Pre-Historic Malta

People arrived on Malta from Sicily about 5200 BC. This is based on Radio Carbon-14 dating of ashes from manmade fires found in caves. The first humans on Malta lived in thise caves and later built huts and small villages.

For some reason, starting about 6000 years ago the ancient Maltese started to build large stone temples. This temple building boom went on until about 4500 years ago. During that time the Maltese built fifty or so large temple complexes on Malta proper and the nearby smaller island of Gozo. Most of these buildings follow a comparable floor plan. A central corridor leads to one or more crescent shaped rooms, all of which have one or more niches carved into the walls.

As a matter of comparison this is about the same time that the different phases of Stonehenge were also erected. The temples on Malta are believed to be the oldest free standing stone structures in the world.

The most significant still existing temple complex is the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples. The Hagar Qim Temples are built on cliffs overlooking the open sea and present an impressive view of the Mediterranean Sea. Only a few hundred meters away and closer to the sea are the Mnajdra Temples. Both these building were completed around 3200 CE although they were started years earlier. Both follow the standard Maltese temple plan of a central hall and curved chambers. The enormous walls are particularly extraordinary, being built only with human power. The Mnajdra Temple has two chambers but is otherwise similar to Hagar Qim.

Most likely built around 2400 BC the underground Saflieni Hypogeum was a cultic center for the veneration of a goddess. This temple likely began as cave and when was extended. The Hypogeum features gaps into which people would drop offerings into the cave below. The Hypogeum was also a burial site. Also, the famous “Sleeping Lady” of Malta was found in the Hypogeum. The “Sleeping Lady” is a Paleolithic “Venus” as a statute carved with hugely outsized curves, denoting a female figure. The “Sleeping Lady” is now in the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta, the capitol of Malta.

The last of the major Maltese temples are the Tarxien Temples. These four temples are the most highly decorated of all the temples with a comprehensive twisting pattern cut in bas reliefs. The Tarxien temples were finished around 2000 BC.

These extraordinary buildings have some solar and astronomical alignments. These alignamnets focus on the position of the sun on the equinoxes and solstices. This is again similar to some of the arrangements of Stonehenge and other megalithic and Neolithic cultic sites around the world.

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