Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE The Beginnings: Prehistoric Malta

LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Classics and Archaeology

DESCRIPTION This unit provides an overview of the development of human settlement and culture in the Maltese islands in the prehistoric period that spans from the earliest recorded human presence in the new Stone Age (Neolithic), soon after 6,000 BC, down to the point when clear evidence appears of the presence of a literate people, the Phoenicians, around 750BC.

Past claims for an earlier human presence in the Old and Middle Stone Ages (Palaeolithic and Mesolithic) are discussed on their merits.

Faint traces of cult practices appear towards the end of the Neolithic but they reach mind-boggling heights in the following period, the Temple Period, named after the extraordinary megalithic buildings that marked the Maltese landscape ever since. Various facets of this phenomenal cultural explosion will be discussed.

Each change in the cultural manifestations of the inhabitants of the Maltese islands will be assessed in light of contemporary cultural changes beyond the Maltese shores, starting from around 4 million years ago, and zooming down to the Mediterranean scale with the diffusion of agriculture and other Neolithic cultural characteristics down to the exponential intensification of movement of peoples and expansionistic ambitions brought about by the invention of metals.

The current narrative of Maltese prehistory is based on a body of knowledge formed over a period of almost five centuries but the concept of prehistory came into being only from around the middle of the 19th century; in Malta its first assertion was made in 1901. Prehistoric archaeology has evolved along a series of changes of approaches, from pure antiquarianism to diffusionism, the historical/cultural approach which was reacted to by processual archaeology, in turn followed by the current post-processual (or interpretative) archaeology.

Study-Unit Aims:

• To provide students with a clear structured account of how the present body of knowledge on Maltese prehistory was built up;
• To offer insights into the main characteristics of the different periods of prehistoric Malta within the context of contemporary developments overseas;
• To highlight the various discoveries made in the field;
• To help students to understand the various points of contention in the interpretation of the archaeological record;
• To bring students in direct autoptic contact with the physical remains in the field and those housed in a museum;
• To stimulate verbal articulation in front of an audience.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• Identify from the lectures the essential bibliographic tools for the study of prehistoric Malta;
• Describe how the present chronological sequence – spanning from the Neolithic to the advent of the Phoenicians – came about in relation to that of human cultural development in the wider Mediterranean context;
• Identify and discuss the processes of cultural development and assess different theories regarding such processes, based on their readings and from direct observation of the surviving remains;
• Demonstrate critical thinking skills by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the current literature regarding this period of human development in Malta and the central Mediterranean.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• Apply learned analytical skills in the pursuit of further studies and further career opportunities;
• Apply critical thinking skills to everyday life situations;
• Distinguish between pure personal hunches, educated guesswork, working hypotheses subjected to scrutiny, and ascertained knowledge founded on stringent evidence;
• Practice learned writing skills in correct English and in a coherent and logical manner to other life situations when required;
• Apply their ability to speak publicly on other topics, as required.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

• A. Bonanno, Il-Preistorja, (Malta, 2001).
• A. Bonanno, An Illustrated Guide to Prehistoric Gozo. (Malta, 2002).
• A. Bonanno, The Archaeology of Malta and Gozo: 5000 BC-AD1091, (Malta, 2017).
• D.H. Trump, Malta: Prehistory and Temples, (Malta, 2002).

Supplementary Readings:

• D. Cilia, (ed.), Malta before History, (Malta, 2004).
• C. Malone, S. Stoddart, A. Bonanno & D. Trump, (eds), Mortuary Customs in Prehistoric Malta: excavations at the Brochtorff Circle at Xaghra (1987-94), (Cambridge, 2009).
• M. Pedley, M. Hughes Clarke, & P. Galea, Limestone Isles in a Crystal Sea: The Geology of the Maltese Islands, (Malta, 2002).
• D. Tanasi, & N. C. Vella, (eds), Site, Artefacts and Landscape. Prehistoric Borġ in-Nadur, Malta, (Monza, 2011).
• E. Vella, M. Borg, & A. Bonanno, L-Arkeologija ta’ Malta, (Malta, 2004).

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture, Fieldwork and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation SEM1 No 30%
Assignment SEM1 Yes 70%

LECTURER/S Anthony Bonanno (Co-ord.)
Nicholas Vella

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.