A sealed tomb in Żabbar, Malta, was discovered during trenchwork by the Water Services Corporation, as part of a project to expand the drainage system in the country’s southern region, reports Malta Today.
An archaeologist monitoring the work at the request of Malta’s Superintendence of Cultural Heritage noticed small rectangular cuts in the rock—ancient agricultural troughs used for cultivating crops—and further investigation of these troughs revealed the shaft of a tomb.
The roughly 2,300-year-old burial site contained two urns filled with cremated remains as well as the bones of an adult and the articulated skeleton of a young child laid on its back. Artifacts such as a complete amphora, an oil lamp, a glass perfume bottle, and pottery typical of the period were also found.
The tomb appears to have been used repeatedly from the 4th to 1st century B.C.E., and incorporates different types of burial practices. The island of Malta, which was first colonized by the Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C.E., was under Carthaginian control from 480 B.C.E. until the Second Punic War (218–201 B.C.E), when it was conquered by the Roman Empire. Earlier internment traditions in the Punic era were sometimes replaced with cremation during Roman rule but the Maltese, as seen in the context of this tomb, still maintained many of their early traditions.
“Within the shaft, an obelisk-shaped worked stone, some 1.2 meters in length was also discovered which could very well be a grave marker,” explains Kevin Borda, Head of Heritage Data Management and Research at the Superintendence. “Further scientific analysis will be crucial to determine the dating of the burials with more accuracy.”
The contents of the Punic tomb are being relocated to a laboratory for testing, where samples from the human remains will reveal more information using radiocarbon dating.