The alluring and perplexing ancient megalithic temples of Malta and Gozo (the smaller island just north of Malta) have been a destination for travelers throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond for thousands of years. Even in their ruinous states, the temples are incredibly impressive; the largest limestone blocks weigh twenty to forty tons. There is evidence that the temples were not only venerated, but also used and reused, built and rebuilt, over the centuries and millennia.
For instance, Bronze Age peoples (sometimes labeled “invaders”) of the late third millennium BCE appropriated and refurbished for their own purposes various Maltese temples and may have attributed to the temples a different significance than that intended by the original builders. Indeed, to call the structures temples may not be fully correct or do them justice, as we really do not know for certain what their initial functions were. Even the original form the structures took is questioned; now open to the sky, were they roofed over? Today the temples are a primary destination for “Goddess movement” devotees who see in the rounded ground plans of the temples the voluptuous shape of a fertility symbol, the “Mother Goddess,” who is allegedly depicted in statues found in and associated with the ancient temples (Kathryn Roundtree, 2002, History and Anthropology, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 31–51).
According to traditional status quo archaeologists, the Maltese Islands were first inhabited circa 5200 BCE by populations of settlers most likely migrating from Sicily (Tore Lomsdalen, 2013, Culture and Cosmos, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 77–105); and the first megalithic temples were not constructed until over a thousand years later, during the fourth millennium BCE, with temple building continuing into the third millennium BCE (Themistocles Zammit, with additions by Karl Mayrhofer, 1995/2000, The Prehistoric Temples of Malta and Gozo, Union Print, Malta). But how secure is the conventional chronology, and how do the temples fit into the bigger picture of human antiquity? These are questions that I asked myself when I had the opportunity to explore various Maltese archaeological sites firsthand during a short excursion in March 2017.
Regarding human habitation on the Maltese Islands, despite the standard story, there remains considerable controversy surrounding when the islands were first settled. During the late ice age, circa 18,000 BCE, when sea levels were 130 meters lower than they are today, all of the Maltese Islands formed a single landmass, which extended for numerous kilometers north of the present coast of Malta. Furthermore, southeastern Malta was connected to Sicily by a major land bridge that only disappeared under the rising waters at the very end of the last ice age (Federica Foglini, et al., 2015, Geological Society, London, Special Publications, vol. 411). During the period of the land bridge there were well-established human populations in Sicily (Marcello Mannino, et al., 2011, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 38, pp. 3094–3100), and it is virtually inconceivable that people would not have migrated down the land bridge (which during its maximum exposure was some 40 kilometers wide) and occupied what are now the Maltese Islands. Most archaeologists will insist that this is speculation at best, and they demand physical evidence of early humans in Malta. Realistically, much of the evidence may now lie below sea level.
However, a strong case has been made that various human remains found in the cave of Ghar Dalam (southeastern Malta) are contemporaneous with late ice age animals (Anton Mifsud and Simon Mifsud, 1997, Dossier Malta, Evidence for the Magdalenian, Proprint Company Limited, Malta; the conventional view, summarily dismissing the evidence for human occupation in Malta prior to about 5200 BCE is presented by N. Fabri, 2007, Ghar Dalam, Heritage Malta). Although admittedly the evidence for human occupation of the Maltese Islands during the last ice age is currently scant, analyzing all of the data in detail, I find it compelling.
Next, let us consider the dating of the megalithic temples. The temples themselves are constructed of carved stone blocks, which cannot be dated directly. Radiocarbon and similar means can date the utilization of the structures by various human populations (in some cases temple rebuilding can be dated; for instance, if mortar containing datable substances was used), but such dates do not necessarily record the origins of the temples. One proposed method to date the original foundations of the temples is through astronomical orientations built into their fabric by the ancient architects and correlate such orientations with the night sky during particular epochs in the past. However, what (if any) astronomical targets might be related to the temples has perplexed and eluded archaeoastronomers for decades, in large part I believe, because they have focused on the traditional period of circa 3600–2500 BCE (see John Cox, 2001, Archaeoastronomy, vol. 16, pp. 24–37) and ignored earlier epochs.
Recently Lenie Reedijk, whom I fortuitously met at the temple complex of Mnajdra on the spring equinox, 2017, has made the case that many of the major temples of Malta and Gozo were oriented toward the rising or setting of the star Sirius. Sirius, the Dog Star, was a highly significant object for many ancient cultures. It is the brightest star in the night sky and occurs in the constellation now known as Canis Major (the Greater Dog), the companion of Orion. There is an Orion correlation found at Göbekli Tepe at the end of the last ice age, circa 9700 BCE; a central pillar of Enclosure D may be an actual representation of Orion, with its prominent belt and companion dog (see http://www.robertschoch.com/sida.html and my 2012 book. Forgotten Civilization, Inner Traditions). The ancient Egyptians revered Sirius and Orion (who for them represented Osiris; R. Schoch and R. Bauval, 2017, Origins of the Sphinx, Inner Traditions). I was not surprised to learn of the hypothesis that Sirius played a major role in the orientation of the Maltese temples.
According to Reedijk’s analysis, due to precessional changes, Sirius disappeared from view at the latitude of Malta around 14,600 BCE and reappeared in the Maltese night sky circa 9200 BCE. Based on the orientations of the various temples and the changing position (azimuth) of Sirius due to precession, Reedijk arrives at dates for the original construction of Maltese temples that range from 9150 BCE for the earliest temple at Hagar Qim, through dates of 9050, 8550, 8300, and 4850 for different portions of the Tarxien temple complex, 7950 and 6150 for portions of the Mnajdra temple complex, to 5350 and 4250 BCE for the Ggantija temples on Gozo. Within this range of 9150 to 4250 BCE, Reedijk places a number of other Maltese temple constructions as well (see L. Reedijk, 2018, Sirius, the Star of the Maltese Temples, MaletBooks, Netherlands).
While reading and digesting Reedijk’s work, I immediately placed it into the context of what Katie (my wife, Catherine Ulissey) and I refer to as the Solar-Induced Dark Age (SIDA) that lasted for some 6,000 years, from the collapse of late ice age civilization (represented by Göbekli Tepe and the earliest incarnation of the Great Sphinx in Egypt) circa 9700 BCE to the reemergence of full-fledged civilization in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere during the fourth millennium BCE. Thus if Reedijk’s dating of the Maltese temples is correct, they represent the local Maltese expression of SIDA. The status quo dating that would place these temples in the fourth and third millennia BCE does not reflect the origins of these structures, but the adoption, reuse, and in some cases the rebuilding of much earlier structures.
The last ice age, and civilization of that time, was brought to an end by the powerful solar eruptions, which initiated SIDA. Distinct electrically-charged, plasma-induced configurations were seen in the sky, which took on diagnostic features resembling stick-figure men, cascading ring shapes (sometimes the rings would look like circles in the sky, sometimes they would be seen on edge like a series of stacked plates), stick figures with bird heads (“birdmen”), and other characteristic forms (think of the Aurora Borealis and Australis but much more powerful with distinct shapes; see Anthony Peratt, 2003, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Transactions on Plasma Science, vol. 31, pp. 1192–1214).
To escape the immediate surface destruction and high (sometimes lethal) levels of radiation during the height of such solar outbursts, humans sought refuge in caves. And in some cases the solar eruptions drove electrically-charged particles (plasma), streaming into our atmosphere, down to Earth’s surface as huge “lightning” and “thunderbolts” that could set fires and melt rock surfaces that would quickly cool and solidify as a crude glassy substance in a process known as vitrification. The question is, can we discover any such diagnostic evidence of SIDA on Malta? Much to my satisfaction, I believe the resounding answer is, “Yes”.
Let us consider the issue of caves. It turns out that Malta has a long and strong tradition of troglodytism, or cave dwelling (and this is in addition to Ghar Dalam already mentioned above). Maltese cave dwelling was well established in Medieval times and lasted in full force into the nineteenth century, but its origins may go back much earlier—I suggest back to the end of the last ice age. At Misrah Ghar il-Kbir (west-central Malta) I had the opportunity to examine some of these caves, which to this day retain various internal stone walls, carved arches and niches, and other evidence of long-continued human occupation. The university-trained local guide proudly told us that the earliest inhabitants of Malta lived in such caves. On one of the cave walls is painted a stick-figure man, along with an apparent large antelope—or bovid-like herbivore, that resembles the plasma configurations seen in the sky at the end of the last ice age; although suggestive, I suspect that this is a modern addition. However, the authenticity and antiquity of the caves themselves is genuine.
In the vicinity of these caves occur numerous “cart ruts,” which to this day have not been satisfactorily explained. Informally the tangle of cart ruts in the area of Misrah Ghar il-Kbir is referred to as “Clapham Junction” (after the railway station of that name in London). Although other explanations have been suggested for the grooves, such as ancient irrigation systems, most studies of these so-called cart ruts do tend to support that they really are what they appear to be—namely ruts or grooves created by the wheels of wagons or carts, with consistent measurements between the pairs of grooves that match a realistic spacing between the wheels of a wagon, but how did they form in what is now very solid limestone? They appear to be extremely ancient, and in some cases elsewhere in Malta, cart ruts appear to lead senselessly off cliffs or into the ocean. It has been suggested that the local limestone is actually so soft and friable that wooden wagon wheels over the centuries cut the grooves into the rock.
However, thinking in terms of solar eruptions, Katie made a different suggestion. What if the cart ruts were originally made in a limestone mud that was subsequently “flash-baked” (from a geological perspective, essentially a type of contact metamorphism, similar to baking clay in a kiln to create pottery or firing bricks to harden them) by the solar outbursts that ended the last ice age? If this was the case, it would capture a “moment in time,” the day the ice age ended. Furthermore, it would potentially demonstrate that those ancient people actually used carts, wagons, and so forth—of course, the wagons themselves are long gone, perhaps literally incinerated when the solar outburst struck. And cart ruts randomly appearing to lead into the ocean or off the edges of cliffs make more sense if they date to the end of the last ice age when sea levels were lower (thus they continued on dry land) and geologically recent cliffs had not yet formed by subsequent weathering and wave action.
Returning to the Maltese temples, Katie and I were looking for direct evidence of vitrification, and we may just have found it (although it will take further studies to confirm or disprove). Some of the tops of various temple blocks appear to show the crackly and bubbly texture of vitrified rock, with these features gradually lessening as one moves down to the base of the block, as expected with intense heat scorching from above.
Even more telling, the bases of some of the entryway blocks to temples appear to have been carved from rock that actually contains streaks or patches of vitrification (if what we see today are not modern repairs, which in turn could obscure the fragile vitrification). Assuming Reedijk is correct in dating various Maltese temples to SIDA times, and the temples were being built using older blocks and stones, or rebuilt from older structures (orienting them to the new position of Sirius, due to precessional changes), then it might well be that some of the blocks would show vitrification features. Indeed, raised door thresholds might purposefully have been carved from rock that had been hit by plasma discharges that occurred during the solar eruptions, causing vitrification, to remind entrants of those tumultuous times that ended an earlier cycle of civilization, and reinforce the concept that such events could occur again.
When we turn to the ancient art associated with the Maltese temples, I find there are suggestive indications of solar and plasma symbolism that harkens back to the end of the last ice age. Unfortunately, many (probably most) of the images associated with the temples have been lost. Many of the walls were likely plastered and/or painted; now we have only bare weathered stone (K. Roundtree, 2002).
Still, motifs that remain include carved spirals, often in pairs, that certainly resemble images that Dr. Peratt has determined would be observed in the sky during a major solar outburst. Even more significant, in my opinion, is the motif carved on an altar (or so it is called; we really cannot be certain of its function) found at Hagar Qim which depicts a classic cascading ring-like or disc-like pattern, where the discs are seen on edge and form a structure that appears similar to a very symmetrical tree. Such iconography, especially when presented with the evidence of the caves, possible vitrification, and the re-dating of the various temple complexes, strongly argues that on Malta we have preserved remains from SIDA. The people of that time remembered the earlier cycle of civilization and the events that brought it to an end. They venerated ancient relics, including materials that were used and reused in their temples, and preserved the traditions of their forebears.
The Maltese Islands today are a major destination for wisdom seekers and devotees of the ancient and enduring mysteries, as has been the case for a very long time. But for just how long? I believe that Malta may have been a pilgrimage site not just over the last 5,000 to 6,000 years but, perhaps, going back twice as long—ever since the end of the last ice age.
Robert M. Schoch, Director of the Institute for the Study of the Origins of Civilization at Boston University, a full-time faculty member at B.U.’s College of General Studies, and an Honorary Professor at the Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy, earned his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics at Yale University. Best known for re-dating the Great Sphinx, he is the author of Forgotten Civilization: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future, and many other books. Website: http://www.robertschoch.com