Prehistoric Ghar Dalam Cave & Museum
It's hard to believe, that Malta was once home to prehistorical animals such as hippopotamus, dwarf elephants, giant swans, wolves, deer or foxes. Ghar Dalam museum proofs with their impressive displays of animal remains that were found in the Ghar Dalam Cave, that this is, indeed true.
Ghar Dalam Cave and Museum is about a 6 minute car ride from Marsaxlokk, Malta's largest fishing village. Ghar Dalam, the 145 meters deep cave, was discovered and excavated in 1892. It's not fully accessible nowadays unfortunatelly. You can go in about 50 metres, but let's start with the actual exhibition first and look at everything you can see if you visit this historical site.
To understand the formation of Ghar Dalam, its physical features and its contents, one must first understand what happened in Europe and in the Mediterranean during the 'Ice Age' which lasted about 2 million years. And what were the effects of the European Ice Age in Malta? Well, unlike Europe, Malta never really had an 'Ice Age' instead Malta had a 'Rain Age' resulting in torrential rains and floods.
During this period, there was a fall in sea level fluctuating between -10m to -100m, which resulted in the exposure of the submarine banks between Malta and Sicily and forming a 'land-bridge' between the two islands. This is how the foreign fauna escaped the masses of ice and Europe's brutal climate conditions and ended up in Malta. To ensure survival, the prehistoric animals underwent progressive adaptations and size changes (dwarfing or gigantism).
Above you can see one of the displays with some hippopotamus remains that were found in the area as well as a lower jaw of a large hippopotamus with couple of teeth still in place. Hippos can open their mouth up to 150 degrees. Imagine that!
Typical elephants as we know them today appeared in the Ice Age, but varied in size from over 4 m high to about 1 m in Malta and Sicily. The Maltese dwarf elephants are closely related to the modern African elephants, but they are not their ancestors. On the picture below you can see number of displays with animal skeletons and the very first one is of a young elephant.
The second display showcases a skeleton of a young hippopotamus with a skull of an adult hippopotamus (a detailed photo below), and the third one accommodates a skeleton of a red fox, a red deer and even of a wolf.
The number of the skeletal remains of prehistoric animal is absolutely mind blowing. The beautifully arranged displays with great care and sense for a detail are outstanding. Just look at the next couple of images to get the idea what's the old exhibition all about.
After you exhausted yourself by looking at the thousands of animal remains, make your way out towards the Ghar Dalam Cave. You may also want to sit down and rest a bit on the bench, as I did, and prepare yourself for several flights of stairs.
And here is the actual Ghar Dalam Cave were all the remains were found. This 145 meter-long, natural, water-worn cavern in the Lower Coraline Limestone is only party accessible because of the protection of a rare woodlouse that only lives in this cave and is sensitive to light.
This strati-graphic column and the strati-graphic wall below shows sequence and height of deposits infilling entire cave prior to the numerous excavations. Domestic animal layer is approx. 74 cm, Calcareous sheet 0,8 cm, Deer layer 175 cm, Pebble layer 35 cm, Hippopotamus layer 120 cm, Bone free clay layer 125 cm.
Above is a one of the few stalagmites that you can admire at Ghar Dalam. Below you can see the bone-free layer in the pit, which is the insoluble residue of the Lower Coralline Limestone bedrock, which was deposited during the solution of the subterranean cavity. However, just above, it's all bones.
Below you have the Google map with the exact location, to make it easier for you to find the way. The entrance to this site is only €5 / adult. You can also purchase souvenirs, postcards or refreshing drink at the museum.
If you still cannot believe that Malta was once upon a time home to deer, elephants or even hippos, make your way down to the Ghar Dalam museum to see for yourself. :-)