Male, skirted human figure from the Xagħra Circle (Gozo). Courtesy of Heritage Malta, photography © Daniel Cilia

First settled in the late 6th millennium BC, between 3600-2500 BC the Maltese archipelago flourished into an astonishingly rich prehistoric culture, producing a wealth of stylised human figures unparalleled by contemporary peoples, as well as the oldest surviving free-standing stone buildings in the world.

Constructed from massive slabs of limestone some 4m high, weighing up to 21m each – all without the aid of metal tools – these megalithic complexes have been interpreted as temples, though their precise function remains enigmatic. 

Shortly after its peak, however, this civilisation came to an end in 2500 BC, for reasons that are still unknown. It would be centuries before Malta was inhabited again, by a completely distinct Bronze Age people.

Now a new exhibition at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University,  Temple and Tomb: prehistoric Malta, 3600-2500 BC, illuminates these complex and sophisticated prehistoric communities through their intricate stone and clay sculptures.

Appearing in the USA for the first time with the help of Heritage Malta, these objects include figurines and decorative architectural reliefs. Historic photographs, drawings, and watercolours also tell the story of modern investigations of the archipelago’s monuments.

For more information on Malta’s prehistoric temples, see CWA 55

To read about later activity on Malta, see CWA 58

Male, skirted human figure from the Xagħra Circle (Gozo).
Relief depicting a procession of animals, from Tarxien South Temple.
Miniature model temple from Ta’ Ħaġrat Temple (Malta).
The 'Venus of Malta', from Ħaġar Qim Temple.
“Priest” or “Priestess” (Standing Figure Wearing a Skirt), from Tarxien Temples (Malta).
“The Xagħra Twin Seated Figure” from Xagħra Circle (Gozo).



 All images courtesy of Heritage Malta, photography © Daniel Cilia

Temple and Tomb: prehistoric Malta, 3600-2500 BC runs at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World until 7 July 2013

Admission is free.

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11.00-1800, Friday 11.00-20.00, closed Monday.

Free guided tour every Friday, 18.00

For more information, visit the ISAW website