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       Prehistoric Malta:

 

 

The Maltese islands possess a rich selection of prehistoric remains. It is home to over 40 pre-historic temples (including those on Gozo and Camino) (2). Their frequency and attention to detail leave no doubt as to Malta's importance in the past.

 

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Malta has been host to several ancient cultures and is home to some of the oldest free-standing structure in the world. (See Skorba Temples, estimated at 5,200 BC). It was home to a race of Neolithic builders whose temples show several specific similarities to the western European megaliths and at the same time, have a unique style of their own, suggested to have been the result of a phase of independent 'evolution' on the islands.

 

   Featured Maltese Sites:

'By 10,000 B.P. the Maltese archipelago was as we see it today'. Most of the temples are believed to have built between 3,600 and 2,500 BC, with the 'bulk of the work finished before 3,200 BC' (2).

(Click here for Map of Prehistoric Malta).

 

The Hypogeum, MaltaThe Hypogeum (of Hal-Saflieni) - Probably the most well known megalithic site on Malta is the Hypogeum, a carved-out underground complex from which the remains of 7,000 human skeletons were found (although only a hand-full now remain). 

The Hypogeum offers a unique insight into the mind of the Maltese temple builders, and the discovery of a second Hypogeum on Gozo (Hypogeum II), reinforces the image of a people preoccupied with the rituals of life and death.

(More about the Hypogeum)

 
 
Mother Earth, The Tarxien, Malta. 

Hal Tarxien - The 22 acre 'partner-site' to the Hypogeum,  the Hal-Tarxien has yielded an incredible array of sophisticated skills and images including an immense 'mother earth' figure, spirals, trilithons, holed stones and more.

The quality of work at this site betrays the existence of an extremely  sophisticated and skilled culture.

(More about Hal Tarxien)

 
 

Mnajdra and Hagar Qim - These two temple complexes were constructed in close proximity of each. They are a good example of the 'paired-temple' theory which is prevalent across Malta.

The temples at both sites are filled with 'Holed Stones' and 'Mushroom' altars, suggesting a 'ceremonial' function. They are shaped as most Maltese temples in the shape of the Earth-mother, and were built with their entrances facing towards the sea and winter solstice sun.

(More about Mnajdra)

(More about Hagar Qim)

 
 

Ggantija and the Xaghra stone-circle - These two sites are the most prominent on the island of Gozo, and their close proximity to each other classifies them as another example of 'paired sites'. Of extreme interest is the fact that within and under the Xaghra circle, a second hypogeum was discovered (The Hypogeum II), from which the remains of approximately 700 human skeletons was recovered. The obvious similarity to Hal Tarxien and the Hypogeum on Malta has led some to consider the idea that other hypogea may be one day found on Malta.

(More about - Ggantija, Xaghra stone-circle, Hypogeum II)

 

Malta is believed by some to be the legendary island of Calypso that Homer's Odysseus landed on.

The strong ritualistic aspects of the temples and it's position in the centre of the 'Medi-terra-nean' (Middle of the earth, confirms Malta's ancient status as an 'Earth-Navel'.

(Other Earth Navel's

 

 

   Maltese cart-ruts:

There are several excellent examples of 'Cart-ruts' on Malta (and Gozo), and in the waters surrounding the islands too. For a long time now these rock-carved features have been judged on their appearance only, and they certainly appear superficially to have been the result of multitudes of passing vehicles.

Although this theory is likely to be correct in essence, there are several stubborn contentions to this idea, such as:

 

 

 

There is no evidence of the wheel at any time in Maltese history.

There are examples of single ruts in the water around the island. (2)

In one case, the ruts can be seen to run at an angle of 45°. (1)

The ruts invariably have smooth, almost polished surfaces.

The deepest ruts are claimed to be around a metre deep and a metre wide at the surface. (2)

In 2005, the European commission sponsored an international research program to identify the true nature of these ruts, which have now been found in several other countries, but nowhere more prolific than in Malta.

(More about Maltese cart-ruts)    (Cart-ruts from other countries

 

 

 

   Paired Temples:

It can been seen that many of the sites were often sited in pairs (i.e. Hal Tarxien/Hypogeum, Mnajdra/Hagar-Qim, Ggantija/ Xaghra), and that at some of these sites, the temples themselves were also constructed in pairs.

(Ggantija-left and Mnajdra-right)

The interior shape of the temples is in fact 'cruciform', and similar in principle to several astronomically orientated passage-mounds across Europe.

The Maltese temples, whilst retaining an internal cruciform shape, are rounded in the same way as the 'headless' earth-mother figurines found across the island.

 

 

 

   Maltese Astronomers:

It was once claimed of Malta that (with the exception of Mnajdra), 'There are no significant astronomical alignments, they are all inward facing' (1). However, in the light of new research which shows a clear predominance for the orientation of most temples to the winter solstice, and other other obvious discrepancies to this sweeping generalisation, this statement can no longer to be considered valid.

It seems, as with nearly all megalithic structures, that the builders had a preference for orientating their structures towards key moments of the celestial cycles. So frequent is this association that it becomes tempting to suggest that the original function of the temples may have even been to mark these events.

The best evidence that the inhabitants of Malta and Gozo were interested in astronomy come in the form of discoveries of everyday objects such as this broken limestone slab from the Tal-Qadi Temple (left) which has what certainly appears to be a representation of the heavens, showing the moon  and stars as well as a number of radiating lines dividing it into quadrants, and the solar-wheel from a pottery shard found in Hagar Qim temple. With regards the temples themselves, at Mnajdra in particular, there are several significant alignments to mark moments of the solar year.

The Tal Qadi stone is believed to have once been a disc. A projection shows that the sky was divided into sixteen sections. The 'Solar-wheel' above is divided into eight sections.

It is now considered probable that most, if not all of the large prehistoric temples on Malta would have originally been covered over. Combined with an invariable orientation of the passages to either the equinoxes or the solstices, the builders would have been able to use the temples as a means of measuring the solar year exactly (in the same way as the builders of the Irish and Scottish Passage-mounds did).

(Similarities with Western-European Neolithic Complexes)

(More about Archaeoastronomy)

 

 

 

   Holed Stones:

A common construction feature found in many of the Maltese temples are the variously shaped holed-stones which perforate the structures in various shapes and sizes.

 

Some of these are easily recognisable as portals (doorways), through which one passes from one chamber to another within the temples.

 

While the larger holes are easily explained, there are several smaller holes in the temples that presumably served other functions.

Hitching postThe feature in the photo on the left was carved in a stone beside the sea, and was presumably designed as a 'Hitching-point' for a boat. It is a curious fact that many of the Maltese temples have similar 'Hitching points' on the ground in front of the main entrances.

The same design feature can also be seen on the vertical faces of stones inside the temples, where they appear to have functioned as 'door hinges', a construction technique which can also be seen in several constructions throughout ancient Egypt.

 

 

Holed stones are found in several other ancient and sacred sites from around the world - and in each case, they carry with them a tradition of healing or benefit.

(More about Holed-Stones)

 

Maltese Facts - The Xewkija church on Gozo has the third largest dome in Christendom, and was built on the site of an earlier Christian structure, which in turn was built on the site of a large dolmen, last recorded in the 17th century, and which was used as the foundations of the church. (3)

Xewkija church, Gozo, Malta.

Xewkija Church, once itself the site of a large dolmen, is aligned with the Ggantija/Xaghra complex and the dolmen (Above).

(More about Ta' Cenc Dolmen)

 

 

   Maltese Concrete (Torba):

 

Ggantija, Malta -  The temples on Malta are claimed to be some of the oldest free-standing temples in the world. A. Service (6), mentions the 'contemporary cement of the floor' in the pavement of the Ggantija temple on Gozo, Malta (see left), and although the idea was not accepted for a long time, Maltese archaeologists are now of the opinion that Torba (as it is called on Malta), was formed by compacting crumbled rock and rock dust then adding water (7), creating a tough and durable rock-like material on-par with the best and strongest concrete used today.

The pictures below show how some of the temple floors were lined with huge stones, a process visible at several Maltese temples (Tarxien, left and Ggantija, right).

Unfortunately, today, the temple floors are covered over with planking making it impossible to see the original floor.

(Other examples of prehistoric 'concrete')

 

  

   Venus Figurines:

Several 'Venus figurines' have been found on Malta.

 

(left) One of the larger statues, it is made from a broad shallow rectangular block of globigerina limestone. Between the shoulders is a hole pierced through from the front and one from the back. It seems that this socket must have been used for the attachment of (different?) heads to the body. In the pitted holes that cover the four sides of the rectangular pedestal is the remains of a red pigment. The statue was found during the restoration of 1949, with another three headless statues and a fragment of a forth, from a hollow under the raised threshold leading to the high room of the temple. (centre) from Mnajdra, the back-bone and ribs are marked correctly on the back. (Right) from Hagar Qim. Made from hard-fired buff clay with a grey core its head and feet are broken off. The modelling of the figurine is extremely good, especially on the back. It was found in the first room of the temple, next to the spiral slab, in 1839. Its size is 13 cm (5 inches) high and 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) wide at the shoulders.

The sleeping Lady from the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni is made of brown clay and on the surface it has traces of red ochre. The clothed figure has abnormally fat limbs and hips. She is naked to the waist and has a skirt with a fringed lower part. The feet are broken away. The wooden framework of the bed and the rush mattress is clearly visible underneath the statuette. According to Sir Temi Zammit, it was found in the 'snake/votive pit' in the main level of the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni.

This limestone statuette was found during the excavation of the Xaghra Circle. It was found close to what would have been the entrance into the underground chambers. The obese figures lie on a 'bed' similar to the 'bed' that supports the Hypogeum Sleeping Lady clay statuette. On this particular 'bed', spiral designs are visible. Parts of the body are covered with red ochre and the skirts show the remains of black ochre. The obese couple are similar to the big statue of Tarxien, and also have the same type of pleated dress and obese calves. Only one head was found and it had broken from the main body of the sculpture. On the lap of the left figure is a tiny (also headless) obese baby figure similar to the two 'bigger' figures. The other figure holds a small pot.

 

The discovery of the large Earth-mother figure in Hal-Tarxien, near the Hypogeum confirms the idea that the builders of the megaliths on Malta worshipped a female deity or were governed by females.This larger-than-life female statue stands on the right as one enters the Hal-Tarxien temple complex. The top half is missing, as is the head of several of the figurines.

 

Hagar Qim goddess statuette, Malta.

Hagar Qim (left), Xhagra (right)

It is interesting to note that the Goddess figurines also come in pairs. Something seen at Çatal Höyük in turkey. As yet there is no reasonable explanation for this (in terms of the 'mother-goddess' theory). At both Çatal Höyük and on Malta, the small figurines were made with removable heads.

 

This female form (of a completely different style) was found in the Hypogeum II, on Gozo island..

(More about Venus Figurines)

 

 

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Maltese Skulls.

It was public knowledge that until 1985 a number of skulls, found in pre-historic Maltese temples at Taxien, Ggantja and Hal Saflienti, were exposed in the Archaeological Museum in Valletta. They have since disappeared without a trace.

'Only the photographs taken by the Maltese researcher Dr. Anton Mifsud and his colleague, Dr. Charles Savona Ventura, remain to testify the existence of the skulls and prove their abnormality. Books written by the two Maltese doctors, illustrate a collection of skulls that show peculiar abnormalities and/or pathologies. Sometimes inexistent cranial knitting lines, abnormally developed temporal partitions, drilled and swollen occiputs as following recovered traumas, but above all, a strange, lengthened skull, bigger and more peculiar than the others, lacking of the median knitting. The presence of this finding leads to a number of possible hypotheses in consideration of other finds of similar skulls, from Egypt to South America, the particular deformity, unique in the panorama of medical pathology referred to such distant times, (we are talking about approximately 3000 BC) could be an exceptional discovery.

The skulls were all found in the Hal Saflienti hypogeum, where a sacred well was dedicated to the Mother Goddess and where also the small statue of a sleeping goddess was found, associated to a relic with a snake inscription on it. One in particular had a cranium showing a very pronounced dolichocephalous, in other words, a lengthened posterior part of the skullcap, besides the lack of median knitting, technically named "sagitta". This last detail has been considered "impossible" by medics and anatomists, not having analogous pathological cases in international medical literature. It is a characteristic that emphasizes the anomaly of this finding with the result of producing a natural lengthening of the cranium (not due to bandaging or boards as used in pre-Colombian civilizations)'.

It is proposed, on the basis of these findings, that the group of skulls found in the Hypogeum were representative of a group of peoples who were considered of importance (as attested to by the location of their discovery), and who had a natural genetic tendency for elongated skulls, were integrally involved in the activities of the temple builders of the time. Other skulls found in the Brochtorff  circle (Hypogeum II), are considered to have had their heads bandaged in order to produce their cranial deformities.

(Extract from Hera Magazine, Italy: 1999)


From NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE January to June, 1920 VOLUME XXXVII
"From an examination of the skeletons of the polished-stone age, it appears that the early inhabitants of Malta were a race of long-skulled people of lower medium height, akin to the early people of Egypt, who spread westward along the north coast of Africa, whence some went to Malta and Sicily and others to Sardinia and Spain."

(More about Prehistoric Malta)

 

 

 

   List and Description of Featured Maltese Sites:

 

 Bugibba. Temple complex within hotel grounds.
 Cart-Ruts. The highest concentration of cart-ruts in the world.
 Ggantija. Temple complex on Gozo.
 Hagar Qim. Temple complex paired with Mnadjra.
 Hal-Tarxien. Temple complex nearby the Hypogeum
 The Hypogeum. The classic underground complex.
 The Hypogeum II. Underground complex on Gozo.
 Mnajdra. Temple complex linked with Hagar Qim.
 Skorba. The oldest Temple complex on Malta.
 Ta' Cenc. Small Dolmen on Gozo. In line with Xhagra and Xewkija
 Xhagra circle. Stone circle on Gozo.

(Click here for Map of Prehistoric Malta).

 

The following sites are also found on Malta.

These covered over holes are actually rock-cut vases or cisterns.

There are several of them cut into the rocks near St. Georges bay next to a set of cart-ruts that runs into the sea. They are now permanently filled with sand and shingle.

 

 

 

 

This collapsed dolmen is called the 'Sansuna' dolmen, it lies in private ground between two houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This menhir is obscured by the wall of a cemetery. It stands over 3m high and is unmarked on the map or side of the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1) David D. Zink. The Ancient Stones Speak. 1979. Musson Book Co.
2). G. Hancock. Underworld Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age. 2002. Penguin.
3). J. N .Lockyer. The Dawn of Astronomy. 1964, M.I.T. Press.

 

 
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