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NEWS: The Bones at St Gregory: Science vs Folk


San Girgor passageThe Times of Malta issued on the 15th April 1969 reported the discovery of U-shaped corridor round the eastern transept of the Church of St Gregory.    The corridor was discovered by Mr John Mary Debono referred to as an active member of the Zejtun Historical Society.

San Girgor passage 2

The report on the Times of Malta states:

The corridor, which is only a few feet from the level of the roof is believed to have been used by the inhabitants of the village who hid in these corridors during one of the raids by the Turkish corsairs.

A theory is that the Turks ransacking the church found the people hidden there, killed then and blocked the entrance.  A number of skeletons were found lying along the corridor.

History

This story became the plot of a ballad written by Walter Zahra who was the president of the Zejtun Historical Society when the corridors were discovered.

This discovery has been the centre of discussion and controversy for the last forty four years.  It has always been questioned as to why no scientific tests have been carried out on the human bones which were discovered.

In the past months Wirt iż-Żejtun has been trying to unfold the true story about this discovery.  Unfortunately the only documented report about the discovery was the one form where the extract above has been quoted.  The discovery was not reported to the Department of Museums, presumably because it was within church property, which was exempted from the Antiquities Protection Act.

DSCN3677We cannot get information from the protagonists of the discovery since they are no longer among us.  However last year, journalist Fiona Vella held an interview with Grezzju Vella who at the age of 16 was the first one to walk into the corridor soon after it was discovered.   Mr Vella relies on the story theory which was told to him soon after the discovery and fails to give any new insight into the mystery.  Notwithstanding the, the journalist refers for the first time to studies on the bones held in 1978 and 1980.  These studies have never been mentioned before.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWirt iż-Żejtun have found these two scientific papers authored by Seshadri Ramaswamy and Joseph Leslie Pace from the Department of Anatomy of the University of Malta.  These two papers, the first one titled “The Medieval Skeleton remains from St Gregory’s Church at Zejtun (Malta) Part I. Paleopathological Studies” and the second one titled “The Medieval Skeleton remains from St Gregory’s Church at Zejtun (Malta) Part II. Anthropological Studies,” were published in the “Archivio Italiano di Anatomia e di Embriologia” in 1979 and 1980 respectively.

The first paper is a detailed study about the features of paleopathological interest in these bones.  Among other features noted, the most interesting to be noted is that no signs of violence through fractures were detected on the bones which have been studied.

The second paper is even more interesting since it tries to answer our question – what is the real story about this mystery?

The scientists studied all the bones that were found, although remarking on the fact that they were studying the bone nine years after they were discovered.  In all 43 skulls were found of which 19 were male and 24 female.   Out of these 10 female were aged between 20 and 30 years.   The youngest individual was an 8 year old girl.  The table gathering this information is being reproduced.tabella

Where the bones buried?  The scientists found that some specimens showed soft tissue attachments  and some of the vertebrae were found to have a plug of soil in the vertebral canal.  The scientists conclude that “the bones were likely to have been exhumed from a  cemetery and kept in the passage.”  Among twelve different scientific reasons they brought to justify their conclusion one can mention the fact that there is a wide discrepancy in the total number of bones belonging to various parts of the body as located in the passage.  If people were trapped, one would expect a fairly close approximation in the total number.

click on image for 360 view of passage

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