Complete History Guide of Malta

This is a timeline of the Maltese hisotry … have a look.

Early Neolithic Period

 

This began with the Għar Dalam phase in 5200 BC, continuing to the Grey Skorba phase in 4500 BC and the Red Skorba phase in 4400 BC, and finally finishing off with the Zebbug phase.

 

Għar Dalam Phase

The earliest permanent farming settlements found in Malta date back to 5200 to 4000 B.C. During the Għar Dalam phase, it was discovered that agriculture was a more reliable means of providing food rather than hunting and gathering, particularly as it limited seasonal food shortage. The process of agriculture was known to result in irreversible impacts on the environment. In fact, the Maltese Islands were highly affected due to the island’s limited amount of land and resources – trees and the like were removed in order to develop fields; constant ploughing led to soil erosion; and the essential resources needed to be given a lot of management. Social and cultural adaptations to such a changing environment were also vital for survival. Further development in the arts and crafts as well as in settlements was made. Similarly, religious rituals and cultural customs evolved. During the Għar Dalam phase, Sicilian farmers settled down in Malta. Consequently, the population size grew and the use of land soared both in Malta and Gozo. Naturally, social relations grew.

 
During the Għar Dalam phase, the first farming settlements were established. Għar Dalam Ware refers to pottery of the first settlers. Moreover, this pottery possesses similar characteristics with another impressed pottery found in Stentinello, Sicily. In fact, it is thought that Malta’s first farming communities came from there. The Għar Dalam phase is named so as plenty of the remains of this type of pottery were found at Għar Dalam.

 
Obsidian remains were discovered. Obsidian refers to natural occurring volcanic rocks that are not found locally. The discovered obsidian remains would have probably been imported from Lipari and Pantallerla. Therefore, during the Għar Dalam phase, the people living on these islands must have taken part in sea travel and thus had contact with people overseas.

 

 

Climatic changes and rising sea levels

A rise in the sea levels resulted in a loss of land in the Mediterranean region. Malta even became an island as it became separated from Sicily. Due to climate change and a rise of sea levels, Europe’s environmental features changed, particularly in the Mediterranean area. In addition, temperatures and humidity rose. More sheep, goats and ibex were even found in the southern part of Europe.

 
Due to such a change in the eco-systems, man had to adapt himself so as to find food to survive. Thus, hunting techniques developed further, particularly as less land was available; animals such as deer, rabbits, foxes and birds were hunted using more advanced resources. Similarly, the importance of eating fish was recognised. Therefore, specific resources to hunt fish, mussels, crabs, and turtles were developed. The importance of plant resources was also recognised. These resource-developments resulted in the formation of agriculture.

 

The Arts and Crafts of the Għar Dalam phase

 

The first farmers brought domesticated animals as well as crops along with them. They lived in caves or huts and made a particular type of pottery with impressed decoration. The Għar Dalam Ware is the oldest pottery on the Maltese Islands. This type of pottery is typically found in the Mediterranean area. Pottery within the Għar Dalam phase is characterised by fine and coarse wares. Fine ware is grey in colour added with some brown. It is particularly characterized by impression or groove cutting. It may either be designed using vertical lines, C-shaped, random or rowed impressions, including a number of linear patterns. At the Malta National Museum of Archaeology, fine Għar Dalam ware was found. Contrary to fine ware is coarse ware, which is thicker than finer pottery. Its surface colours range from dark brown to grey to light reddish brown, whilst its fabric is dark grey or black in colour.

 
Due to archaeological remains, the arts and crafts skills of other farmers living in the time of the Għar Dalam phase have been identified. It was found that decorative art was a vital cultural component of the agrarian societies; the impressed patterns and techniques used for making pottery during the Għar Dalam phase show the range of designs used for ceramic art production. Three small animal heads that once formed part of ceramic vessels were identified. This shows how art was inspired by agrarian shapes.

 
Museum of Arcehology showcases

 

 

The Skorba Phases

These run from 4500 to 4100 B.C. and consist of the Grey Phase and Red Phase. These phases may represent a period of consolidation after the Għar Dalam phase.
Archaeological evidence shows that different parts of the Maltese islands had been used for habitation. This includes today’s Megalithic temple sites, valleys, caves for shelter, as well as huts. The latter were also built up in the villages. Such a hut can be found at Skorba. This hut was initially built with low-lying walls that would have supported a roof of light weight. Attached to this hut is a long wall that may either have been part of another building or may have represented a boundary wall for the village.

 

The Grey Skorba phase: 4500 – 4400 B.C.

The farming community started to develop its own lifestyle as contact with Sicily began to decrease.

 
Malta Megalitic Temples

 

 

The Red Skorba phase: 4400 – 4100 B.C.

Ceramic vessels have been found within this period. They have a particular style as they are bright red in colour. The red Skorba phase tends to show a clear difference between domestic and religious architecture. Village remains of this period have been found; a structure made up of two rooms and a courtyard paved with cobble stones. Objects within the structure were found; broken pottery, obsidian blades, and small statues representing the human figure.

 

The Red Skorba Figurines

Red Skorba figurines are the first statues in Malta representing the human figure. 5 figurines were discovered; 4 were made of clay and one of local limestone. The way the figurines were made shows that even an unskilled person in arts and craft was capable of forming such statues. These figurines were used in rituals, thus art was valuable for religious purposes.

 

The village of Skorba

Skorba lies on a fertile valley surrounded by hills on all its sides. A kilometre away is the late Neolithic site ‘Ta’ Ħaġrat’. Easy accessibility to a fertile valley was essential as field cultivation was more economical in terms of the distances covered by the people living in the villages. The valley has access to Gnejna Valley and Bay. Therefore, it is evident that Skorba and Ta’ Ħaġrat had accessibility to essential land and marine resources. As generations came and went, older buildings were covered or re-developed. Today’s remains are part of the late Neolithic megalithic structure. Pottery from the Għar Dalam phase was found at this site – thus showing that this site’s history may have been in line with that of Skorba’s.

 

Excavated Remains

During the Għar Dalam phase (5200-4500 BC) a wall was excavated; it either formed part of a former structure, or it may have been used as a boundary wall between villages. A hut was also found. Its shape was oval and had pebble flooring. Skeleton remains were found on the floor.
During the Grey Skorba Phase (4500 – 4400 BC), wall remains were discovered. The stones used were of different sizes.
A shrine was discovered during the Red Skorba Phase (4400 – 4100 BC). This structure has been previously mentioned.
Shrine: a structure consisting of a main oval room, a smaller shaped room and two courtyards paved with stone. The stone foundations supported the mud-brick walls. Broken pottery and figurines were found in the structure.

 

Żebbuġ Phase

The Żebbuġ phase represents a period of high megalithic development in Malta. A number of farming settlers from Sicily arrived on the island. Formal burials in rock-cut chamber tombs are identified as a particular cultural development of this period that led to formal burial traditions on the island. This phase identifies the cultural customs and cult activities that have been developed from past centuries. Permanent burials were set up either above the ground or carved out of rock. The Żebbuġ phase consisted of new pottery styles that were still slightly similar to the Sicilian ones. A unique art style is also seen in pendants and statuary found on the island. Links with central Mediterranean is still evident due to obsidian and other goods. The Żebbuġ phase included a change from general-use ritual structures to specific-purpose buildings. The latter shows the development of social hierarchies in Malta and Gozo.

 

Bronze Age

After this era, which was about the time of 2500BC the culture of the temples collapsed. During this period, the temples collapsed both literally and metaphorically (Trump, 2002). Temples were turned into cemeteries such as the Tarxien temple, they were taken over by squatters as in the case of Skorba and Borġ in-Nadur, other temples just crumbled away with time whilst that of the Hypogeum in Xagħra was sealed off. The phase succeeding the Temple Era is that of the Bronze Age. New people arrived on the island and took over an apparently empty Island. What happened to the temple builders is uncertain however some theories are that they died from famine due to over exploitation of resources, prolonged draught, disease or civil war. These new people brought with them bronze axes and daggers something which had not been seen in Malta due to the island not having metal ores.

 

Bronze Age Pottery

Pottery is extremely important for archaeologists to identify the different phases from which these items are excavated. They can identify these through the design and shape of the pottery as well as from the places they have been found. Pottery found in Bronze Age is very different to that of the temple age as it is coarser and thicker and the shapes and decorations are distinctive for all three bronze phases (Tarxien Cemetery phase, Borġ in-Nadur phase and the Baħrija phase). For example, the pottery found at the Tarxien cemetery phase is characterised by bowls and jars with sharply out-turned lips and geometric decorations, particularly chevrons and hatched triangles (Pottery Speaks, 2012). During the Borġ in-Nadur phase the most common design was of parallel bands round the lip, sometimes with zigzags below and the handles were distinctively displayed splayed often with axe-shaped or horn additions (Pottery Speaks, 2012). The Baħrija stage pottery consisted of simple dovetail decorations, elaborate meanders or rows of triangles with a zigzag between them (Pottery Speaks, 2012).

 

Tarxien Cemetery

As mentioned above, the Tarxien temple during the Bronze Age was used as a cemetery and this was discovered by Sir Temi Żammit when he excavated the Tarxien temples in 1915-1917. He noticed that the temple had been used as a cemetery due to the ground formation during the excavation which consisted of a bottom layer of sterile silt followed by a layer of ash whilst the top layer consisted of burnt bone and numerous intact pots. The funerary rites and beliefs during the Bronze Age differed considerably from those of the Neolithic period. The corpse was cremated and the burnt remains were gathered in an urn which was buried and accompanied by smaller pots, necklaces, figurines and a few bronze daggers and axes (Funerary Rites, 2012). The highly stylised clay disc figurines were of a circular flat body in a seated position (Funerary Rites, 2012). A number of artefacts interpreted as personal ornaments, were also found buried and these ornaments include discoid beads of shell, faience and even fish vertebrates used to make necklaces of bracelets (Funerary Rites, 2012). None of these ornaments showed signs of burning and therefore it is assumed that they were placed after the body was cremated. Although it must be noted that no funerary rites were discovered dating to the Borġ in-Nadur phase and the Baħrija phase, it is assumed that some sort or rite leaving no trace of the human body must have occurred during these phases.

 

Dolmens

Dolmens are monuments that are usually associated with funerary rites of the Bronze Age period (Dolmen 2012). They are simple chambers consisting of a large flat capstone supported on uprights or built walling (Trump, 2002). A dolmen is made up of a large stone slab supported by smaller stones (Dolmen 2012). Numerous dolmens have been recorded at several sites on the Maltese Islands. Archaeological finds within dolmens are a rarity, with the only exception being the small amount of shards (known to date to the Tarxien Cemetery phase) which were excavated from one of a group of three dolmens at Ta Ħammut, within the limits of Baħar iċ-Ċaghaq in 1955 (Dolmen 2012). Dolmens were not only unique on the Maltese Islands but can also be found in countries in Western Europe. Some examples of dolmens found in Malta are; Misraħ Sinjura Dolmen in Qrendi, Ta Friminka Dolmen in Safi and Wied Filep Dolmen found in Mosta.

 

Settlements during the Bronze Age

There are three main types o settlements during the Bronze Age and these are; the natural or man-made defensive sites, open sites on prominent hilltops and caves. The Bronze Age people at the temple site of Skorba made use of its inner apse as a hut. Some places of Bronze Age settlement sites are; tas-Silġ, Borġ in-Nadur, Mdina and Ċitadella.
The Bronze Age unlike the harmony during the temple period, was a period of conflict. The evidence for this lies in the fact that the majority of settlements are in naturally defended positions, often with walls added (Settlements 2012). For example at Borġ in-Nadur there are substantial remains of a wall built of rough stone blocks cutting off access along the ridge (Settlements 2012). This indicates that conflict was between settlements and not from outside invasion. This conflict between settlements could have been as a result of competition for good agricultural land and water.

 

Crafts- Textiles

At Baħrija a number of spindle whorls and loom weights were found indicating that the craft of weaving was common during this time. It may have been done for local reasons or to export to other countries. It is possible that the woven products were being traded for materials such as metal something which was not found locally (Crafts, 2012). In the later Punic and Roman ages there is actual written evidence that the textile industry existed, however, for the Bronze Age it is only the spindle whorls and loom weights that give an indication of the existence of such industry.

 

Crafts- Pottery and Metal

During the Bronze Age, broken pottery was the most common material recovered from excavated sites. During this age, the pottery was still known to be handmade. Axe heads and simple daggers of bronze mostly cast in open moulds, were found in the Tarxien cemetery and apart from one dagger which was found at Għar Mirdum, none were found from other Bronze Age sites (Crafts, 2012).

 

Foreign Connection

It is a known fact that foreign exchanges were taking place between countries in the form of trade. This is further enhanced by the findings of a number of archaeological artefacts which were made from imported materials. For example, at the site of Borġ in-Nadur a small sherd of Mycenaean Greek pottery has been recognised (Foreign Connection, 2012). And vice versa, in tombs near Thapsos near Syracuse, a number of Borġ in-Nadur style pots were found.

 

Cart Ruts

Cart ruts can be described as paired grooves which can be found across Malta and Gozo wherever bare rock is exposed (Trump, 2002). Some of these cart ruts can be found at Mellieha, Marsaxlokk, Ras il-Pellegrin and Ghar Zerrieq. They are virtually impossible to date since no material evidence associated with them has been found (Cart Ruts, 2012).

 

Phoenician Phase

The Phoenicians are said to be probably the most mysterious protagonists of ancient Mediterranean history (Who were the Phoenicians?, 2012). They were a population said to be driven by the political and economic developments in the Near East. The Phoenicians homeland was a narrow coastal strip, stretching from modern-day Syria to Northern Israel and including Lebanon (Who were the Phoenicians?, 2012). They are known to be gifted people for their ability to transform raw materials into skillful creations. These gifted Phoenicians worked with many different materials and transformed them into superb objects in wood, ebony, ivory, shell, faience, glass, stone, clay, metal wool and also linen (Phoenician Seafaring and Trade, 2012). Phoenicians therefore, travelled in numerous areas in the Mediterranean in search for these raw materials. During the Phoenician period, the sea became an extremely important aspect. It became the carrier of people, thoughts, ideas, fashion and style, gifts and commodities and peoples and their customs (Phoenician Seafaring and Trade, 2012).

 

Pottery

In Phoenician Malta, Potters were inspired by Greek pottery which was appealing due to its fine quality and decoration. Something which was extremely popular in Ancient Mediterranean was the Greek cup with handles which was either deep or shallow in shape. Phoenicians in Malta then copied the Greek’s style of shape pottery by using local clay.
Phoenician pottery is said to be distinctive by its shape and decoration. It is believed that kitchenware which includes plates, bowls, cups, beakers and jugs, was made from fine clay thrown on a potter’s wheel, but cooking pots were often made by hand from coarser fabric (Ceramic Forms from Phoenician Malta, 2012). It can be noted that some Phoenician pottery has a red tint to it and this is because they sometimes used to cover the pottery with fine red slip so as to give it a bronzier look.

 

Textiles

It is very unfortunate that no Phoenician fabric was found on the Maltese Islands as the Phoenicians were renowned for their textile production. Ancient writing informs us that the Phoenicians were famed for the way that they managed to dye their wool and linen garments using two types of sea snail species which are common around the Mediterranean shores; the Murex trunculus and the Murex Brandaris (Textiles and Phoenician Purple Dye, 2012).

 

The Phoenicians in the Maltese Islands

The Phoenicians settled in Malta as they were travelling by sea to the Western Mediterranean regions. The archipelago was located in a very good position for the Phoenicians as it was located in the middle of the sea and was close to Greece, Sicily, as well as the North African city Carthage. Malta and Gozo were suitable islands as their high cliffs contributed as seamarks, and they possess shallow water for ships to anchor. Due to the island’s topography and resources, the first merchant sailors began to farm and build themselves homes in the remote areas of the island.
Two towns began to grow; Mdina/Rabat and Victoria. A sanctuary dedicated to the Phoenician goddess Astarte was developed at Tas-Silg overlooking Marsaxlokk Bay.

 

Phoenicians and Death

Evidence of graves and human remains aid in discovering the history of the ancient people and communities. Even though the location of the Phoenicians’ towns and cities are known, they were either broken down for re-development or they were covered up by more modern ones. Plenty of data about the Phoenicians and about life in the past crops up from the evidence of tombs and cemeteries.
The Phoenicians had a tendency of cremating corpses. The process of cremating was done on a large fire. The burnt remains were gathered and placed in a particular ceramic container or urn, which was later placed into the tomb. Another way of burying a corpse was done by placing the dead body inside the funerary chamber. In some instances, the body was put inside a coffin either made of terracotta or wood.

The Phoenicians and the Afterlife

Insufficient evidence exists about the Phoenicians’ ideas about afterlife. It was thought that the objects placed near the corpse when buried would be used and needed in their afterlife. A piece of papyrus was once discovered inside a bronze holder. On the papyrus, a prayer from the dead person was found. The prayer was asking for divine help to fight off the enemy who was blocking a sea trip to the underworld.

 

Reconstruction of a Tomb found at il-Qallilija, Rabat (Malta)

The rocky flat land known as il-Qallilija was an important rural area during the Phoenician and Punic times. The tomb that was discovered was made up of two chambers that were accessible from a central shaft. The entrance to each chamber was blocked by a stone slab. In one of the chambers, pottery vessels and a skeleton were found. Interestingly, the head of the skeleton formed into the rock near the pillow. Evidence shows that the tomb must have been used over a long-term period from the 6th Century BC to the 3rd Century AD. It is thought that the bones were moved to the other chamber whenever a new body was put inside.

 

A Phoenician Coffin

The Phoenicians buried corpses in different ways. One method was by placing a corpse inside a coffin. The coffin would either be made of terracotta, wood, stone, and marble. The coffins also had a lid over them that were formed in shape of a human figure. At the National Museum of Archaeology, the coffin exhibited was once found at Ghar Barka – this location is situated on the outskirts of Rabat.
Within the country where the Phoenicians originally come from, the royal family had been buried in similar coffins. They usually re-used coffins that came from Egypt. On these coffins, one would find inscriptions stating that whoever would disturb their eternal sleep would be cursed.