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Malta Neolithic Temples

Megalithic Temples of Malta still the oldest ones in the World


Everyone knows about the magnificent temples of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, but one country containing some of the oldest and best-preserved temples in the world gets comparatively little attention - Malta.  

Malta is a southern European country in the Mediterranean Sea, just 80 kilometres south of Sicily. The country covers just over 300 km 2, making it one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. Yet on this small island country, there are literally dozens of ancient sites, eleven megalithic temples, and seven of them are UNESCO World Heritage Listed.  Although debatable, UNESCO describes Malta's prehistoric temples as the "oldest free standing monuments on Earth". 

The temples date from 5,500 to 2,500 BC, making them older than Stonehenge and older than the Pyramids of Egypt (according to current perspectives). The dating of the site was done using radio carbon testing of pottery and bones found around those temples in Malta. Dr Nicholas Vella of the University of Malta  says that until further evidence is found that will put Stonehenge or the Pyramids far into the timeline, the temples of Malta remain the oldest known temples still standing. The most well-known sites include the temples of Ggantija on the island of Gozo, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.  According to folklore, Ggantija was built by a giantess who used it as a place of worship.

The megalithic temple of Ggantija on the island of Gozo

Malta has a rich prehistoric past. Dating of bones and pottery from all around the island has shown that it was first populated in at least 5,500 BC. More than 50 temples were found on the islands of Malta and most of them are constructed in the same design which includes a central corridor with two or more chambers and an altar at the end. Archaeologists do not know exactly how the temples were used but the common theory is that they were used as ceremonial places for polytheistic religions which included sacrifice of animals and/or humans. Archaeological evidence, including numerous figurines and statues, suggests that the sacrifices were made to the goddess of fertility. 

The culture of megalithic builders apparently disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2,500 BC. Archaeologists speculate that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease.

By John Black

Comments

"Megalithic Temples of Malta still the oldest ones in the World" is a bit of a big claim.
You seem to have completely forgotten Göbekli Tepe temple in Turkey, dated to around 10,000 BC.

The exact claim is that Malta's Temples are 'The World's Oldest Monumental Architecture'. As you rightly say, there have been discovered more ancient temples - which are smaller though no less fascinating.

aprilholloway's picture

Hi Vincent and Sophie, actually that's not the exact claim. It is that Malta's temples are the oldest known free standing monuments in the world. UNESCO's definition of 'oldest free-standing monument' includes the criteria of being largely complete or including building work to a height of at least 1.5 metres for most of its perimeter. As you rightly said, there are many older sites, such as Gobekli Tepe, but not that meet that specific criteria. 

All the time periods are estimates. How can one determine the date of something that goes back in time such as 5,000 bc or 12,000 bc. I think the estimates could be completely wrong and as there is no evidence as such as to who the inhabitants and builders were of these civilizations then i find it less easy to believe when estimated time periods in years are quoted. Has there really ever been found elongated skulls in Malta ?. I read somewhere that this is the case but if so where are they today and how can we see them and where if possible, thanks.

Hi Ralph, the story about the skulls is true, they where found at the Hypogeum, an underground temple that carries a lot of mysteries. I am lucky to say that I've seen them once. These skulls are kept at the museum of archeology but unfortunatley as long as I know the skulls are not exhibited. Anyone interested to know more about this, google 'Malta Hypogeum mysteries' and you will be fascinated with the articles you will find.

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