Malta, Shrouded in Megalithic Mystery

The crowd waited expectantly at Malta’s ancient Mnajdra Temple for the spring equinox sun to peek out from behind a nearby hill. Suddenly the sun broke through the low-lying morning mist. Warmed by its light, the honey-colored limestone walls of the partly ruined megalithic temple began to glow. Like liquid gold, a beam of sunlight flowed over the stone-paved corridor until it reached the main altar at the western end. Soon the altar was lit with the blessing of the sun. The Mnajdra spring equinox sunrise had been successfully witnessed in 2019, just as it has been for nearly 6,000 years.

The 2019 rising Spring Equinox sun shines down the central corridor of Mnajdra Temple and touches the main altar at the end. (Image © Elyn Aviva)

The 2019 rising Spring Equinox sun shines down the central corridor of Mnajdra Temple and touches the main altar at the end. (Image © Elyn Aviva)

That some ancient Maltese temples are aligned to the equinoxes and have internal markers for the solstices (and even a calendar stone) is no longer disputed. But much else about the temples—and about much of Maltese prehistory—remains puzzling, raising more questions and vehemently heated debates than answers. For example: Was Malta really first settled 7,000 years ago by farmers from Sicily? The same first settlers who, without apparent prior experience, 1,000 years later began to erect enormous megalithic temples? And why did they build so many? Surveys indicate some 66 megalithic temples existed on the relatively small islands of Malta and Gozo. Some archaeologists state that the underground Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, which resembles an above-ground temple complete with central sanctuary, was a huge multi-layer cemetery into which some 7,000 (decomposing) bodies were deposited. But was it?


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