A new €2.49m research study, led by Queen’s University Belfast, is to help uncover Malta’s prehistoric past.
The five year programme will examine the environmental and cultural background of prehistoric Malta. It will also develop strategies to ensure long-term conservation of vulnerable heritage in all island settings.
Nineteen senior scholars from Queen’s, Cambridge University, the University of Malta, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and Heritage Malta are involved in the project.
The project will allow researchers to reconstruct the changing ecology at different periods in Malta’s history by using ancient pollens and extracted tiny invertebrates including snails and insects. The analysis of these and other environmental and archaeological materials will take place in Queen’s specialist 14CHRONO lab.
Other archaeological studies within the project will focus on landscapes and the remains of the ancient population. Researchers will study sites and settlements of the early Maltese to assess how the prehistoric people developed the socio-cultural resilience that sustained them during hard times. They hope examination of the early economy may identify changes in farming systems, while analysis of human bones will reveal diet, disease and population structure of the ancient Maltese.
Dr Caroline Malone from Queen’s School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, and leader of the research, said: “This exciting project will explore the changing environmental and cultural background of Malta during prehistory from the first occupation of Neolithic farmers around 5,500BC until medieval times. It will also provide us with invaluable data on how we can best protect such priceless heritage sites in the future.
“Previous studies conducted by Queen’s and the University of Malta have already shown that the climate and environment were unstable during the last few millennia BC and that instability would have impacted on the lives of prehistoric societies. Our new work on a series of pollen cores extracted from across Malta will build a detailed understanding of the changing flora/vegetation of the islands.”
Head of School for Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology (GAP), Professor Keith Bennett said: “The FRAGSUS project is an excellent demonstration of the value of the close collaborative relationships between archaeologists and environmental scientists. We are delighted to be taking the lead role in this international research partnership.”
The full title of the project is Fragility and Sustainability in restricted island environments: Adaptation, Culture Change and Collapse in prehistory (FRAGSUS). The Framework 7 European Research Council grant for the work is one of only 50 awarded this year for research in the humanities and social sciences. It is the first ERC grant to include Malta.
Header Image : Skorba – prehistoric temple from 4850 BC