A most important, ancient, human skull vanished from the Valletta Museum of Archaeology, not long after the death of Professor Sir Themistocles Zammit. The characteristics of this artifact suggest that modern man originates primarily from the Mediterranean and secondary from Africa.
The remnants of 50 temples have been found on the islands of Malta and nearby Gozo, with 23 in varying states of preservation. Almost all of these are constructed using identical architectural methods and principles. These primarily being a central corridor leading through two or more ellipsoidal chambers heading toward a small altar apse at the far end. The Herculean outer shell of the walls are formed of great blocks of stone propped on end or on edge as orthostats. Internal walls are either of piled rough coralline blocks, or well-cut slabs. All the walls consist of two faces, the space between being packed with earth or rubble. Doorways and passages all use the trilithon principle: two orthostats parallel to each other to support a horizontal lintel. Frequently doorways consist of a ‘porthole’, in which access is through a rectangular hole in the center of a slab. The temples were probably roofed over with beams, brushwood and clay.
Structures that resemble megalithic temples have been discovered on the sea-bed in Maltese waters. These are currently being studied to establish whether they are actually unique megalithic temples or naturally formed sculptures. These studies are being carried out by foreign archaeologists, as this discovery has been considered to be of great archaeological importance, and has raised great interest amongst the wider scientific community.
Malta’s antediluvian under-water temple may prove to be the largest known prehistoric complex on Earth. On the rocky hill above Mnajdra two stones which serve as demarcation stones for the Equinox and Winter Solstice delineate a prehistoric, artificial, under-water structure not far from the coast of Sliema on the Mediterranean Isle of Malta. What makes these neolithic temples so unique is their true alignment to the major-standstills of the Moon – and not to the Sun as is characteristic with so many of these prehistoric stone calendars dotted around the world. Only one of the Mnajdra ‘Temples’ was deliberately oriented to the Sun. Although the already documented identification of the remains of a very large prehistoric ‘Temple’ at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea 3 kilometres off Malta’s north-eastern shore, still remains to be evidently confirmed by systematic exploration of that site, not less than three other distinct submarine sites of antediluvian origin have been located by diver-photographers in circumstances that place their existence, if not their interpretation, beyond all reasonable doubt. Excavations on Gozo, the second isle in the Maltese archipelago and at various prehistoric sites on Malta itself or below its territorial waters still have a very considerable future. Deep-sea fishermen, for example, have already seen what appears to be an ancient stone circle some distance out from St. Paul’s island at Sikka I. Bajda. Excavations first began at Hagar Qim on the Maltese mainland, the site of the oldest and also of the only “temple” so far studied to be constructed out of globigerine instead of coralline limestone. The first “temples” to be initially excavated in a proper and scientific manner were those at
Tarxien in the early years of the 20th century.
The discovery was made on the 13th of July 1999 at 10 a.m. and was photographed by diver/cameraman Shaun Arrigo, while the photographer who took separate on-site still-photos was his brother Kurt. Professor Zeitlmair, who explained that these structures are two stone-circles. Also with them are other fallen and broken structures which are long and rectangular, and on a sort of platform. They were found at a depth of approximately 1 km off the East coast of Malta. Prof. Zeitlmair also said that these structures are full of vegetation, and bare a striking similarity to the temples from the period of Ħaġar Qim.
In the zone where the underwater structures have been found large narrow channels have been observed believed to be some form of cart-ruts, and these resemble those found around on the island. The discovery of these structures will give rise to diverse archaeological interpretations, and the first implications are that they could be compared with the temples of Ħaġar Qim,
Gantija and Mnajdra, and with the Hypogeum. This archaeological discovery has also renewed discussions amongst archaeologists regarding the period in which the temples were built. Prof. Zeitlmair sustains that these structures were built a lot earlier than the other megalithic temples in Malta are usually alleged to have been built, and the questions that he is trying to answer are: who really built these structures, when did they actually build them, and for what purpose?
The limestones: gray coralline and, pale globigerina were used in the construction of these temples, both of these stones originated from the Miocene geological period. The construction tools available at the time were hand-axes made of flint and quartzite, knives and scrapers of volcanic obsidian, wedges of wood and stone, hammers of stone and levers of wood. No metal tools of any kind have been found at the temples. Malta has no mineral resources and the flint and obsidian found were most probably imported from the islands of Lipari and Pantelleria off the coast of Sicily. After quarrying the stone blocks were transported to the temple sites via levers and rollers. Once there the rollers were exchanged for stone balls so that the massive stone blocks could be moved in any direction, rather than the limiting forward and backward motion offered with rollers.
Plastered and painted with red ochre the earliest interiors were later embellished with delicately carved spirals on steps and altars. Friezes of farm animals, fish and snakes, and simple pitted dots could also be found. Still evident are wall sockets for wooden barriers or curtains, and niches for ritual activities. Some of the relief decoration is of such delicate work that it is difficult to understand how it could have been carried out using only stone tools.
Geologists acknowledge the coming and going of some sort of mini-ice age within this specified time-frame.
Complimenting these temples and perhaps the crown jewel of the Island itself is The Hypogeum at Paola. The building is a subterranean structure dating to the Saflieni period in the island’s prehistory. It is the only prehistoric underground temple in the world. Thought to be originally a sanctuary, it became a necropolis in prehistoric times. The Hypogeum was acceptance by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in the 1980’s. It was closed to visitors between 1992 and 1996 for restoration works; since it reopened only 80 people per day are allowed entry.
It was discovered by accident in 1902 when workers cutting cisterns for a new housing development broke through its roof. The workers tried to hide the temple at first, but eventually it was found. The study of the structure was first entrusted to Father Manuel Magri of the Society of Jesus, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Museum’s Committee. Magri died in 1907, before the publication of the report.
The Hypogeum is a multi-storey underground labyrinth consisting of chambers, halls, corridors and stairs, which over the centuries were extended deeper and deeper in to the soft limestone. The first Level in the Hypogeum mirrors the tombs found in Xemxija. Some rooms are natural caves which were later artificially extended. From evidence, one can say that this is the oldest level. The second level only ten metres below the street level was only opened as an extension to the first when the original builders found that was no longer spacious enough to accommodate their needs. This level shows advanced stone masonry skills for the time. included here are rooms of great import to the original temple worshipers such as the Main Room, the Holy of Holies, and the Oracle Room.
The Main Chamber is carved out of the natural rock and circular in shape . A number of trilithon entrances are present, some blind, and others leading to other chambers. Most of the wall surface is covered in a red wash of ochre. It was from this room that the statuettes of the sleeping lady were recovered. Nowadays these figurines are held in the Museum of Archaeology, in Valletta, Malta’s capital.
The Oracle Room is roughly rectangular and one of the smallest side chambers has the peculiarity of producing a powerful acoustic resonance from any vocalization made inside it. This room has an elaborately painted ceiling, consisting of spirals in red ochre with circular blobs. The Decorated Room Out of the Oracle’s Room, through the hammer dressed chamber, on the right is another spacious hall, circular, with inward slanting smooth walls, richly decorated in a geometrical pattern. On the right side wall of the entrance is a petrosomatoglyph of a human hand carved into the rock (Agius). The second level contains a 2 metres deep pit which could have been used for either keeping snakes or collecting alms. The focal point of Holy of Holies is a porthole within a trilithon, which is in turn framed within a larger trilithon and yet another large trilithon. The lower story contains no bones or offerings, only water and strongly suggests a storage room possibly for grain.
Initially constructed as a goddess temple during the megalithic period, the most recent temple to be discovered and excavated is Tas Silg. It is unique in that it shows evidence of continued religious use over thousands of years and by various cultures. It was used by Bronze Age Peoples of the first millennium BC and was appropriated as a sanctuary of the Goddess Astarte patron deity of fertility, beauty and love. The temple was established by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, maintained and improved by the Carthaginians, used by the neo-Punic natives as a shrine of Astarte-Tanit, adopted by the Romans as a temple of the goddess Juno, taken over by the Christians in the 4th century AD, and finally became the site of an Arab mosque in the 9th century.
Similiarly several discoveries were also made at Ghar Dalam or “cave of darkness” dating back to the ice age. The remains of dwarf elephant and hippopotamus bones were discovered in these caves. Some of the earliest indicators of human settlement were also found here, dating back over 7,000 years.