Enigmatic statuettes from the Temple period

Who are the persons portrayed by the prehistoric statuettes and what do they represent?

Hypogeum - Main ChamberĦal Saflieni Hypogeum

Megalithic temples’ culture 

The megalithic temples’ culture on the Maltese Islands is quite a unique one. Apart from the megalithic structure, these prehistoric buildings have yielded a number of representational human statues.

The Sleeping Lady The Sleeping LadyNational Museum of Archaeology, Malta

These statues are closely associated solely with this period. These statues have been the subject of a number of debates for decades.

Since we are dealing with artefacts from a prehistoric period, we can only hypothesise as to what they represented and how they were used.

Limestone Human Head Statuette (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta


These statues have in the past been referred to by a multitude of names

Venus of Malta (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

This includes ‘The Fat Ladies’, ‘Mother Goddesses’, ‘Fertility Goddesses’, and ‘Deities’, amongst others.

These names were mainly given due to the physical naked appearance of these statues.

Irrespective of whether they are standing or seated their corpulence is very evident and the main emphasis lies in the lower part of their body, more specifically their thighs.

Large Headless Standing Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Their corpulence is what gave rise to the different names attributed to them.

In the past, their stature was immediately associated with fertility, especially since their thighs are more robust than the upper body.

Moreover, due to the fact that these statues were found in a ‘temple’ context, our predecessors thought it opportune to refer to them as Goddesses.

Deformed Female Figurine Front (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta


For the Neolithic people, who were already practicing farming, fertility must have been a very important factor.

Deformed Female Figurine Deformed Female FigurineNational Museum of Archaeology, Malta

It meant continuation of life, the same life which depended on agriculture and animal husbandry.

These statues could have represented deities to whom sacrifices were carried out in return for good harvests of crops and a healthy life.

Large Headless Standing Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Standing Statues

Irrespective of the size and medium used, one is immediately struck by the similarities in the posture.

Headless Standing Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Thickset from the waist down, their buttocks and thighs are rendered in outsized proportions.

A particular feature is that most of the standing statues have the same arm position; their right arm is lying by their right side whilst the left arm seems to be resting on the folds of their waist.

TBILNational Museum of Archaeology, Malta

There are only few exceptions to this posture.

Headless Standing Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Whether or not all the statues were made by the same artist or group of artists is impossible to tell, as is also very difficult to ascertain whether this arm position had a significant meaning.

Headless Seated Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Seated Statues

The seated version of these statues places more emphasis on the thighs and buttocks.

These statues are shown with their feet tucked underneath them and their hands resting on their thighs.

Compared to the obese body, the hands seem to be relatively small and dainty. Most of them do not seem to be clothed whereas a few of them seem to be wearing a dress.

The posture of the attired ones is different and they seem to be sitting on something elevated like a bench, as opposed to sitting on the floor with their feet tucked under them.

Large Headless Standing Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

One striking feature amongst these statues is that they are all headless. Whereas in some cases it could be that the head was broken off, in most of them it is evident that they were purposely made.

In fact in the place of the head one finds a clean hollowed socket with holes at the front and the back. This indicates that heads were placed in the socket and secured in place.

Limestone Human Head Statuette (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

No heads that fit these statues have been found. Could it be that the heads were made of wood, a perishable material? Or were they broken after they fulfilled their purpose?

Central section of Main temple at Hagar QimThe Hagar Qim Archaeological Park


When one considers that these statues were found in the megalithic structures, commonly referred to as ‘temples’, one can only conclude that these statues formed part of some sort of ritual.

View of FilflaThe Hagar Qim Archaeological Park

Four of the seated statues were found as a group under a step leading to the one-apsed annex of Ħaġar Qim.

Were they placed there as safekeeping or were they used for some type of ritual? The interchangeability of the heads seems to indicate that they were used repeatedly.

Seated Headless Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Although past nomenclatures always indicated that these statues were female, a possible gender re-evaluation is provoking. Upon closer look, one realizes that they could represent either man or woman.

The fact that some of them are shown with a skirt or a dress, does not automatically make them female. If taken as being asexual, gender could have been attributed to them once the head was placed in the socket.

Seated Human Figure of Globigerina Limestone (Part of)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Two stone fragments from Tarxien Temples represent the lower parts of seated figures.

A closer look shows that where the skirt seems to end, and carved on what could be a sort of bench, there is a row of very fine but smaller human representations.

One can only hypothesize whether they represented children, people needing divine protection or deities of lesser importance.

Tarxien Colossal StatueNational Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Temple Monuments

The largest statue in our national collection was discovered in a very prominent position inside Tarxien Temples.

Photo Tarxien Temples excavationsNational Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Old excavation photos show the broken statue in close proximity to a number of spiral decorated stone blocks.

In line with it there was a standing menhir which tapered down closer to the ground and which seems to have been given the same importance as the standing statue.

Tarxien Colossal StatueNational Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Unfortunately both were found with their upper part broken so we cannot ascertain their original heights.

Headless Seated Figure (-4100/-2500)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

Most of these statues were carved out of globigerina limestone, a local stone which is relatively easy to carve.

Alabaster Human statuette (-5000/-700)National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

There are only a few other examples of such statues which were carved out of alabaster but these are much smaller in size. There are also a few fragments of clay statues.

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