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Malta Prehistory

23 March 2017

Jovan sent in this link a few weeks ago and I've only just got around to reading it – and that is only the Introduction to the book. Michael Hughes Clarke, 'Natural Events in Malta's Prehistory' – and concerns not just the Temple building period but the Neolithic as a whole (stretching back to around 5000BC). The temple building people it is thought, disappeared in the mid to late 3rd millennium BC. They left behind little evidence of their everyday living, such as houses and working sites, apparently using mud brick and timber which do not last in archaeological contexts (except in special circumstances). The temples began to be built around 4000BC and ended abruptly around 2500BC (a new date as previously it used to be 2300BC, something to do with modern calibration). The next group to arrive are known from the Tarxien cemetery and are said to display no continuity with the temple builders. 

Various natural earth events affect the Mediterranean region – i) sea level rise, ii) tectonic and volcanic activity, and iii) cosmic impact. It is thought global sea levels rose dramatically at the end of the Late Glacial Maximum, generally dated at around 18,000 years ago. Although the end of the Pleistocene coincides with the Younger Dryas event the end of LGM was much earlier. Sea level rise in the Mediterranean basin is difficult to pin down as it is such a seismically active landscape. In spite of this there is a nice smooth sea level curve that is used by archaeologists and geologists as an act of faith. The curve goes from the glacial low to the modern high (which was reached around 3000 years ago). Hence, trying to assess the sea level around Malta and Gozo is fraught with difficulty. If sea levels had changed in abrupt fits and starts the situation might be quite different. Globally there was a very big spike in sea levels (known mostly from around the N Atlantic) around 8000 years ago. Did it also impinge on the Mediterranean – and it what way?

The author has no choice but to resort to the sea level curve that mainstream science has constructed and therefore he says sea level was just 25m below present levels 5000 years ago. One cannot say it was a lot less and people could walk from Sicily to Malta as there is no evidence to say that was so – but one can be suspicious. Early humans did walk from Sicily to Malta – in the Late Pleistocene (or that is the reasoning as the global sea level curve is said to be so low at that time as water was locked up as ice at the poles).

The author, in seeking other sources that might be more congenial to his way of thinking, lights on Ryan and Pitman and the claim that the Black Sea was flooded around 8000 years ago – and the Bosphorus breached. He provides a series of maps to show the Black Sea low as claimed, most of which has since been debunked. Trevor Palmer even wrote an article in SIS critical of Ryan and Pitman's model. He then turns to Ian Wilson (2002) who argued that the Maltese temples had similarities with Catal Huyuk in southern Turkey (Anatolia). Then, grasping for support, he quotes SIS (the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies), sourcing, in particular, the SIS 1997 Cambridge Conference proceedings (available from Archaeopress) and Benny Peiser.

Tectonic data. This is also in short supply, particularly in the western Mediterranean where no textual evidence exists. The tectonics are thought to be driven by the African plate bashing into the Euroasian plate (creating the Alps and generally causing mayhem on the sea bed). We know that Sicily and Malta are thought to be on the edge of these plates, and therefore seismic activity is fairly common all through the period in question. He then mentions Amos Nur (articles rather than his book which was probably published after this book was written). Amos Nur took up the baton from Claude Schaeffer and has popularised the idea of earthquake storms (sometimes involving quake after quake). Tsunami waves are a feature of underwater seismic activity and he returns later to this idea. It seems to underpin some of the folklore from the Levant – and pumice from the Thera volcano turned up in the Nile delta mid dynasty 18 (LB era and much later than the period we are dealing with). There is some evidence of a tsunami at the Hal Safleini Hypogeum, which appears to have been flooded. A clay layer with human bones and pottery sherds was found, supposedly around 2500/2300BC. The bad news is that this layer was rubbed out in order to get at earlier archaeology. It's significance was not appreciated at the time – or by the excavators. Nevertheless, the author sticks with the tsunami incident as this is really his only evidence of a catastrophic ending for the temple building folk. One has to accept it as a fact (and it was reported in SIS at the time). One idea he explores is a landslide when the Malta escarpment meets the Ionian Sea basin, 100km NE of Malta. The escarpment is an underwater feature that stands out, running all the way to Sicily, and quite steep in relation to the sea floor at the bottom (images are provided).

The cosmic impact idea is explored as a possible cause for the landslide. In order to substantiate the possibility he quotes the SIS again, 'Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations' – and subsequent articles by SIS (possibly a reference to Moe Mandelkehr's series but this is not actually said). Later on, he brings in Mike Baillie (2000) and the low growth tree ring event at 2345BC. For some reason dates from around 2300 have been shifted to 2500 – which even baffles Baillie as they make no sense of his tree ring dates. There must be a logical reason for this but it is probably hidden away in an obscure archaeological journal.

We can see from this that CR Sant's recent book on the Maltese temples is timely and worth exploring by catastrophists as he seems to produce evidence of a small axis shift around 3200BC, midway through the temple building era.


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