Tarxien (tar-sheer-en), Malta (on the outskirts of modern Valetta), is the site of a late Neolithic temple complex which is comprised of four clearly separate structures. Excavated by Sir Temi Zammit between 1915 and 1919, these temple structures were accidentally discovered in 1914 by a farmer who was attempting to move limestone blocks in order to cultivate his land. It may interest you to know that they are the oldest stone buildings in the world, predating the Giza Pyramids by around 1000 years; indeed, Malta’s civilisation may have been the first, with evidence of continuous inhabitancy since 5200 BC.

The earliest (East) temple was constructed around 3300 BC (in the Ġgantija Phase) and is fairly rudimentary. Little of this structure survived the remodelling efforts of later artisans when, around 3000 BC, two other temples (the South and East Temples) were built in the Tarxien Phase - neither of these later constructions were connected to the first. The South Temple is the more elaborately decorated and is regarded as being more important for the reliefs carved on its walls, most of which feature running spirals (although two blocks bear faunal motifs). A door in the right-hand rear apse (or lobe; a concave/semicircular alcove) of this temple leads to the fourth and last (Central) temple. This last temple is 24 metres long, has six apses (instead of the usual two) and contains a central niche. This is the largest and most elaborate part of the complex, with many friezes of animals. It is interesting to note that many sources give only cursory attention to the original temple, ignore it entirely or do not acknowledge it as an individual structure.

The remnants of a statue of an obese figure stand to one side of a limestone passageway; the gender of the figure is unknown, although it is believed to be a fertility goddess. All that now remains of the statue is a pair of legs and a skirt, although it still stands upright and estimates have suggested that it would originally have been 2.75 metres tall. Other artefacts which have been discovered include pottery (virtually identical to that of the Stentinello culture of Sicily, where Malta’s early inhabitants probably originated), animal horns and a stone bowl. An altar stone in the South Temple contained a flint knife within a hidden niche, meaning (in conjunction with the horns, bowl and the fact that the animals portrayed are sheep, goats and pigs) that animal sacrifices were likely performed here.

All of the temples have trilithon entrance passages (i.e., the same upright post-and-lintel construction as Stonehenge), concave walls (apses, as described above), shaped orthstatic (supporting) and megalithic stone blocks and doors to seal individual chambers. It is thought that the stones were plastered and then painted. The formality (and symmetry) evident in the construction process has lead many to hypothesise that the temples were constructed according to architectural plans. The original purposes of the temple are unknown, although some have speculated that there are correlations between the positions of certain structures and the seasons as indicated by the passage of the sun, in a manner similar to stone circle structures.

Similar spiral designs have been discovered at the Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni (an enormous complex of artificial caves containing human remains). All of the temples were abandoned in 2500 BC for reasons unknown (although there is evidence to suggest poor ecological practices) and the following millennium saw the site used by foreign settlers for crematory purposes. These settlers probably still regarded the temple as a site of veneration and as an interesting addendum it is probably they who initiated the Bronze Age in Malta. Other temples on the island include Ħaġar Qim and Mnajadra, while the nearby island of Gozo features a large, multilobed temple at Ġgantija.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvill.
Archaeology: the Definitive Guide, various authors.

Thank you, softlinker, but the error was in my editing rather than my understanding of those terms.

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