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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Forgetting the Goddess Theory

In a lecture “Ritual, Space and Structure in Prehistoric Malta and Gozo: New Observations on Old Matters”, Caroline Malone spoke of the 'faulty' goddess theory that 'may not have been adequately investigated and structured from the many archaeological remains in Malta'. Malone is the director of the Templeton Project “Spiritual creativity in prehistoric Malta” at the University of Cambridge. Noel Grima reports in TMIS:

Forget the goddess theory, which you hear every tourist guide trying to explain the huge statues at the National Museum of Archaeology or while touring Hagar Qim. That may not have been the original religion of Malta..

All human societies are based on structured ritual and deal with such themes as life and death, male and female, right and left, good and bad, clean, and polluted. The human body is very important in that it constitutes a universal cipher for these themes. The temples were for ritual, “the goddess”, fertility, sunrise, priests. Hypogea were for burial and also for the cult of ancestors.

Cult places in general are very special places, for the most part man-made, but possibly also using natural locations. They were mostly enclosed spaces, with controlled access. They were directional – orientated towards the sunrise. The presence of altars and libation holes in the temples in Malta shows this was a highly organised and repetitive religion with ritualistic symbols, participation in offering, with priests and a hierarchy.

The Maltese prehistoric society was a relatively stable, agricultural community, an intense and densely populated island, celebrating cyclical cycles of life, rites of passage, transitions between different stages of life, from separation to reintegration, fertility, ancestors, good spirits welcomed, bad spirits avoided, all in a cosmological context..

Dr Malone obviously based her observations and conclusions on the recent excavations of the Xaghra Circle. Dr Simon Stoddart, the co-director of the Xaghra Stone Circle excavation, submitted a fuller explanation. Dr Stoddart has held posts in Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol and York and recently retired as editor of Antiquity. He has also directed several fieldwork projects in Malta, central Italy and Scotland. The full analysis of the circle’s bones has shown there are 220,000 body parts buried there, mostly small bits of bone..

Professor Anthony Bonanno also seemed to agree that Malta’s original religion was more an ancestral cult than a mother goddess one. Ancestor memory provided social cohesion in times of stress. Like Prof. Bonanno, Professor David Trump said the closest to the Maltese prehistoric temples seem to be the nuraghi, the massive stone monuments in Sardinia. The location of the prehistoric sites can also shed information about population movements and events in those very distant times...
When will Heritage Malta start updating the news section?

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