One day in 1994, a local Turkish shepherd noticed the tip of a stone sticking out of the tilled fields. Underneath was perhaps one of the greatest archaeological discoveries that reshaped our understanding of the ancient Neolithic Age. A sophisticated ancient shamanistic civilization of “primitive hunter-gathers”, was capable of building grand architectural monuments.
Perfectly sculpted T-shaped columns over 20 feet high, and 15 tons each, soon emerged from the earth, with beautifully carved friezes of strange Ice Age creatures, and anthropomorphic humans. The obvious question is, how could such an ancient culture build and organize such an ambitious megalithic ancient monument?
Catal Huyuk is one of the oldest archaeological urban cities to be found to date from ancient history and prehistory. Located in what is now modern Turkey just south east of modern Konya, the site contains remains of ancient pottery, signs of prehistoric domestication and herding, and permanent farming, including the organized cultivation of wheat and other cereals, and granary structures for storing and preserving food grains.
Coupled with the fact that it dates to at least 7500 BC to 5700 BC, this makes it the biggest and best preserved ancient Neolithic site to date and just one in a growing number of new ancient sites which continue to push back the boundaries of pre-classical civilization even further into prehistory. The rare site provides tantalizing clues into the rise and the origins of ancient civilizations.
A taula (meaning ‘table’ in Catalan) is a T-shaped stone monument found on the Balearic island of Minorca. Taulas can be up to 3.7 metres high and consist of a vertical pillar (a monolith or several smaller stones on top of each other) with a horizontal stone lying on it. A U-shaped wall often encloses the structure. They were built by the Talaiotic Culture between 1000 BC and 300 BC.
Their exact cultural meaning remains unknown, but they probably had religious and/or astronomical purposes. Most of the taulas face south, which seems to suggest some astronomical meaning. Archeologist Michael Hoskin has suggested the taulas may have been part of an ancient healing cult. They are frequently found near talayots.
Examples include those at Torre Trencada, Talatí de Dalt, Torrellissá Nou, Trepucó, and the site at Torralba d’en Salord.
The talaiots, or talayots, are Bronze Age megaliths on the islands of Minorca and Majorca forming part of the Talaiotic Culture or Talaiotic Period. They date back to the late second millennium and early first millennium BC. There are at least 274 of them, in, near, or related to Talaiotic settlements and Talaiotic navetes, megalithic chamber tombs unique to the Balearic island of Minorca.
Navetes dates to the early Bronze Age. It has two vertical and two corbelled walls giving it the form of an upturned boat which is where the name comes from. The largest example is the Naveta d’Es Tudons which is around 4m high, 14m long and 6.4m wide.
While some certainly had a defensive purpose, the use of others is not clearly understood. Some believe them to have served the purpose of lookout or signalling towers, as on Minorca, where they form a network. These monuments pre-date the taulas, which are usually found nearby. Similar, but not necessarily related, are the “nuraghes” of Sardinia, the “torri” of Corsica, and the “sesi” of Pantelleria.
Up until the end of the 20th century, it was theorized that the Talaiotic Culture arose out of interaction between new peoples from the eastern Mediterranean and local island culture, in the form of an aggressive invasion, or perhaps as a peaceful assimilation.
The Talaiotic Culture arose at the same time that the crisis caused by the Sea Peoples was occurring, which had revolutionized societies in this part of the Mediterranean until the 13th century BC.
These theories were based mainly on architectonic remains that exist in abundance on Majorca and Menorca. The Talaiotic people were considered a warlike race due to the abundance of talaiots or defensive towers and the existence of walled towns. In addition, the talaiots were similar in many respects to the nuraghes of Sardinia, which lends credence to the theory that the Talaiotic people were of Sardinian origin.
However, archaeological excavations conducted at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries have established that the talaiots were built much later –at the beginning of the first millennium BC, which means that they were not built during the time of the Sea Peoples and the Sardinian nuraghes.
In addition, there is more and more proof that what was considered a sudden transition from a Pre-Talaiotic Culture during the Bronze Age to the Talaiotic Culture was actually a slow evolution lasting several centuries, and actually caused by a localized crisis on the Balearic Islands.
However, external influences on the Talaiotic Culture cannot be completely discounted, since the existence of bronze alloys on the island (which requires tin, not available on the Balearic Islands) indicates that frequent contacts with the outside world existed.
The nuraghe is the main type of ancient megalithic edifice found in Sardinia, developed during the Nuragic Age between 1900–730 BCE. Today it has come to be the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture, the Nuragic civilization.
According to Massimo Pallottino, a scholar of Sardinian prehistory and an etruscologist, the architecture produced by the Nuragic civilization was the most advanced of any in the western Mediterranean during this epoch, including those in the regions of Magna Graecia.
Of the 7,000 extant nuraghes, only a few have been scientifically excavated. Many Nuragic cultural traits and values were inherited by the Etruscans and by the Romans.
The Torrean civilization was a civilization that developed in Corsica, in the area south of Ajaccio, during the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. The characteristic building of this culture is the “Torre” (Tower), the Corsican version of the Sardinian “Nuraghe”, although the torri were smaller and less impressive than the nuraghes. According to some scholars the Nuragic civilization and the Torrean civilization were the same.
The Torrean people are probably identifiable with the Corsi, a people that lived in Corsica and north-east Sardinia during Roman times, described as one of the main ethnic group of the islands together with the Ilienses (Iliensi) or Iolei and the Balares (Balari) of Sardinia.
In Sardinia island, in the far north-east, there were tribes that were also corsi: Corsi Proper (for whom Corsica is named), they dwelt at the extreme north-east of Sardinia; Lestricones/Lestrigones (Lestriconi/Lestrigoni); Longonenses (Longonensi); Tibulati, they dwelt at the extreme north of Sardinia, about the ancient city of Tibula, near the Corsi.
Pottery found by archaeologists at Skorba resembles that found in Italy, and suggests that the Maltese islands were first settled in 5200 BC mainly by stone age hunters or farmers who had arrived from the larger island of Sicily, possibly the Sicani.
The extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on Malta. Prehistoric farming settlements dating to Early Neolithic period were discovered in open areas and also in caves, such as Għar Dalam.
The Sicani were the only tribe known to have inhabited the island at this time and are generally regarded as related to the Iberians. The population on Malta grew cereals, raised domestic livestock and, in common with other ancient Mediterranean cultures, worshiped a fertility figure represented in Maltese prehistoric artefacts exhibiting the proportions seen in similar statuettes, including the Venus of Willendorf.
The Sicani or Sicanians were one of three ancient peoples of Sicily present at the time of Phoenician and Greek colonization. They are thought to be the oldest inhabitants of Sicily with a recorded name. The Greek historian Thucydides claimed they immigrated from the Iberian Peninsula (perhaps Valencia) driven by the Ligurians from the river Sicanus, drawing his information from the Sicilian historian Antiochus of Syracuse, but his basis for saying this is unknown.
Timaeus of Tauromenium considered them as aboriginal. Some modern scholars think the Sicani may have been an Illyrian tribe that gained control of areas previously inhabited by native tribes. Archaeological excavation has shown that they had received some Mycenean influence.
The Elymians are thought to be the next recorded people to settle Sicily, perhaps from the Aegean or Anatolia. They settled in the north-west corner of the island, forcing the Sicanians to move across eastward. The Sicels were the next to arrive, from mainland Italy, and settled in the east.
Historical records start with the Phoenicians, who established colonies in the 11th century BCE, and especially with the Greeks, who founded the colony of Syracuse, which eventually became the largest Greek city, in 734 BC. Other Greek colonies were established around the island. The indigenous Sicilians were gradually absorbed by these colonizing peoples and finally disappeared as distinct peoples under Roman occupation.
Pottery from the Għar Dalam phase is similar to pottery found in Agrigento, Sicily. A culture of megalithic temple builders then either supplanted or arose from this early period. During 3500 BC, these people built some of the oldest existing, free-standing structures in the world in the form of the megalithic Ġgantija temples on Gozo; other early temples include those at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra.
The temples have distinctive architecture, typically a complex trefoil design, and were used from 4000 to 2500 BC. Animal bones and a knife found behind a removable altar stone suggest that temple rituals included animal sacrifice.
Tentative information suggests that the sacrifices were made to the goddess of fertility, whose statue is now in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. The culture apparently disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2500 BC. Archaeologists speculate that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease.
Another interesting archaeological feature of the Maltese islands often attributed to these ancient builders, are equidistant uniform grooves dubbed “cart tracks” or “cart ruts” which can be found in several locations throughout the islands with the most prominent being those found in an area of Malta named “Clapham Junction”. These may have been caused by wooden-wheeled carts eroding soft limestone.
After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta. In most cases there are small chambers here, with the cover made of a large slab placed on upright stones.
They are claimed to belong to a population certainly different from that which built the previous megalithic temples. It is presumed the population arrived from Sicily because of the similarity of Maltese dolmens to some small constructions found in the largest island of the Mediterranean sea.
The Megalithic Temples of Malta are the eleven prehistoric monuments, of which seven are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, built during three distinct time periods between 3000 BC and 700 BC approximately. They have been claimed as the oldest free-standing structures on Earth, although the largely buried Göbekli Tepe complex is now believed to be older.
Archaeologists believe that these megalithic complexes are the result of local innovations in a process of cultural evolution. This led to the building of several temples of the Ġgantija phase (3600-3000 BC), culminating in the large Tarxien temple complex, which remained in use until 2500 BC. After this date, the temple building culture disappeared.
El-Ahwat is an archaeological site in the Manasseh region of Israel, located 10 miles east of Caesarea in northwestern Samaria near Katzir. The site was discovered in November 1992 during a survey by archaeologist Adam Zertal. It is considered to be the location of the northwesternmost settlement of the ancient Israelites in the region. The settlement has been dated back to the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Zertal’s hypothesis is that the site, which resembles late Bronze Age sites in Sardinia (Italy), is in fact a Sea Peoples site, namely the Shardana tribe, a seafaring culture from the 12th century, as the architecture of the site is similar to Nuraghe sites in Sardinia.
Zertal dates the site to 1160–1150 BCE, which conforms with the alleged date of the Sea Peoples’ incursion to Israel, and the Biblical conflict between Sisera and Barak ben Avinoam (Judges 4-5).
Zertal suggest that the site may have been the city of Harosheth Haggoyim, mentioned in Judges 4:2 as Sisera’s place of residence. A chariot linchpin found at the site gives further weight to the claim that the site may have been an official residence.