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Missing archaeological artefacts linking Malta to ancient world

The Triad of Thebes, found in Gozo in 1713, which has disappeared.

The Triad of Thebes, found in Gozo in 1713, which has disappeared.

A number of archaeological artefacts which link Malta with the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and North Africa have inexplicably gone missing, said Dr Anton Mifsud, one of the main scholars pushing the theory that Malta was in fact the fabled Atlantis.

Dr Mifsud made the statement during a recent debate about the theory, which involved other scholars and local archaeologists.

In a nutshell, the theory is that the Maltese Islands extended southwards and included Lampedusa and the other Pelagian islands just 4,200 years ago, and that the civilisation which lived here had threatened to invade Egypt and Athens in prehistoric times.

"There is sufficient archaeological evidence to prove that there were links with ancient Egypt, as well as with ancient Babylon and ancient North Africa, well before the advent of the Phoenicians in the Maltese islands," Dr Mifsud said.

The earliest archaeological reference linking Malta to the Phoenicians is the bilingual Cippus dating back to the fourth century BC.

Dr Mifsud said there are several ancient Egyptian remains in the Maltese Islands, and these have constantly been assumed to have reached the islands through the Phoenicians, or else through visitors who brought over their collections to Malta and left them here.

"But there is evidence that the various forms of archaeological evidence have been retrieved from the Maltese islands. Foreign scholars and archaeologists have described these artefacts in several publications," Dr Mifsud said.

"But several of these artefacts have now gone missing, or at least have never been exhibited for the past century in the Maltese Islands," he said.

Dr Mifsud said a human skull linking Malta to North Africa was discovered during excavations at Hagar Qim in 1839. It was classified as a skull from North Africa dating to prehistoric times.

This skull was described in several journals and books, such as Charles Pickering's The Races of Man in the mid-19th century.

At the time it was described by Dr Cesare Vassallo as a skull belonging to a male about 30 to 40 years old, and the particularly acute angle of the face characterised it as a Negroid skull.

It was also described and measured by Temi Zammit in 1910, together with the 11 prehistoric skulls initially recovered from the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. According to Joseph S. Ellul, author of Malta: the pre-diluvian culture, this skull went missing in the mid-20th century.

Dr Mifsud argued that archaeological evidence linking Malta to Ancient Egypt was discovered in December 1829, when four Ancient Egyptian tombstones were excavated during works for the building of the naval hospital at Bighi.

These tombstones are now found in the Egyptian gallery of the British Museum and bear numbers BM 233, 299, 287 and 218. The renowned Egyptologist Margaret Murray said these tombstones were used in Malta "in remote antiquity" in two of her books, Ancient Egypt (1948) and The Splendour that was Egypt (1973).

Another important link with Egypt came in the form of a statuette made of Maltese limestone discovered in Gozo in 1713. The statuette was found before hieroglyphics had been deciphered and hence could not have been forged, he said.

The statuette bears very close affinities to similar statuettes discovered in Ancient Egypt, which are also inscribed in hieroglyphics.

The statuettes found in Egypt were unearthed some 100 years after the one found in Gozo. The Maltese statuette represents a standing Egyptian priest with the figures of the Ancient Egyptian deities Horus and Maat on either side of the moon disc.

The hieroglyphic inscription invokes Amen-Ra-Seqer and Maat of Thebes with a prayer to Ra-Hamarkis and Maat, the lady of the Skies.

Temi Zammit had documented this statuette in 1931 in his Guide to the Valletta Museum. A.A. Caruana had also written about it in 1882, Dr Mifsud said.

There were also two statuettes which linked Malta with ancient Baylon and which are also missing. Both of them featured in a book, The Gate of Horn, by Gertrude R. Levy.

"In 1948 the director and librarian at the Museum in Valletta had given Levy a series of photographs of objects found in the Maltese Neolithic temples, which she reproduced in her publication.

"According to Levy these statuettes bear 'such close affinities with Early Dynastic Sumerian sculpture that West Asiatic influence must be postulated'," Dr Mifsud said.

"Levy produced further evidence for the links of these statuettes with ancient Babylon, and these include their dimensions and their style. The Oriental scholar Henri Frankfort supported Levy in this.

"Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are two of the most ancient civilizations in the world, and ancient Malta had strong cultural links with both these civilisations in remote antiquity. Furthermore, Malta's architectural civilisation is the most ancient on the planet, predating both the Egyptian pyramids and the Babylonian ziggurats by several centuries," Dr Mifsud said.

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