During recent walks organised by the Malta Ramblers’ Association, which passed by old and new quarries, I could not help reflecting on how we take everything for granted, not appreciating that technological development has made life easier and faster.
In the limits of Għar il-Kbir, near Buskett, we visited old quarries hewn during Roman times more than 2,000 years ago, where dents and trenches in the ground are telltale signs of the methods used to cut surface stone in those days.
Wooden wedges would be forced into pre-cut trenches, which, when soaked with water, would expand and break the stone into blocks. In Roman times, blocks of stone were somewhat larger that we are accustomed to nowadays, and these had to be carried with great human and animal strain to the building sites. The old quarries were kept shallow precisely to make it easier to carry blocks of stone from the surface.
The introduction of iron wedges and more efficient digging tools that were used until some 70 years ago speeded up the operation of quarries. However, the demand for more stone and the resultant larger amount of stone cut meant more men were labouring in deeper holes. Lifting the stone blocks into the small trucks was done by hand and quarrying was by its very nature labour intensive.
By contrast, the modern quarries that we passed by were very deep, large holes in the ground. Those still operating hardly displayed any men at work. Modern electrical machinery could be seen and heard, easily cutting away blocks of stone of much smaller size, as if the large rotating wheel were passing through cheese. Trucks transported large loads of stone blocks out to the building sites, with direct human intervention barely visible. Indeed, things have changed in quarries and stone cutting now involves hardly any manual labour and is much less labour intensive. Gone are the days when men toiled laboriously in the dust under the most adverse climatic conditions.
Sometimes, visiting the countryside can help us to better understand and appreciate the advantages to mankind brought about by technological advancement over time.
It is a pity it is not always used as wisely as in quarries.
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