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MTV's "DIN IL-GIMGHA" TEAM
CRAWLS INTO BURIED CAVE

by
IVES DE BARRO
who joined the team
on their 100-foot
'descent'


The assignment set was to film, for MTV's Maltese programme "Din il-Gimgha" (This Week) the archeological remains found in a one-time cave dwelling dating about 1,450 BC.  The cave is buried under some 100 feet of rock debris on a steep slope - technically known as a scree!


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"It is somewhere between map reference 446679 and 457671 if you are using the new 2 1/2 inch map" said the leader of the group of cave explorers who were responsible for locating the site not so long ago.  "It is important that we make an early start", he continued.   "Remember there is a lot of heavy photographic equipment to be carried down - and of course up again."

The Team

The next day the MTV "Din Il-Gimgha" team consisting of Lino Spiteri, Producer of the programme, together with Charles Grech, Chief Film Cameraman, and Walter Xerri, Assistant Cameraman set out for what eventually turned out to be the South West part of the Island. In fact on the cliff edge of Dingli cliffs, some 800 feet above sea level.
The "host" group of explorers consisted of Paul Calleja-Gera, the group's leader, Ernest German, Vincent Bugeja, Bernard Storace and Vincent Sciberras.   Another young man, Franz Vella Bamber, who usually forms part of the group could not be present.  Mr. Francis Mallia, the Curator of Archeology at the National Museum in Valletta, who had already 'been down' on a couple of other occasions to witness the excavations, was there too.  Mr. Mallia described the find as "evidence that originally there was a cave dwelling".

"Child's Play"

The equipment was lowered down the cliff edge and the team followed suit. This was described as "child's play" compared with what was to follow.
After a " group photograph" outside one of the inconspicuous entrances the group entered one by one. Some were fortunate in wearing miners' helmets and lamps. It was a terrifying sight - giant boulders rested against one another!

A Limbo

It was as if one had entered a limbo of inter-connected labyrinths of all sizes
In some cases one had to lie flat on the ground then crawl for some 10-feet on the jagged rocks! A most uncomfortable way of moving around, but then not all holes were of the same shape and size - and for that matter nor were some of the group.  Some were a tight fit and had to strip or not get through at all.

This was the sort of rugged environment that the team found themselves in and it meant setting about things in a very methodical way, which of course caused delay.  Equipment required careful handling.  Carrying a 20-LB haversack full of photographic lighting equipment was by no means an easy task.

Rough Clearances

It was evident that the caves and connections were rough clearances left behind between the irregular coralline rocks of which the scree is composed.
No two passageways could be negotiated in the same manner.  In most instances it meant squeezing along a narrow rough passage to get into an area where again one found it was only just about possible to crawl. in some cases a wide open space could not be reached except by a clear vertical descent of about 20 feet! In fact it amounted to just short of using mountain climbing techniques - on a small scale of course - to negotiate one's way to the various levels.

Pitch Darkness

It was here that rope-ladders and safety lines were used. Amongst the equipment were small acetylene lamps which helped everyone see where they were going as the team groped its way in the pitch darkness. After even an hour's 'journeying' - 50 feet or so down - the team had a brief rest.  We had a good look around us and we saw how precariously some of the boulders seemed to be balanced.  Mr. Mallia pointed out with great conviction that the "irdum" (scree) at Dingli was the sort of place which could change considerable with the faintest earthquake registered in Malta, with hardly anything to show for it on the surface!
Paul Calleja-Gera added that since their previous 'descent' they had already noticed that some rocks had moved.
With that disturbing remark the team started making its way into the final labyrinth.
This was perhaps the toughest.  So narrow was the passage-way that the young cave-explorers have named it 'The Squeeze' which is just about 9 inches wide!  There was some concern as to whether everyone could get through (for some it even meant having to take off a jersey or anorak). The team assembled to make the final 20-foot descent down a rope ladder at the base of which lay the remains of the one-time cave dwellers.

Filming the Findings

The settlement at Ghar Mirdum (meaning Buried Cave in Maltese) is estimated to have lasted from 1450 B.C. until the arrival of the Phoenicians.
"Its characteristics are unmistakable", said Mr. Mallia,who as Curator of Archeology at the National Museum in Valletta was now 'at home'. Whilst the remainder of the cave-explorers rested, having made excellent guides, cameras were set up, and filming started.  Pictures were taken of the findings which included a fibrous material, pottery, and animal bones (goat cow and pig), but no human bones were to be found until then.

The Theory

The theory of these findings is that at some pre-historic time a community of peasants with their domestic animals chose some of the larger caves on the Dingli heights facing the sea as their home.  the same springs of fresh water which they tapped at the level of the blue clay for their daily uses, gradually undermined the limestone brow of the cliffs by washing out too much of the underlying clay, until the overhang slowly worked into a cataclismic show-down, and the whole area, with the folk and all they possessed, came tumbling down.


The above is a verbatim transcription of the article that appeared in the 'Gwida'
(Malta Rediffusion & Television Guide) Issue No.122, January 22, 1965

An interview with Ernest German on Malta Rediffusion, and the showing of the television film followed some days later.



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On Tuesday July 6th 1965, an article appeared in another edition of the magazine:

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(The 50th Edition of "This Week" - by Lino Spiteri)

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Translation of the Maltese text:
The Curator of Archeology   of the National Museum,
Mr. F X Mallia tenders an explanation of the archeological
finds to the producer of 'This Week', Lino Spiteri, whilst the
team were in "Ghar Mirdum". This was one of the most
interesting programmes that were ever made
for the Programmes of 'This Week'.

Copyright P Calleja-Gera:  All rights reserved.

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