with a series of excavations unearthing animal bones as well as human remains and artefacts.

The Cave is a highly important site for its Palaeontology, archaeology and ecology.

A stalagmite is a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings.

A stalactite is a type of formation that hangs from the ceiling of caves, hot springs, or manmade structures such as bridges and mines.

The history of the cave and that of the Islands can be decoded from Għar Dalam’s stratigraphy.

The lowermost layers, more than 500,000 years old, contained the fossil bones of dwarf elephants, hippopotami, micro-mammals and birds among other species.

This layer is topped by a pebble layer, and on top of it there is the so-called 'deer layer@ dated to around 18,000 years ago.

The top layer, or ‘cultural layer’, dates less than 10,000 years and holds evidence of the first humans on the Island.

It was here that the earliest evidence of human settlement on Malta, some 7,400 years ago, was discovered.

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