Legacy of a Lost Civilization: The Old Temples of Malta and Gozo

The Megalithic Monuments of Gozo and Malta

Neolithic Temple of Hagar Qim
Neolithic Temple of Hagar Qim. John Haslam

The Legacy of a Lost Civilization is a documentary film about the ancient stone temples on the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo. Produced by the Mediterranean Institute of Ancient Civilizations and the Old Temples Study Foundation (OTSF), the film gives the viewer an introduction to the megalithic structures of Gozo and Malta, built during the Neolithic period.


The Gozo and Malta temples are about 6,000 years old and so among the oldest built stone structures on the planet.

There are at least 30 sites associated with this culture on the two islands. The film focuses on the four major above-ground temples—Ggantija, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien—and one below-ground charnel house/temple, called Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. The video uses reenactments and commentary by archaeologist David Trump, architect Richard England and music therapist Bonnie Devlin, among others, to intnroduce several aspects of ongoing research, including construction methods, archaeostronomical alignments and the cultural use of sound waves.

Narrated by Linda Eneix, the 105 minutes of Legacy of a Lost Civilization are divided into three parts of about 35 minutes each, consisting of an introduction, a segment focused on the architectural elements of the five temples, and a third segment on archaeoacoustics and other new research.


Weaknesses of the Video


Speaking as a stodgy old archaeologist, I have several problems with the video.

There's an imprecision in the dating that feeds into imprecise connections between Malta and Gozo to other Mediterranean cultures that are of earlier or later periods. The video is not shy about characterizing the Malta islanders as a peaceful people with a specific set of cult behaviors. These notions are probably inaccessible to us unless we provide a lot of imagination to the issue; at any rate, clear evidence for these assertions isn't provided.

Finally, a connection is drawn between events in the Old Testament of the Bible with Malta that seems pretty far-fetched to me. Tying specific names, dates and places in ancient history to archaeological reality, while a fascinating undertaking is really dicey when it comes right down to it: just ask Bishop Ussher.


However, the video does show the temples in some detail; and they are are truly intriguing. From the air, the temples are decidedly rounded in outline, paisley- or bean-shaped or mammiform, although at ground level the buildings look blocky and rectangular. Legacy highlights that duality, and using the figurines recovered from the temples, makes an argument for a goddess cult on the islands. The film shot in the Hal Safliedi hypogeum (underground building) is amazing; and the study of sounds as they might have been used in those structures is fascinating.


The temples were built when farming was spreading out from central Asia into Europe, and I can't help but wonder about how that great migration fits into the story. I think the video does a lot towards bringing this fascinating Neolithic period culture to the forefront.

Bottom Line

Although I have lots more questions about the culture and the people than were answered in a two-hour video, the film certainly piqued my interest in this ancient culture, and will lead me to investigate further.

That's what I call a successful documentary.