Digging up Maltese artefacts dating back to 2400BC - 700BC

The Bronze Age period in Malta (2400BC - 700BC) is characterized by three distinct phases: Tarxien Cemetery phase, Borġ in-Nadur phase and Baħrija phase 

The hall inside the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta displays the achievements of those who occupied the islands in the long period from 2400 to 700 BC.

New people arrived and took over an apparently empty island, since there is no continuity in the way of life and material remains from their predecessors, the Neolithic people.

Tarxien cemetery
When Sir Temi Zammit excavated the Tarxien Temples in 1915-17, overlying the temple floors dating to the Neolithic period and their remains, he found a layer of sterile silt.

Above this he discovered another layer consisting of ash, burnt bone and numerous often intact pots of a completely different style.

Pottery typology
There are three main pottery typologies in this period

The Tarxien Cemetery type is recognized by its geometric decorations, particularly chevrons and hatched triangles

The Borg in-Nadur ware, showing parallel bands round the lip, sometimes with zigzags below

The Baħrija with simple dovetail decorations, elaborate meanders or rows of triangles with a zigzag between them.

The Bronze Age is as such called due to material evidence of some bronze artefacts. This material is not a local resource and was therefore imported. Only a few artefacts made from bronze were found in Malta and these are mainly in the form of daggers.

Artefacts
A number of artefacts from the Bronze Age period were found in different sites around Malta.

The highly stylised clay disc figurines found mainly at Tarxien Cemetery are associated with Bronze Age burials.

Since these figurines were only found in funerary contexts, they may have formed part of a burial ritual.

These figurines show a circular flat body in a seated position and are completely different from the statuettes which date to the previous Neolithic period.

There are only a few animal representations dating from this period. These were found in Tarxien cemetery and are in the form of birds or ducks. It is interesting to note that they have incised on them the same decorations seen on the Tarxien cemetery pottery.

The large number of spindle whorls and loom weights found, particularly at Baħrija, suggest that weaving was being produced on a considerable scale, perhaps for export as well as local use.

Għar Mirdum is the richest example of a Bronze Age cave site which can qualify as having a defensive location in view of its inaccessibility.

Important finds from this site, considering the scarcity of metal remains, are a bronze dagger, with an exquisitely carved bone handle, two bronze rivets and a lump of bronze which implies local metal-working.

Retrieved information
Information about this period is gathered not only from pottery but also through other artefacts that were discovered in sites around the Maltese islands

By far the commonest material recovered from excavated sites is broken pottery. In rare instances, particular pottery sherds give us ulterior information than normal sherds such as the one from Borg in-Nadur which has a small leaf impression.

Crucial to life at the time, as always, was food production. We know from the bones of sheep, goats, cows and pigs found on settlements, and grains of wheat and beans, either carbonised or preserved as impressions in pottery, that mixed farming was practiced.

It is unlikely that fishing was neglected even though the only evidence is the fish vertebrae used as beads which were found in the Tarxien Cemetery.

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