Time and the Tarxien Temples

Not far away from the Hypogeum of Ħal Saflien are the Tarxien temples. I loved the fact that the nearest bus stop is called “Neolitici”.

Bus stop sign showing Neolitici

The ancient bus-stop

When you get off the bus, you’re in the middle of a quietish Maltese street and it’s a bit mystifying.

A street of Maltese houses

Where are the neolithic temples?

However, a quick scout around shows some directions and a handy street name.

Sign saying Neolithic Temples Street

Neolithic Temples Street

The temples were discovered in 1913, when local farmers popped down the road to inform Dr Temi Zammit, then busy on the excavation of the Hypogeum, that whenever they ploughed a particular field, they struck massive pieces of carved rock. Would he like to come and take a look? He would.

Dr Zammit excavated the Tarxien temples between 1915 and 1919. Later explorations indicate that this prehistoric complex extends further than the site you can currently see, but what you can see is plenty. A wooden pathway bumps around the remains with informative signs along the way.

What did the people of Tarxien build these temples for, back around 3600 BC? Of course, we can’t know for certain, but the goats, pigs and bulls carved onto the stone, and the flint blades and animal bones found at the site suggests they got up to a fair bit of animal sacrifice.

A deep pit in a small chamber made me smile (in a way deep pits rarely do). It was discovered empty and sealed with a stone lid. The lid now removed, the pit glistens with rainwater. It glistens with something else, too: coins winking back from the blackness.

A dark pit

As the people who made these temples had not invented currency, these bright pieces of metal have been thrown here mere days, weeks or months ago. What has caused people to make this mystic payment? If this is the Neolithic equivalent of a wishing well, who do they think they are paying? The gods of the temples? The headless possibly female deity who still surveys the colossal wreckage?

A headless statue

An unnamed deity

Perhaps. The tradition of throwing a coin into a fountain is so ingrained in us, it seems, that even when the gods are five thousand years old, we let them know they’re still appreciated with a small financial donation and perhaps a prayer. Just in case.

My other abiding memory of Tarxien is how the ancient remains stand against a modern-day skyline of satellite dishes, television aerials and the domes of more recent churches.

Temple stones and modern buildings

The old and the new

I wonder if the grass and the flowers that encroach onto the old stones will one day wind round those satellite dishes.

Grass growing over stones

Grass grows…

Perhaps five thousand years from now, a traveller to Tarxien will leave an offering for our gods, the gods of the wires and the wireless and the moving pictures. And the blogs.

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