Malta Diary Ħaġar Qim – not such a flattering scenario for the ladies – by today’s standards!
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Twiggy and other anorexic-figured ladies would not have earned a second glance from Malta’s Stone Age Men. Indeed, 5,000 years ago it would have been a field day for a battery of Dieticians, Cardiovascular Specialists, Obesity Consultants and Personal Trainers – trying to get Stone Age Women into shape!
This is highly apparent in all the stone figures and figurines of the female shape excavated from that era where the “perfect” female shape was rated as being short, stocky – if not to say obese – with the widest possible expanded hips and posteriors as well as general, all-round roundness, or otherwise not worth a second glance.
The whole exercise was one of basic instinct and the human craving to procreate and increase the species as a means of biological sustainability for the human race. Women with wide hips were classed to be ideal for fertility and the ideal carriers of babies and hence offspring and therefore, the wider the figure, the more desirable.
The free-standing stone temple of Ħaġar Qim (literally translated as Adored Sacred Stones – purely Semitic) has been dated back to 3,000 BC (that is 5,000 years ago) and, together with a number of other Stone Age temples spread over Malta and Gozo classed as being the oldest free-standing temples in the world.
When the former Professor of Prehistoric European Archaeology from London University’s Institute of Archaeology, V. Gordon Childe, visited Malta’s Ħaġar Qim he later wrote, “I have been visiting the prehistoric ruins all round the Mediterranean, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, Greece and Switzerland, but I have nowhere seen a place as old as this one.”
It is of course one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, together with the nearby temple of Mnajdra and the temples in Ggantija (Gozo) as well as The Hypogeum and the Tarxien Neolithic Temple, a record for so many sites in such a confined territorial area.
On a visit to the Roman temple at Ephesus in Turkey with an internationally mixed group of tourists I listened patiently to our Turkish tour guide patriotically boasting of Turkey having “this oldest free-standing temple in the whole world” before I took him aside and told him confidentially that he was mistaken and explained why. He was simply astounded, having never previously heard of Ħaġar Qim and for which shortcoming he profusely apologised – while probably cursing me even more profusely under his breath!
The temple itself is a complex rather than merely a large assembly chamber and provides an insight of the extent we tend to underestimate Stone Age Man with his limitation of tools and limitation of cultural development.
It consists of an Assembly Forecourt, Dwelling-houses (for the resident sacred priests) and protective bastions, a Northern Temple, a Women’s Chamber, the Main Temple, the Niche and the Watering Place.
Many of these zones have their own multiple recesses, with the Northern Temple having a Woman’s Chamber consisting of altars where wide-based jugs of libations were placed. Was this used as a “segregation” area for the females not to mix with males, not so far-fetched because it is still in use today in Islamic Mosques and up to a few years ago also exercised in Malta’s Roman Catholic Churches when I was still a boy, with women quartered in their own zone and having separate benches to sit on.
The Northern Temple also has another fascination for the adoration of the Summer Solstice which from a hole can be viewed as the sun rises over the offshore minute island of Filfla, indicating that Filfla itself may have been viewed as a sacred locality from which the sun rises.
Equally amazing is a system through which sound could be conveyed throughout the temple – a stereo arrangement 5,000 years ago – making the presence of priests more awesome as their voices boomed throughout the chambers.
Constructed from globigerina limestone, it is wondrous to try to understand how the huge stones were hewn, sculpted and placed standing in an era before the Iron Age and the amount of labour involved in the whole construction. Unfortunately, globigerina limestone is weather-prone and flakes under rains and winds and the whole temple was covered over with a plastic ceiling in 2009 to prevent further deterioration.
Some years back, Suzanne Psaila, an archaeology student, spent four years patiently visually reconstructing a model of the temple, virtually stone by stone as part of her PhD archaeology studies. In her own words it caused her “many a sleepless night”.
Suzanne then explained it was not a matter of simply drawing stones on stones. “Each stone is given all the dimensions and weights and the building simply cannot be constructed unless the structure can take the weight”. Once more this is a source of wonder at the ingenuity of the skills of Stone Age Man.
She also determined the whole temple would have had a roof structure covering it but which sadly collapsed in stages down through the centuries and the stones hauled away to be recycled in other buildings.
Her research was immaculate and included the 11.4 metre facade that she was able to reconstruct based on a 5,000-year-old model of a prehistoric building found at the Tarxien Temples.
Nowadays we tend to think that the ability of mankind only became evident with today’s virtual technology but nevertheless quite humbling to consider the magnificence of the construction of Ħaġar Qim given all the limitations of mankind 5,000 years ago.
On a weekly basis I am inserting a Maltese saying, expression or proverb and where possible English equivalents that will help give insight into the Maltese psyche.
“The examples you set linger and tend to drag on …”
Be careful of setting precedents because they tend to become permanent and everlasting.