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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Prehistory

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Prehistoric Malta

 

The Temples of Ġgantija, Gozo: 3600-2500 BC

Malta is at the apex of a ridge that separates the Mediterranean sea into an eastern and a western basin. The sea between the Maltese islands and Sicily is no more than around 100m in depth, whilst that between Malta and the African continent is approximately 400m. In geological times, the Mediterranean connection with the Atlantic was severed on a number of occasions, whenever this happened, sea levels dropped, and a bridge between Malta and mainland Europe was established.

This happened some six or seven million years ago, and floral and faunal species could easily traverse onto the land territory that today constitutes the Maltese islands. This scenario lasted until five million years ago when a geological phenomenon once again opened the Straits of Gibraltar and water from the Atlantic once again flooded the Mediterranean basin. Sea levels rapidly rose and Malta was once again isolated. The fossilised remains of such exotic fauna as hippopotami, bears and pygmy elephants have been discovered in Ghar Dalam — testimony to Malta's connection with the mainland.

It is believed that the first settlers reached Maltese shores from nearby Sicily some 7000 years ago. They were probably cave—dwellers, although in later times, they constructed mud shack dwellings such as those found in the Skorba region, where figurines of the Mother godess, whose cult flourished all over the Mediterranean were discovered.

The temple building period lasted from ca. 4000 to 2500 BCE. The sheer size of the boulders used in the construction of these structures bears witness to the technological achievements of the prehistoric inhabitants of Malta. Indeed, the Ggantija temples are so called as it has been whimsically deemed that only humans of gigantic proportions would have been able to move such enormous rocks. It is believed that the temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim are the oldest free-standing structures in the world, and indeed pre-date the pyramids of Egypt by some 1000 years.

The temple building culture culminated in the Tarxien phase with exquisite decoration on the temple walls with animal and spiral motifs.