Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Malta Research Progress Report #1 - Billy McVicker

Since I am an ICEX student, my country-based research project is focused on Malta and more specifically focused on the Archaeological Knowledge about Cisterns and Water Management. My research started out online reading through papers that I found on Google Scholar about water management and irrigation techniques in Malta. Most of these papers were about current events in the last 100 years and only a very brief sentence or two about the history of the water crisis. A reference in one of the papers led to me to library to skim through the book The Building of Malta 1530-1795 by Quentin Hughes. This book covers the architecture of Malta and the history of how the country was built. It also contains some history about cisterns. There were other books that I stumbled across that contained more information about the cisterns and other means of water management in Malta during the early development of the country. (Refer to the references of the names and authors of these books). I would definitely recommend my ICEX peers to check these books out due to the extensive knowledge in all areas about Malta. It was however difficult to find extensive research on cisterns and the development of them. Most of the books and essays that I read just mentioned that they were used and also mentioned the popular ones that were discovered.
A little history on Malta’s water crisis starts as far back as history records human activity on the island. This is estimated to be around 3,000 BC. I found that recordings state that Malta had a higher percentage of fresh water during this time, but about this time is when the supply of fresh water began to disintegrate due to the habitation of humans. Basically, humans began to remove vegetation in order to build communities. This change in terrain slowly caused the movement of soil during the rainy season, which is from August till March, creating a rockier landscape. With a rockier terrain, water was not easily absorbed by the earth and resulted in run-offs into the ocean versus absorption of the fresh water in the earth to fill up springs and natural underwater wells. It was about this time that the Maltese began to collect water through cisterns or tanks.

One of the popular discoveries of water supplies was the Misqa Tanks. These tanks were found to be about 200 meters inland from the Mnajdra temples. In the book The Building of Malta 1530-1795 by Quentin Hughes, it states that these tanks are a system of dug out water cisterns used to capture rainwater and transport it underground to the Mnajdra temples by solely using gravity. It is unknown when these cisterns were built because their construction is unlike other cisterns that fall in the categories Bronze Age, Roman, medieval, or modern. These tanks were designed to fill quickly by surface run-off during the raining season (Trump 1972).

Other cisterns have been found on the island of Malta and are described to be bell-shaped. Specifically, a series of cisterns in Luqu village were found and measured up to 3.4 meters in diameter and 4 meters deep. Two of the series of cisterns found contained Bronze Age pottery and Malta’s prehistoric vegetation (Trump 1972). Another example of how cisterns were used to manage the water crisis was a discovery of tanks that were found in the basement of houses. Each of these houses had a special channel that directed water from the roof to an underground cistern (Hughes 1956).

D. H. Trump (1972). Malta: An Archaeological Guide (Archaeological Guides).
     London: Faber and Faber
Hughes J. Quentin (1956). The building of Malta during the period of the
     knights of St. John of Jerusalem 1530-1795. London: Alec Tiranti Ltd.

1 comment:

  1. Billy, this is a really fantastic start to your research! A couple of thoughts -

    1) You mention in one of your descriptions that the cisterns were used to collect rain water that was then transferred to temples. What temples?

    2) I am also interested to learn more about how the different regimes (e.g., Rome, Knights of Malta, France, Britain) conceptualized and enacted water management (and how that might or might not be related to different images of what it means to be an engineer).

    3) I think it would also be useful for us to know how Malta does water management today, as well as your sense of how the ICEX research on this archaeological cisterns might (or might not) play a role in understanding and/or re-imagining contemporary water management in Malta and beyond.

    4) Mandy Herrmann's research project may be focusing on water management (specifically rainwater collection) in Africa. It might be really interesting for you all to swap notes.


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