MaltaToday previous editions

MALTATODAY 24 April 2022

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 7 of 47

8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 24 APRIL 2022 NEWS A new study on the human bones found inside Żejtun's St Gregory's Church has helped unravel the mysteries surrounding the remains and offered an insight into the domestic life of Malta's noble families. The study comes over 50 years after the skeletal remains were discovered at the church, with NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun celebrating the anniversary by shedding light on the real story behind these re- mains using the modern technology af- forded to archaeologists today. Carbon dating found that the oldest skeleton found inside the chruch dates back to the late 15th century, while the more recent remains date back to 19th century. And five of the 35 skulls found at the church did not belong to Maltese peo- ple. Indeed, the skulls belong to five women from Sub-Saharan Africa who were likely "slaves" or servants belong- ing to Maltese noble families. This was corroborated by the parish archives, which show that many African slaves had been baptised and integrated into Maltese society. Isotope testing further helped re- searchers identify what sort of diets these people lived on. From the sample taken it seemed that six people shared a common diet, while one person appeared to eat a more vegetarian diet without fish or meat – namely, one of the five slaves identified during the study. But this is not the first study of its kind. Wirt iż-Żejtun president Ruben Abela told MaltaToday that another study was carried out by two university academics in the late 1970s, where they determined the exact number of skel- etons present, and whether they were adults or children. Some soil found on the remains suggests the skeletons had been buried elsewhere and later placed in the church. "But this story in itself was always refuted. The staircase leading up the church passageway, as well as the pas- sageway itself, is incredibly narrow – why would someone go through the trouble of transferring the remains to this high area, as opposed to placing the remains in a common burial area near or inside the church? This question added fuel to the folkloristic fire around this church," Abela said. Human remains discovery The discovery of these remains goes back to March 1969, when works were being carried out on the roof under the supervision of ĠanMarì Debono. Grez- zju Vella, one of the young men work- ing on the roof, found a small crack be- tween two stones and mindlessly began to scrape at it. After enough scraping he threw a stone in the narrow crack, expecting it to fall down through the roof and onto the floor of the church. But the stone never reached the ground, leading workers to believe there was a passageway between the roof and the church interior. Being the only worker small enough New studies shed light on mystery skeletons at Żejtun church Carbon dating unravels mystery of Zejtun's secret skeleton trove The folk tale on the St Gregory church remains builds on the Ottoman Empire's last major attack against Malta, when raiders pillaged Zejtun and neighbouring towns. The story goes that the discovered bones could have been the remains of women, children, and elderly who sought shelter and were eventually killed in the church Gruesome discovery: Wirt iz-Zejtun president Ruben Abela (right) says the new studies determined the presence of slaves as well as a diet that did not include meat or fish NICOLE MEILAK

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of MaltaToday previous editions - MALTATODAY 24 April 2022