Skip to main content Accessibility help

Cult in an Island Society: Prehistoric Malta in the Tarxien Period

  • Simon Stoddart (a1), Anthony Bonanno (a2), Tancred Gouder (a3), Caroline Malone (a1) and David Trump (a4)...


This paper examines the cult practices of the Tarxien period on Malta (c. 3000–c. 2500 BC) within the wider context of island societies. A model of ritual organization is developed which emphasizes the isolation of Malta during the major phases of temple building. A comparison is made between two pairs of sites each comprising a temple and burial component, Tarxien and Hal Saflieni, Ggantija and the Brochtorff Circle. A more detailed comparison is made between the more recently excavated examples: the Tarxien temple and the Brochtorff Circle mortuary complex. The latter is the subject on an ongoing Anglo-Maltese project directed by the authors. The analysis moves in turn from the constituent units (or modules) of which these sites are composed, to their overall configuration, and finally to their place in the landscape and to the place of Malta in the central Mediterranean.



Hide All
Agius, G. & Ventura, F., 1980. Investigation into the Possible Astronomical Alignments of the Copper Age Temples in Malta. Valletta: Malta University Press.
Alon, D. & Levy, T. E., 1989. The archaeology of cult and the sanctuary at Gilat. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 2(2), 163221.
Appadurai, A., 1986. Introduction: commodities and the politics of value, in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. A., Appadurai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 363.
Bonanno, A., Gouder, T., Malone, C. & Stoddart, S., 1990. Monuments in an island society: the Maltese context. World Archaeology 22(2), 190205.
Campbell, S. F., 1983. Kula in Vakuta: the mechanics of keda, in The Kula: New Perspectives on Massim Exchange, eds. Leach, J. W. & Leach, E.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 201–27.
Cherry, J., 1990. The first colonisation of the Mediterranean islands: a review of recent research. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 3 (2), 145221.
Evans, J. D., 1953. The prehistoric culture sequence in the Maltese archipelago. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 19, 4194.
Evans, J. D., 1971. The Prehistoric Antiquities of the Maltese Islands. London: The Athlone Press.
FoderàSerio, G. Serio, G., Hoskin, M. & Ventura, F., 1992. The orientations of the temples of Malta. Journal for the History of Astronomy 23, 107–19.
Garwood, P., Jennings, D., Skeates, R. & Toms, J., 1991. Preface, in Sacred and Profane. Proceedings of a Conference on Archaeology, Ritual and Religion, Oxford, 1989, eds. Garwood, P., Jennings, D., Skeates, R. & Toms, J.. (Oxford Committee for Archaeology, Monograph 32.) Oxford: Oxbow Books, v–x.
Held, S. O., 1989. Early Prehistoric Island Archaeology in Cyprus: Configurations of Formative Culture Growth from the Pleistocene/Holocene Boundary to the Mid- 3rd millennium BC. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Institute of Archaeology, University College, London.
Helms, M. W., 1988. Ulysses' Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge, and Geographical Distance. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.
Leach, J. W. & E., Leach (eds.), 1983. The Kula: New Perspectives on Massim Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lewthwaite, J., 1987. Three steps to leaven: applicazione del modello di disponibilità al Neolitico italiano, in Il Neolitico d'Italia. (Atti della XXVI Riunione Scientifica dell'Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria). Firenze: Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria, 89 102.
McDonnell, B. E., 1985. San Cono-Piano Notaro-Grotta Zubbia Ceramics in Sicilian Prehistory. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, Providence (RI).
Malinowski, B., 1920. Kula: the circulating exchange of valuables in archipelagoes of eastern New Guinea. Man 20(51), 97105.
Malinowski, B., 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Malone, C. A. T., 1986. Exchange Systems and Style in the Central Mediterranean, 4000–1700 BC. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge.
Malone, C. A. T., Stoddart, S. K. F. & Trump, D., 1988. A house for the temple builders: recent investigations on Gozo, Malta. Antiquity 62, 297301.
Maniscalco, L., 1989. Ocher containers and trade in the Central Mediterranean Copper Age. American Journal of Archaeology 93(4), 537–41.
Mitchell, P. K. & Dewdney, J. C., 1961. Climate, in Malta: Background for Development, eds. Bohen-Jones, H., Dewdney, J. C. & Fisher, W. B.. Durham: Department of Geography, 4882.
Renfrew, A. C., 1976. Before Civilisation: The Radiocarbon Revolution and Prehistoric Europe. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Renfrew, A. C., 1985. The Archaeology of Cult: The Sanctuary at Phylakopi. (British School at Athens Supplementary Volume 18.) London: Thames & Hudson.
Renfrew, A. C. & Level, E. V., 1979. Exploring dominance: predicting polities from centers, in Transformations: Mathematical Approaches to Culture Change, eds. Renfrew, A. C. & Cooke, K. L.. New York (NY): Academic Press, 145–68.
Tambiah, S. J., 1983. On flying witches and flying canoes: the coding of male and female values, in The Kula: New Perspectives on Massim Exchange, eds. Leach, J. W. & Leach, E.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 171200.
Trump, D. H., 1966. Skorba. (Research reports of the Society of Antiquaries of London 22.) London: Society of Antiquaries.
Tusa, S., 1985. The beginning of farming communities in Sicily: the evidence from Uzzo cave, in Papers in Italian Archaeology IV. Part ii. Prehistory, eds. Malone, C. & Stoddart, S.. (BAR International Series 244.) Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 6182.
Weiner, A. B., 1983. 'A world of made is not a world of born': doing kula in Kiriwina, in The Kula: New Perspectives on Massim Exchange, eds. Leach, J. W. & Leach, E.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 147–70.
Zammit, T., 1930. Prehistoric Malta: The Tarxien Temples. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed