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Digging into Malta’s prehistoric past

Ġgantija temples in Gozo. Photo: viewingmalta.com

Ġgantija temples in Gozo. Photo: viewingmalta.com

Academics at Queen’s University, Belfast, have received a €2.5 million grant to examine prehistoric sites in Malta.

The project will span the islands’ history from the first occupation of Neolithic farmers at around 5,500BC until medieval times.

It will also be looking at how to ensure the long-term conservation of such sites.

New forensic technology will be used as part of the study, funded by the European Research Council.

The five-year research project will be led by Caroline Malone, from Queen’s School of Geography, who is hoping to uncover a wealth of new information.

It may shed light on how people managed to live in an unstable environment and what life was like there.

“This society created megalithic temples when most of Europe was far less sophisticated. Yet, this civilisation disappeared quite unexpectedly around 2,400BC.

“We hope to look at the unstable conditions, fluctuating rainfall, deforestation, to find out more about what happened and why even this remarkable island community had to change its cultural and economic world,” Dr Malone said.

The project is themed ‘Fragility and sustainability in restricted island environments: adaptation, culture change and collapse in prehistory’.

Previous studies conducted by Patrick Schembri (University of Malta) and Chris Hunt (Queen’s University) have already demonstrated that the climate and environment were unstable during the last few millennia before Christ and that instability would have impacted on the lives of prehistoric societies.

New work has commenced with a series of pollen cores extracted from across Malta that will build a detailed understanding of the changing flora/vegetation of the islands.

Excavation has already extracted tiny invertebrates such as snails and insects and this will allow researchers to reconstruct the changing ecology during different periods.

The staff at Queen’s University will use their specialist lab in Belfast to provide expertise in dating both environmental and archaeological materials.

This will allow for an accurate chronology of early Malta from Bayesian statistical studies that will link the natural and human worlds together.

Examination of the early economy may identify changes in farming systems while analysis of human bones will reveal diet, disease and population structure of the ancient Maltese.

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