Exploration into why a rich Temple-building civilization died out on Malta
The ancient Temple People civilization of Malta did not suffer invasions, widespread disease or famine, past research has shown. Why their culture died is a mystery.
A large team of researchers is carrying out studies to determine why the Temple People’s civilization on the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo ended. The Temple People had an incredibly rich culture with unique art, stone temples and structures, huge burial sites and advanced agriculture going back to 4000 BC and ending around 2900 BC.
The stone structures on the island are among the oldest free-standing stone structures in history, Malta Today says in a long story about the new research .
Mnajdra Temple, Malta. Source: BigStockPhoto
The researchers will try to answer two questions: What killed off the Temple People? Why do some civilizations survive for many years in fragile environments and others don’t?
The Temple People had 30 temple complexes on Malta and Gozo in their 1,100-year history. They had intricate burial sites, complex rituals and animal sacrifices, Malta Today says.
Artwork flourished. Archaeologists and others have found hundreds of ancient statues. Some are famous as abundantly fertile “fat ladies”, but these are only around 15 percent of the statues found. Phallic and androgynous symbols are much more common.
The ‘Venus’ figure of Malta ( Wikimedia Commons )
“How the Islands managed to sustain such a rich culture is a mystery. Another mystery is how it all ended,” the story says.
The Temple People left no written documents to tell what their lives and society were like and why their civilization declined. So scientists have to examine physical clues to reconstruct the past and say how they lived and why they died out.
Archaeologists, biologists and geologists will do soil and pollen sampling, GPS and LiDAR studies and try to tie it in with what is known of the Temple People’s agriculture, architecture, art and why it all ended.
The group will take 12 core samples of soil and sediments down to the bedrock, which ranges from 6.56 feet (2 meters) to 65.6 feet (20 meters) deep. One of the researchers likened soil samples to taking a biopsy.
“If I find material in the core that is suggestive of a very wooded environment it means that the environment was wooded but then eroded. If erosion has taken place, it means that the landscape might not have been heavily terraced. Everything is linked,” said Nicholas Vella of the University of Malta.
Altar in Mjandra Temple, Malta. Source: BigStockPhoto
They will study the remains of mollusks found in the cores to determine the ecology and cultural habits of ancient people of Malta and a nearby island, Gozo. The species of snails on Malta are the same as 7,000 years ago. There are three main types of snails on Malta, said researcher Katrin Fenech: land snails, brackish water mollusks and marine mollusks. If you find a snail shell that needed shade in a dry, rocky place, one could assume the area had previously been treed before people arrived on Malta in Neolithic times.
The Malta Today writer asked Fenech if rapid climate change may have contributed to the demise of the Temple People. She told him to define rapid and said there were periods of cooler, drier weather and warmer, wetter weather. But inadequate radiocarbon dating and core sampling has limited speculation about whether climate change contributed to the Temple People’s decline, Fenech said. The new studies, called Fragsus, will change that.
The Maltese researchers and others are looking at cores for pollen, soil composition, bone fragments, and volcanic tephra particles.
The research team is called Fragsus for Fragility and Sustainability in the Restricted Island Environments of Malta. The team includes 19 academics, 10 post-doctorate researchers and about 50 students from seven countries and five institutions. The institutions include the University of Malta, Malta Heritage and Cambridge University. The two primary areas of research are mortuary research and landscape research, the Fragsus website says .
Vella and two other Maltese researchers will study landscapes to determine how the people used land for raising animals and growing crops—two of the main sources of ancient Maltese diet.
The Temple People likely had cattle, sheep, goats, barley, wheat, lentils, olives and fruit, Malta Today says.
Fragsus will try to answer how the people raised their animals, what a day in their life looked like, why they didn’t fish much, how much trade there was with other civilizations, were people healthy, and who was being buried at these sites—the leaders of the settlements or everyone?
“We are quite sure how the Temple people did not die, but uncertain about why they did,” the story says.
Featured image: Hagar Qim megalithic site in Malta. Source: BigStockPhoto
By Mark Miller