Step 3,000 years into the past at Tas-Silġ

Marsaxlokk has once more yielded a new perspective on the earliest days of the Maltese Islands. The archaeological site of Tas-Silġ is one which less popular and less known than sites such as the Tarxien Temples or the Haġar-Qim-Mnajdra complex. Recent finds have re-calibrated the importance of this already important site into one of even greater importance. However, this multi-period site is of considerable historical significance and scholarly interest in it has been ongoing since the Italian Archaeological Mission first published their seminal work in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Indeed, also, thanks to the technology put forward through a collaboration between Heritage Malta and SintegraM program, a three-dimensional approach could be adopted and the virtual tour of the site gives an added dimension to time and space.  This program, driven by Professor Saviour Formosa, developed and implemented a national spatial data infrastructure and enhanced the capacity of geo-spatial/GIS technology expertise for Malta and its impact on social wellbeing

Multi-period site

The remains most lately discovered in a joint dig with the University of Malta’s Department of Archaeology, date to the Punic Period. As David Cardona, senior curator of Phoenician, Roman and Medieval Sites, told,  the remains fall somewhere towards the later period of use of the site since the earliest remains at Tas-Silġ date to circa 2,500 BCE. “The site was in use from the temple period to the late Byzantine period, possibly even in the Muslim period”, said Mr Cardona.

With regards to the controversial Muslim period, at Tas-Silġ, two burial sites were found which may have been datable to that period. However, according to Mr Cardona, this happened after the site had fallen into disuse in the eighth century AD. He stressed that the multiple layers of use of the site from the Chalcolithic right down to the Byzantine area show the importance of the site.

The Cippus of Melqart, currently in the Louvre, was, by tradition, associated with this temple complex for provenance.

Major temple complex

Located in a major port, Marsaxlokk, the site seems to have been an important shrine. In keeping with other major temple sites, the Tas-Silġ complex too was located in the hinterland of a harbour. The Cippus of Melqart, currently in the Louvre, was, by tradition, associated with this temple complex for provenance.

David Cardona explained that the Phoenicians were a great seafaring nation. These master mariners not only scoured the Mediterranean, a feat in itself given the lack of navigational tools and the small boats (by today’s standards) they used. They are also known to have reached Cornwall and Iceland.

Who were these people?

The current finds came up in quite a fortuitous manner. Heritage Malta had planned a visitors’ centre for this important and complex site. Such a centre would enable the visitor to make some sense as to what the otherwise unguided eye would simply perceive as a mass of rubble.  They were planning to utilise a derelict farmhouse already on the site. “The farmhouse was built on part of the archaeological site so we were certain that there were remains. Just how significant, we were not sure,” said Cardona. The finds included ashlar stones which were part of the foundation of the Roman temple and also remains of the megalithic structures. The latter was also significant in that they show that the megalithic remains were spread on a far wider span than had hitherto been documented.