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Malta and Water (AD 900 to 1900)

Irrigating a semi-arid landscape

Keith Buhagiar
Publication Year:
313pp. Illustrated throughout in colour and black and white: 320 figures (248 colour figures and 72 black and white figures)
BAR number:


This book synthesises archaeological and historical research in order to investigate Maltese water management technology in the Medieval, Early Modern and Modern periods, more specifically between AD 900 and AD 1900. Maltese terrestrial geological formations and stratification are a determining factor in conditioning the formation of subterranean aquifers, water-harvesting and storage, landscape development and utilisation. Central to this publication are reservoirs, cisterns, wells and perched aquifer galleries, which have for centuries provided farmers tilling arable land with a supplementary water source other than the limited and erratic seasonal rainfall. The data and conclusions presented in this book are the result of extensive personal field and archival research and include an assessment of the available documentary sources of evidence, including place names and cartographic sources. Comparative research suggests that a number of perched aquifer subterranean galleries share common characteristics with the qanat technology of the Islamic and Roman worlds and, in a Maltese context, were possibly part of a new agricultural and technological package introduced during the Muslim or post-Muslim period between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries AD.

Keith Buhagiar is a PhD graduate in archaeology from the University of Malta specialising in rural landscape development, related water management systems as well as Maltese and Sicilian medieval and Early Modern cave-settlements. Dr Buhagiar lectures in palaeochristian and medieval archaeology at the Department of Classics and Archaeology and the Faculty of Theology, both at the University of Malta. Research interests include central Mediterranean, North African and Near Eastern water management systems, Late Roman and medieval subterranean burial spaces, cave dwellings and rock-excavated oratories, as well as Mediterranean settlement location and distribution.

‘Buhagiar’s insights are particularly valuable and create a firm base upon which to build future research projects,…not only do the data in this impressive volume add to the increasing archaeological evidence to show the dynamic role of the Maltese Islands before, during and after the Knights, but it will be useful to anyone studying water management across the Middle Ages and early modern times throughout the Christian and Islamic Mediterranean.’ Paul Arthur, Medieval Archaeology, 62:2, 2018

‘Buhagiar has compiled a learned account of water-related archaeology, knights’ history, and centuries of digging for the island's most precious resource: fresh water. Providing a detailed look at some of Malta’s largely unseen strata, this publication will be of interest to researchers and enthusiasts alike, incl. MU followers, spelunkers, geographers and water specialists.’ Malta Underground, 5th February 2017

‘The research contained in this book is fully interdisciplinary, drawing upon primary written evidence, place-names and archaeology. The author’s command of these materials is most impressive, particularly in combination with an evidently deep understanding of Malta’s geology and hydrology…The volume is copiously illustrated with many original photographs and line drawings, and a rich selection of extracts drawn from Malta’s fine cartographic records. In this sense, it is rare to read a book that conveys such a strong sense of the nature of the landscape and environment with which it is concerned…an exemplary study, which provides a model for work elsewhere in the Mediterranean region and indeed beyond. It is scholarly yet accessible…This book deserves to find a wide readership among those wishing to understand human interactions with landscape in long-term comparative perspective.’ Andrew Reynolds, UCL - University College London, European Journal of Post Classical Archaeologies, Volume 7, 2017

Table of Contents (S2829_9781407316291_ToC.pdf, 651 Kb) [Download]