Malta’s oldest and least-known prehistoric site is close to Marsaxlokk on the south coast. Excavations at the massive limestone cave complex at Għar Dalam in the 20th century led to the discovery of fossils of long-extinct mammals and provide firm evidence of human occupation of the island 7,400 years ago in Neolithic times. Bones and fossils of animals extinct before the Ice Age, including giant mice, dwarf elephants and hippos, can be clearly seen in a layer of rock more than 500,000 years old. Above this bedrock is a layer of loose rock formed a mere 18,000 years ago, which contained remains of deer and other mammals, and this is topped by a rock strata evidencing fragments of human skeletons and shards of tools and pots. It is thought that the first human settlers on Malta came across a land bridge from mainland Europe and existed in these caves – in fact there were still people living here in 1911 when excavations started.
The cave itself was hollowed out by water over millions of years and stretches more than 490 ft (150 m) underground; they also contain some spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations. The first 263 ft (80 m) are open for viewing and there’s also a small museum on site, which relates the geological history of the caves and displays some of the bones, teeth and skeletons found on-site. There’s also a small botanical garden planted with indigenous Maltese shrubs and trees.