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  • The Megalithic Temples of Malta

  • The History and Legacy of Europe’s Oldest Standing Structures
  • By: Charles River Editors
  • Narrated by: Colin Fluxman
  • Length: 1 hr and 28 mins

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The Megalithic Temples of Malta

By: Charles River Editors
Narrated by: Colin Fluxman
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Publisher's Summary

While the Bronze Age is recognized as one of history’s most important phases, it’s been hard for historians to precisely date. The idea of the Bronze Age comes from a three-age system developed in the 19th century, through which archaeologists and historians believe cultures evolve. These three ages are the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age, and the concept of the system stems from the simultaneous development of museums in Europe during that time. 

In the Royal Museum of Nordic Antiquities in Denmark, Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, the director of the museum, began classifying objects of stone, bronze, or iron to better categorize and exhibit them. Each archaeological artifact was, thus, sorted according to their materials and further organized by shape and style. Through such methodology, working alongside archaeological reports, he was able to show how certain objects changed over time. 

Such a typology, combined with stratigraphy noted in archaeological reports, was useful to early archaeologists with no reliable method for dating artifacts. By understanding which object came before or after, early archaeologists had a relative dating system with which to assess the age of an object or culture. This kind of system was useful to the archaeologists who often encountered objects from above-ground burials that lacked stratigraphy.

Of all the places in Europe that people might think would show traces of the early Bronze Age, the island of Malta is undoubtedly an unlikely location. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, almost equidistant between Europe and North Africa, Malta is known for its mild temperatures, friendly people, and nice beaches, but the small archipelago nation has a very long and unique history, having played a role in the rise and fall of several different empires. 

Crusader knights once made Malta their home, and before them, the Apostle Paul visited, bringing what was at the time the new religion of Christianity to the Maltese people. Before that, Malta was contested by the Carthaginians and Romans, who viewed it as a vital logistical outpost in the middle of the Mediterranean. But Malta’s history goes back even much further, which can be witnessed by the numerous Neolithic and Bronze Age era megaliths that dot the island of Malta proper, as well as the island of Gozo to the north.

Naturally, when European archaeologists began unearthing the megaliths of Malta in the 19th century, they did not know what to think, which led to a plethora of theories, many of them quite fantastic. At least 23 of these temples were uncovered, but because the people who built them lacked the knowledge of writing, speculation over who built them and why remained well into the 20th century (Rountree 2003, 26). Some people theorized that the Malta megaliths were built by a race of giants, while others believed that it was the center of a “Mother Earth” cult that later spread through Neolithic Europe.

Early archaeologists were also perplexed about the physical origins of the Maltese megalith builders. Because Malta is such an isolated location, the builders had to have migrated there from elsewhere, but debates raged over the location. Equally confusing was when the megaliths were built. Although most legitimate historians believed from an early time that they were Neolithic structures, some argued that they were built much later and influenced by the Minoans and/or the Mycenaeans.

Even as some answers have arrived, scholars still debate the purpose of the megaliths. Although there is a near consensus that they served as religious temples, the deities that were worshiped as well as the rituals carried out in the structures remain a mystery and sources of further debate.

©2023 Charles River Editors (P)2023 Charles River Editors
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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