Archaeology aims to answer our questions about the past and, with any luck, give us some perspective on our present and future. But sometimes, artifacts raise mysteries that may never be solved. Like reading an engrossing novel with an ambiguous ending, you’re left to savor the possibilities without ever being fully satisfied.
10. The Temple People Structures, Malta And Gozo
The Temple people existed on the islands of Malta and Gozo in the Mediterranean for about 1,100 years (from 4000–2900 B.C.) then simply vanished without a related culture to succeed them. As far as archaeologists can tell, the cause of their disappearance wasn’t invasion, starvation, or disease. It’s possible that religious extremism and environmental factors contributed to their demise, but no one really knows.
Archaeologists are studying the islands to learn more about these mysterious people. They were obsessed with building stone temples, covering both islands with more than 30 temple complexes during the time they lived there. In fact, the Temple people are credited with building the oldest free-standing stone structures ever found. Researchers found extensive evidence of animal sacrifices and complicated rituals within the structures, as well as a civilization fixated on life, sexuality, and death. Phallic symbols, figurines of fertile “fat ladies,” and other sexual representations were common.
The archaeologists also found hypogea, or complex underground burial chambers, which confirm the Temple people’s respect for the dead. Over time, these people seemed to do more communal burials, suggesting a matriarchal society based on grave gifts presented only to the females.
They also created an abundance of artwork, including hundreds of statues, that took three main forms: elaborately dressed figures, naked fat figures, and monstrous or abbreviated forms like phallic symbols. Such rich artwork was unusual for its time.
Archaeologists are continuing to study soil samples and other evidence to determine what an average day was like for the Temple people, whom they may have traded with, and why they died.