Graham Hancock, in Part Four of his fascinating book, Underworld, describes at length, the temples of Malta and alleges that measures were taken by some not-too-ethical archaeologists to cover up the true history of Malta, which appears to go much farther back than is acknowledged.
Hancock’s section on Malta is very complex, as the early history of Malta itself is remarkably complex, and little understood. So here are just a couple of highlights, not meant to be a comprehensive account.
If only these old temples could speak! But they do not, and no written language appears anywhere in them. No inscriptions tell their tale.
Among the oldest stone monuments in the world
A recent program on the H2 Channel showed, among other ancient sites, some of the temples of Malta. These predate the pyramids and are among the oldest stone-built monuments in the world.
In the H2 Channel’s TV program, scenes of the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, in Paolo, Malta show three levels of extraordinary rooms with curved architectural features. Built during the Saflieni phase (3300–3000 BC), the structures are beehive-shaped. The word “hypogeum” means “underground.” The topmost First Level is thirty feet below street level.
The Second Level down has a number of significant rooms. The Main Chamber is a rock-cut circle. Statues of the “sleeping lady” were found here, and were moved to the Museum of Archaeology, in Valletta. Some are tiny figures. One, reclining, is just a few inches in length.
Among the rooms on the Second Level of the Hypogeum are the Oracle Room and the Decorated Room. A small room, off to one side, the Oracle Room, has the amazing characteristic of producing an extraordinary acoustic effect. It amplifies any sound that is made. The room rings with sound.
To me, hearing about this quality of resonant sound was reminiscent of a very old Jain temple in Tamil Nadu, India, at Sittanavassal, where one of the guides demonstrated that when he did yogic breathing without any sound, a round indentation in the ceiling of the temple produced a loud, very audible echo.
Similarly, in one of the tombs in Egypt, at Sakkara, there is a small rectangular room, where sound echoes and is magnified in a mysterious way. The room is carved out of solid rock.
Ancient civilizations seem to have had a knowledge of the power of sound that has since been lost to us.
The Decorated Room in the Hypogeum has curved walls that shape inward, with decorations of a geometrical pattern.
Early in the Twentieth Century, it was reported that the Hypogeum was the resting place of at least 7,000 human skeletons. One report said the number was 33,000. But even if one sticks with the more conservative number of 7,000, it was an extraordinary archeological find. Sadly, all these skeletons have vanished. Only six skulls remain, which were shown to Graham Hancock when he asked to see them. Their appearance was enigmatic; they were very elongated human skulls. In one of them the central seam, the Fossa Median, which exists in all adult humans where the two halves of the skull come together, was, inexplicably, absent.
Apart from the strangeness of the skulls, it is sad, but perhaps not really strange, that the other 7,000 skeletons are no more to be found. This kind of destruction and disappearance is not without precedent in early archeology. It would be hard to top the destruction wrought, for example, in Egypt, by some of the “archeologists” brought along by Napoleon. There have always been conscientious archeologists, and also those who were simply treasure-hunters or who had other agendas.
On the other hand, according to another source, the skeletons had already severely deteriorated from dampness, so perhaps they simply could not be preserved.
Several old temple complexes grace the islands of Malta; all are extremely ancient megalithic structures.
The primary phases of temple construction in Malta are the Ġgantija phase (3600–3200 BC), the Saflieni phase (3300–3000 BC), and the Tarxien phase: (3150–2500 BC).
A Wikipedia article describes the Mnajdra Temple Complex, made of hard coralline limestone. It is on the southern coast of Malta’s southern island. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, composed usually of the skeletal remains of coral and other sea creatures, which built up at the bottom of the sea over time. Post and lintel construction was used, with a large heavy crosspiece, called the lintel, set across two large stone posts.
Unlike the Hypogeum, where the temple levels are underground, the temples at Mnajdra, are all above ground, built on a hillside. So the topmost one is not the most recent.
In fact, the topmost temple of the Mnajdra complex is the oldest, and it is estimated that it may go back to 3600 BC (to the time of the Ġgantija phase). The pillars of the trefoil temple were decorated with pitmarks. There is a triple entranceway.
The second temple, the most recent structure, is the youngest and goes back to between 3150 and 2500 BC (the Tarxien phase).
The third temple, the lowest, also constructed in what is known as the early Tarxien phase, represents the height of the culture of temple building in Malta.
The three temples of Mnajdra overlook a steep hillside running down to the sea on the southern coast of Malta. The third temple has an astrological alignment, and at the summer solstice, the sun’s first rays light up one of the decorated megaliths, with the stone opposite being lit at the winder solstice.
At the equinox, the sunlight shines through the main doorway to illuminate an inner niche.
Alignment with the stars and building with giant stones recur everywhere where megalithic structures are found the world over. Sometimes the gods, goddesses, the animal figures, and the geometric patterns and symbols reappear also again and again.
In the Malta temples, it is the goddess form that is repeated, often as a small carved figure, depicted standing or lying.
Dating the temples
As to the age of the goddess and the temples, Graham Hancock questions, in a rather amusing conversation, the means by which the dates of the Malta Temples have been estimated, when he asks an expert where the samples came from that were used in carbon dating. The samples tested apparently came only from the soil on top of the floor of the temple and never from underneath it. The ruins of the temples had been used over thousands of years by local people, including in many cases by goatherds and shepherds, as shelters for their flocks, so one can only imagine that the dating from the debris on top of the temple floors would hardly indicate the true age of the temples.
Who was this ancient goddess of ample proportions whose name we do not know? Whoever she was, is it not likely that she was the same being as the stone age goddess, carved again and again, in what are known as the “Venus figurines,” whose form is found throughout the Paleolithic sites of Europe, going back as far as 35,000 years, up to about 11,000 years ago?
Places of many mysteries, the Malta temples, must speak now only in dreams or in fleeting glimpses of insight, like the rays of the summer solstice, here for a moment and then gone.
Top photo: Author: Berthold Werner /“This is a copy, the original is in the National Museum of Archaeologie in Valetta.” / GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 / Wikimedia Commons / Malta, Tarxien temples, altar.
Second photo: Author: Jvdc / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported / Wikimedia Commons / “This clay figure of a reclining lady was found in one of the pits of the Hypogeum in Hal Saflieni in Malta. It has traces of red ochre paint and is thought to represent a ‘mother goddess’, even though she may equally be a representation of death or eternal sleep. Temple Period, 4000 – 2500 BC. /
Third photo: Author: -jkb- / GNU Free Documentation License / Wikimedia Commons / Hypogeum Ħal Saflieni (Malta), the sanctuary chamber Holy of Holies
Fourth photo: Author:-jkb- / GNU Free Documentation License / Wikimedia Commons/ The megalithic temple of Mnajdra, detail (Malta)