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Nahlija Roman Rock-Cut Tombs (Ghajn Tuffieha)

At Nahlija, in Ghajn Tuffieha, two rock-cut tombs were accidentally discovered. Unfortunately, the tombs had to be destroyed.

First tomb
The Nahlija rock-cut tomb was discovered on 20 July 1932, when workmen under the supervision of Mr. A. L. Bell Supt. Civil Engineer H. M’s Dockyard, were clearing a site in the rifle ranges at Ghajn Tuffieha. They discovered it when they came across a shaft that led to a tomb which was still sealed by a stone slab. A workman shifted the slab and so, the tomb’s furniture had to be taken to a safer place. The Museum’s Department was informed and when the archaeologists arrived on the scene they found some of the items were already removed. 1
The tomb consisted of a rectangular shaft, 8 ft. deep, 7 ft. long, and 4 ft. wide, and was on an East West direction. The chamber was cut at the bottom of the Western wall of the shaft. When the archaeologists arrived, the sealing slab was still standing close to the entrance. It measured 5 ft high, 2 ft. 10 inches wide with a thickness of 8 inches, and was meant to accurately fit the entrance. The tomb was cut in the globigerina limestone. 2
The level floor of the chamber was covered with about 1 ft. of sandy silt and the chamber itself was roughly rectangular in shape with a flat ceiling. It measured 6 ft. 6 inch in length, 5 ft. 4 inch in breath at the entrance and about 6 ft at the back end. The height of the chamber was about 5 ft. A trench starting at about 1 ft. from the entrance was cut in the floor for the whole length of the chamber parallel to the sides, with a width of 1 ft. 6 inch and a depth of one ft. 3
The trench divided the floor into two platforms that on the right being 1 ft. 7 inch wide and the other 3 ft. wide. The remains of a burial were found on the right platform and three skeletons on the left, all stretched on their back with feet towards the entrance. The three skeletons to the left were of male adults, the one to the right was that of a female. Before their removal, practically, all the tomb furniture was massed at the feet of the three skeletons, a big oval amphra was found in the trench. 4
The objects buried with the bodies were: an oval two handled amphora about 3 ft. long, five aryballi, one oenochoe, eight small fairly deep dishes, four small bilychness lamps, one deep bowl, fragments of two small dishes and a small glass unguentarium. The pottery was of the common buff coloured well-baked terracotta very late in shape and without any decoration. The tomb itself of the characteristic 3rd period shape used down to the 1st Century A.D. 5
No signs of cremation whatever was detected in connection with the tomb. The tomb had to be destroyed in the course of the construction of the firing range.

Second tomb
In the same day and year of the above mentioned, another rock-cut tomb was discovered some 3 yards from the previous mentioned tomb. Unfortunately, the tomb was not preserved as the previous one and it was found that to have been rifled in previous years. Only fragments of human bones and of pottery were discovered. The shaft was 8 ft. 6 in. wide and 8 ft deep. When the tomb was discovered the sealing slab was still in place, but sufficiently displaced to allow a man to move in and out freely.6
The floor of the chamber was found covered with stones rolled in after cleaning the shaft. The chamber itself of which the main axis had a East-West direction was rectangular, 9 ft. in length, 5 ft in width and 4 ft. 6 inch in height. No trench was cut in the floor. No sign of cremation was found. The tomb had to be destroyed like the above mentioned one. 7

1 Government of Malta, ‘Archaeological Section’, Museum Annual Report 1932-33.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid
4 Ibid
5 Ibid
6 Ibid
7 Ibid



Researched and Written by: Charles Debono B.A.(Hons) History

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