In my travels throughout the world I have found several mysteries. Many times they become part of the fabric of the society as they are handed down between generations. Often there is some foundation in truth in the mysteries (even if very small). But many times the mysteries are not explainable except in the imagination someone conjures up.
From times without written history, through Homer’s writing about Odysseus and Cyclops, to more recent recorded times of ancient Romans, each culture in Malta has left mysteries.
This blog story is about a few of the mysteries I have discovered in Malta. Each has, in my opinion, more than a sliver upon which they have fermented. You can judge for yourself as I recall island mysteries from my adventures in Malta.
Maltese history is a cornucopia of people and their cultures. I find it challenging to place each group into an historic timeline. However, it is generally accepted by archaeologists and historians that there once was a land bridge between Sicily and Malta. During the Ice Age, it is likely that some prehistoric animals arrived in present day Malta by this land bridge.
However, according to the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta, it appears that humans arrived only after the Ice Age ended. At that time the waters in the Mediterranean Sea rose making Malta a set of islands unto themselves. It is speculated that the earliest settlers were farmers who came by boat from Sicily and found their way to Malta by luck about 5000 BC.
The Temple Age in Malta began about a thousand years after the initial arrivals of humans. Ħaġar Qim (in several photos), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of several temple complexes built on Malta. Then around 2500 BC the Temple Age abruptly ended. An entire civilization with their own culture just mysteriously disappeared! When the Phoenicians arrived in Malta around 700 BC, the islands were completely deserted.
The circumstances surrounding this disappearance mystery remain unknown. What happened and where did the people go? Some speculate that the inhabitants depleted the island’s natural resources similar to what occurred on Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean and they just left. Others speculate that the Biblical “great flood” wiped out the population. Some think that the people were conquered and sold into slavery. The disappearance even has those believing in extraterrestrial abduction speculating. Regardless, the disappearance of an entire population is likely to remain an unsolved island mystery. However, a basis in some truth has led to these mysterious circumstances.
An associated mystery surrounds the tiny statue called the Venus of Malta that was found at Ħaġar Qim. Throughout Europe more than 200 small figurines, mostly of women, have been found and there is an excellent story about them here. These statues almost universally depict females with similar disproportionate characteristics.
Until I lived in Austria a couple of years ago I had not heard of these tiny statues. But as I traveled through Austria I learned of the Venus of Willendorf dating to around 24,000 BC! When I saw the Venus of Malta (pictured above), I could see what archaeologists had already observed in the similarity among the various Venus statues. However, even the earliest possible habitation of Malta is much more recent than the other Venus statues found elsewhere. I wonder how this tiny statue got to the temple at Ħaġar Qim. And why has it been left there? Were ancients leaving clues for modern societies?
Another Malta mystery is related to “cart ruts” that appear in many places throughout Malta. Some speculate that the ruts are like modern-day railroads where Roman carts cut deep grooves into the rocks. The ruts are often so deep that it would take many millennia to create them and speculation is that they may have been created long before the Roman period began around 250 BC.
The History Channel broadcast a story speculating that extraterrestrials had a hand in creating the ruts as well as the building the temple at Ħaġar Qim. At Ħaġar Qim one upright stone is estimated to weigh 10,160 kg! I tend to believe that the ruts were cut into the rather soft rock only by humans. However, how could humans with very few tools, have placed the upright megalith of Ħaġar Qim? Just like constructing Stonehenge and the Pyramids, the answers may always remain a mystery or speculation.
Some even contemplate that Homer’s depiction of Cyclops comes from Malta. There are those that believe that one-eyed giants lived in Malta and attribute the strength needed to construct Ħaġar Qim to them. Others believe that prehistoric dwarf elephant skulls found on the island are the basis for saying a cyclops lived here. That mystery, like others, could be linked to the prehistoric dwarf elephant skulls and the hole in them for their trunk. But, once again, a sliver of reality may have spurred Homer’s imagination to depict Cyclops.
There are more mysteries to explore in Malta such as the three-story underground Hypogeum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hewn from solid rock. Why was it constructed underground? Both Hypogeum and Ħaġar Qim are very interesting places and present us with many more questions about the mysteries of these ancient islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The answers to the questions may never be found and maybe that is part of the exciting stories of these fascinating islands.