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Impact Of Sicilian Culture On Malta

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Over the last few decades new evidence has come to light that Neolithic communities had prolonged contact with neighboring cultures and throughout the Mediterranean through products found within their midens that were not made their to the architecture and culture exposure this may have provided them, from the Mycenaeans and the late Early Iron age in Greece, to the Etruscans, the Sicilians, and many others. Prehistoric Malta is among these cultures, using the trade network and possibly even island hopping as a means of finding new routes and sustain prolonged contact with other civilizations, this shows most readily through the material culture found, most often pottery, at sites such as Ghar Dalam or Skorba. When looking at the early pottery from the Ghar Dalam phase or even the later red and grey skorba phase we can see the role the sicilian civilization played in the early life of the Maltese prehistoric peoples, though as the time passes the people of Malta seem to develop their own techniques as well as pottery culture. Over a period of approximately nine hundred years the Sicilian influence upon the early Maltese culture began to diminish as they became their own culture separate from that of the early Italians. Still the style of the early Ghar Dalam pottery as well as the cases of Obsidian on the island indicate a long existing trade ties to that of Sicily along with the found sherds of pottery from the Sicilian Stentinello Ware.

It is not above the realm of possibility that people had close ties with the Sicilian culture in Malta being that Sicily was the closest land to Malta the early Sicilians were the first to come to the island. They, much like that of the Greek peoples in the Cyclades, saw the need to keep up a trade network this is apparent in many things such as the appearance of Obsidian tools on the island which can be traced back to Lipari or Pantelleria, (Emerging Aspects of Interaction between Prehistoric Sicily and Malta from the Perspective of Lithic Tools, 83) much like the early Greeks the Maltese people saw the great value in such hard and sharp substances that did not easily dull, they were good and highly valuable tools. We equate the appearance of such tools to the trade networks that may have existed between Pantelleria, Sicily, Lipari and Malta. (Emerging Aspects of Interaction between Prehistoric Sicily and Malta from the Perspective of Lithic Tools, 83) The early Maltese peoples would have needed to import two of their most important raw materials to the island. (Emerging Aspects of Interaction between Prehistoric Sicily and Malta from the Perspective of Lithic Tools, 84)The resources of Sicily including flint, obsidian, ochre and even copper make it an important trade partner for the fledgling Maltese civilization. The trade of such valuable items such as Obsidian and pumice would not have been vital to everyday life on but a luxury therefore such items could have been part of a symbolic trade to show social arrangements between families by means of the exchange of such gifts.(Prehistoric Settlement) Obsidian being such as rare commodity in the world, with there being only four sources in the central Mediterranean, Lapri, Pantelleria, Sardinia, and Palmarola and two in the eastern Mediterranean, the chief amongst those being Melos. “Obsidian recovered from archaeological sites in Malta originates either from Lipari or Pantelleria (Tykot 1996: 46). To date, no evidence has linked Sardinian or Palmarola obsidian sources to the Maltese Islands”. (Emerging Aspects of Interaction between Prehistoric Sicily and Malta from the Perspective of Lithic Tools, 83) We have proof of not only the import but of the use of Obsidian coming in flakes from knapping such as the Obsidian flakes found at the Skorba site. (Emerging Aspects of Interaction between Prehistoric Sicily and Malta from the Perspective of Lithic Tools, 84)

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With necessary raw materials being scarce in Malta if there was any of certain materials at all the Maltese people turned to the Sicilians for their source of flint and chert. Both were common materials and highly prevalent sources in other parts of the Mediterranean world such as Sicily, Spain, Greece, and Turkey. “In the Central Mediterranean the two largest documented flint sources are the Monti Iblei flint outcrops in Sicily and the Perfugas flint source in Sardinia.” (Report on the Lithic Tools of Sicilian Origin from the Prehistoric Site of Skorba, 7) They would have been imported due to their “superior” status amongst rock types being used for lithic tools. (Report on the Lithic Tools of Sicilian Origin from the Prehistoric Site of Skorba, 7) However They would have had to have enough contact with the Sicilians for trade to import enough Flint and Chert as to not have to worry about recycling their scraps. “The chert pieces recovered next to the Ghar Dalam wall are waste pieces with no signs of recycling,” and not found “reduced to bits after a prolonged use life.” (Emerging Aspects of Interaction between Prehistoric Sicily and Malta from the Perspective of Lithic Tools, 87) Most Archaeologists for a long period of time presumed that most if not all of the imported flint coming to the Maltese Islands was coming from Monti Iblei in Sicily however they have not disproved that any of the Maltese flint came from Perfugas or any of the other smaller flint rich areas, though many believe this to be highly unlikely. In the places that we find chert and flint such as Skorba and Ghar Dalam, we find large pieces of flint being worked, such as that of the flint knife found in the 3rd layer of the middle trench at the Ghar Dalam site. The flint knife in question was well worked and 1 by ⅝ of an inch, while another knife of chert found at the same level and roughly 1¼ by ¾ of an inch. But being that both knives were found in the middle of both organic and inorganic remains and it varied in how they got distributed, “but as the material where they were accumulated appeared to have been disturbed they were discarded.” (Excavations at Ghar Dalam, 27) Meaning that if they were discarded rather then continually used or recycled then it goes to reason that they had enough of this resource to waste some because it wasn’t scare in the area. Leading us to believe of a close and prolonged contact with the Sicilian peoples.

Another sign of prolonged contact with the neighboring cultures of the Maltese islands is the Ghar Dalam pottery and the very obvious influence that the early Sicilian pottery had upon it. Up until the beginning of the Temple Period and the end of the Red Skorba phase you could still see the lasting impact of the Sicilians within the cultural context of the Maltese islands pottery techniques and styles, even though they were then in the later Neolithic more varied in their pottery due to their own developing culture the influence is derisive and cannot be refuted. From the Red ochre color which they would have had to import from Sicily to start with to even the shape and handle style clearly reflects the Sicilian pottery style in the Ghar Dalam through the Red Skorba. Ghar Dalam pottery “is characterized by impressions around the rim and neck of rather simple bowls and globular jars. This type of decoration links it directly with the Stentinello Ware of Sicily and, more generally, with the larger family of Impressed Wares found throughout the central and western Mediterranean.” (Prehistoric Settlement) In this we must also acknowledge the trade connection through pottery because we have also in several instances found Sicilian pottery in Neolithic excavations, this could only have come to them by trade and contact with their northern neighbors. (Excavations at Ghar Dalam, 25) This indicates that not only are the early prehistoric maltese peoples influenced by the Sicilians but are have a direct trade connection to them that is indicated by the evidence of Sicilian pottery on the island. There is no other way for Sicilian pottery to be appearing on Malta without significant trade networks from Sicily to Malta, this pottery also appears in multiple phases of the Neolithic period from the Ghar Dalam to the Skorba, leading us to the justified conclusion that not only was the trade network to Malta from Sicily strong but it was also lasting through several centuries.

When looking at the early pottery from the Ghar Dalam phase or even the later red and grey skorba phase we can see the role the sicilian civilization played in the early life of the Maltese prehistoric peoples. Though as the time passes the people of Malta seem to develop their own techniques as well as pottery culture they still are heavily influenced by the Sicilian peoples all the way through the temple period. They also were importing and using pottery from Sicily itself, perhaps this is the Paris effect that once someone sees something like this is beautiful and special then the people want more of it or change their ideas and style to reflect it. Through things like this and the influence on the style of the early Ghar Dalam pottery as well as the cases of Obsidian on the island paints a kind of picture of a long lasting friendship between the two civilizations and a long existing trade tie to Sicily. With Sicily and Pantelleria being the two closest lands to Malta it is not hard to believe that the Sicilians were amongst the first peoples to settle Malta, with Sicily being so close and the civilization having split to settle it, it only goes to reason that the bond between these two civilizations would have been relatively strong only being aided by the factor that they were the closest group of people to trade with for the raw materials and goods that Malta seemed to lack. The appearance of Obsidian tools on the island which can be traced back to Lipari or Pantelleria, and flint from Sicily seem to support this claim in that they had enough of these that they didn’t need to continuously use their tools until they wore out and that they didn’t seem to attempt to recycle the excess. We also acquaint the appearance of such tools to the trade networks that may have existed between Pantelleria, Sicily, Lipari and Malta. The resources of Sicily including flint, obsidian, ochre and even copper make it an important trade partner for the fledgling Maltese civilization, it is their most important way of obtaining the goods that they require but the island lacks naturally. Up until the beginning of the Temple Period and the end of the Red Skorba phase you could still see the lasting impact of the Sicilians within the cultural context of the Maltese islands pottery techniques and styles, through the trade and use of pottery from Sicily, and the acquisition of raw materials such as flint, chert, and obsidian for the making of lithic tools all pointing to a strong and prolonged contact and trade with the island of Sicily.

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