THE NEOLITHIC TEMPLES of MALTA


THE GLIMPSES OF A MYSTERIOUS PAST

Until recently, the Egyptian pyramids were thought to be the oldest architectural monuments in existence. Recent archaeological research, however, has shown that the earliest Neolithic Mnajdra Templetemples on Malta are about 1,000 years older than the famous pyramids of Giza. Huge rocks, several tons in weight, were used in the construction of these temples. Even with modern techniques and tools this would not be an easy task today. How these enormous loads were moved, or even lifted, 5,000 or 6,000 years ago, remains a mystery.

The earliest temples, such as the one at Ggantija on Gozo (pictured), were built by piling huge rocks on top of each other. They did not have any carving or decoration. Later temples, such as the one at Hagar Qim, in Malta were made of huge stones fitting very closely together and ornately decorated. Carving was done with only very primitive flint and obsidian tools. No archaeological remains made of metal from this period have been discovered in Malta. One theory is that this prehistoric people did not use metal because they may have foreseen, in its use, their own future destruction.

The subterranean burial place at Malta's Hal Saflieni, the so called Hypogeum, is an even more astonishing relic and its accidental discovery in 1902 caused quite a sensation in world archaeological circles. The temple must have been literally carved into the rocks over hundreds of years with the simple tools made from flint and obsidian. Starting at ground level the Hypogeum descends several stories below ground and covers an area of more than 500 square meters. The Hypogeum was certainly a place of worship and burial - the bones of over 7,000 people have been found - and could also have been used as a place for the training of priestesses. A number of relics support this hypothesis.

All traces of the mysterious people who built the Hypogeum disappeared suddenly around 2,000 BC - at the height of their culture. How this peaceful people disappeared we will never know. It remains pure speculation as to whether conquerors with modern metal weapons wiped out this unarmed, unfortified people, or whether a sudden epidemic destroyed all human life on Malta for centuries. Equally strange and mysterious are the cart ruts found on many of the rocky ridges in Malta. The most popular theory is that these were made by primitive slide-carts used before the invention of the wheel.



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