Maltese Prehistory is a very long period of about 4,000 years, basically from 5,200B.C to 725B.C. During this period, the Maltese Islands came to be inhabited by people of different cultures. Generally, Maltese Prehistory is divided into three consecutive periods. The Neolithic Period spans from 5,200B.C to 4,100BC, the Temple Period from 4,100B.C to 2,500B.C and the Bronze Age spanning from 2,500B.C to 725B.C.
The dates appearing above are approximate. All the dates we find in Maltese history are largely based on the ceramic styles and typology of the Prehistoric pottery remains found locally. However, these dates are reliable because apart from having been based on a detailed study of Maltese Prehistoric pottery, these were also corroborated by scientific methods (largely Carbon Dating).
The presence of Man on the Maltese Islands goes back to the late sixth millennium B.C and the archaeological evidence shows that the earliest settlers probably came from Sicily. These were apparently farmers and they brought with them farming tools and implements, as well as animals to assist them in their work. The pottery typical of the Għar Dalam phase, which is the first one of three phases which characterise the Neolithic Period, resembles that of Neolithic sites in southern Sicily. The pottery of this phase is characterised by various geometric motifs, which were either incised or impressed on its surface. Typical pottery was found at Għar Dalam and Skorba in Malta, as well as the Mixta Caves in Gozo.
The Temple Period is characterised by the rise, development and collapse of the Temple civilisation. This refers to megalithic architecture, a period in which the natives of the Maltese Islands used to worship their gods in sumptuous temples built using megalithic stones. Like the Neolithic natives, these people probably depended also on agriculture. For the first time, in the Temple period there was also evidence of burial. The culmination of the Temple period is what is known as the Ġgantija phase (3,600B.C – 3,000B.C), during which the erection of the most ancient megalithic temples took place.
When referring to the megalithic temples of the Maltese Islands, one needs to consider the presence of large blocks of stone. This throws light on the ability of the Temple builders to cut the stones, to transport it from the quarries to the temple sites, and of course, to put those megaliths in place. One has also to consider that during this Period, the tools and implements the Temple builders used to have were still quite primitive.
The megalithic temples of Malta and Gozo were the centre of worship for an organised fertility cult. This is confirmed by a considerable number of stone statues, including the so-called ‘Fat Lady’ of the Tarxien Temples, which depict the female figure in her fertile state.
During the Bronze Age period, civilisation evolved further. The people were trained in the art of war, used to live in fortified settlements and to cremate their dead instead of burying them. During this period, the megalithic temples fell into disuse. Typical monuments of this phase are the dolmens, examples of which have been discovered both in Malta and Gozo. It is theorised that these were probably funerary monuments under which the cremated remains of human beings were buried. Examples of such monuments were also found in other countries, like southern Italy. Other such monuments also include menhirs, which seem to have had the same purpose of the dolmens.