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Malta to promote its tentative WHS for 50th Anniversary since becoming a UNESCO Member

 
 
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Author clyde
Partaker
#1 | Posted: 17 Feb 2014 13:12 

Author meltwaterfalls
Partaker
#2 | Posted: 18 Feb 2014 05:18 
Well at least I have the advantage of having visited the two candidates picked out there. Mdina and Citadella (Gozo).

I rather liked Mdina, I'm not sure if it would add much to the list but it certainly was a lovely place to head to. Citadella felt like a slightly small, slightly less interesting version of Mdina, so I'm not sure if it would have much luck, but perhaps I'm missing something important.

Author clyde
Partaker
#3 | Posted: 18 Feb 2014 09:19 
I think Mdina has more chances of being inscribed in the future when compared to Cittadella. There are interesting buildings built by the Normans so it would contribute to bolstering the current WHS list. I don't want to sound to nationalistic but I think Mdina is truly deserving of WH status especially when considering other medinas from the Mediterranean that are already inscribed.

Author meltwaterfalls
Partaker
#4 | Posted: 18 Feb 2014 10:45 
clyde:
I think Mdina is truly deserving of WH status

I'm with you on that. It was very nice and certainly the equal of other sites that are already inscribed. Malta has quite a bit to offer in a rather small package.

Author clyde
Partaker
#5 | Posted: 18 Feb 2014 14:57 
I don't live in Malta now, but I always enjoy revisiting the 2 out of the 3 WHS it has to offer. Last year I also revisited the Hypogeum to refresh my memory since it had been quite a while since my last visit there!

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#6 | Posted: 21 Feb 2014 12:02 | Edited by: Solivagant 
clyde:
I also revisited the Hypogeum to refresh my memory


Clyde,
Could I ask if you can shed any light on the issue I raise in my review of the Hypogeum. Namely why it is so widely described as being "Bronze Age" - from the 1980 (very early!!) AB evaluation onwards (but I suspect always copied from that early description). See Solivagant - http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/halsaflienihypogeum.html
So, the UNESCO WEb site states
"This unique monument dates back to early antiquity (about 2500 BC) and it is the only known example of a subterranean structure of the Bronze Age." My Bold!

I am in possession of the excellent brochure for the site produced by the National Museum of Archaeology (Ed Anthony Pace) and it doesn't seem to consider it "Bronze Age". See also this Wiki entry for "Saflieni period" (yes I know that Wiki can be wrong but it doesn't seem to be so in this case!)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saflieni_phase
The time / phase chart used in the above Wiki article is exactly the same as that in the Pace brochure.

If the UNESCO description etc is incorrect it is surprising that Malta should allow it to continue being so!

Author clyde
Partaker
#7 | Posted: 21 Feb 2014 14:54 
Hi Solivagant,

Interesting and tricky question indeed. I'm no archaeologist or specialist but I will try to put forward my take which might partially answer your question (I hope!).

Due to the fact that Malta has quite a vast array of Neolithic sites that date back to 5000-2500BC and less Bronze Age remains, the fact that bronze remains were found in this site and the fact that it dates back "only" to 2500 BC might have led to this decision by Maltese archaeologists and foreign archaeologists working in Malta.

The Bronze Age (also from wiki) can be divided into 3 periods: Early Bronze Age (EBA) 3300-2100 BC, Middle/Intermediate Bronze Age 2100-1550 BC, and Late Bronze Age 1550-1200 BC.

So I think it makes sense to consider the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni (2500 BC) as Bronze Age or Early Bronze Age.
It clearly is a unique site with similarities from the Neolithic Age but the fact that it was built underground (perhaps making use of metallic tools and where indeed bronze remains were found (if I'm not mistaken no bronze items were found in the Neolithic sites in Malta and Gozo) would make it more of a Bronze Age site than a Neolithic Age site.

The Neolithic Age in Malta is divided in 2 periods:

5000-4100 BC Cave Dwellers + Stone Circles
4100-3200 BC Temple Period - Megalithic Temples

Between 3200 and 2500 BC, suddenly no more temples were built and no remains were found. The main theories seem to be inclined towards stating that the megalithic temple builders of the Neolithic Age died out or disappeared from the Maltese islands, possibly due to a natural disaster, a disease, or they simply left the islands for good.

The fact that the Hypogeum was built in 2500 BC, in a completely different style when compared to the Neolithic Temples (it is built underground, quite away from the sea, no solar/astronomical features, acoustic characteristics, different stone remains, bronze remains, etc) and a few steps away from other Bronze Age remains were found seem quite convincing arguments to me to consider this site as a Bronze Age site rather than a Neolithic site.

Perhaps it would have been more apt to consider it as "the only prehistoric underground structure" that was built in a transition period between the Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age but at the end of the day time/phase charts or classifications/groupings are always arbitrary since they are man-made!

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#8 | Posted: 21 Feb 2014 16:14 | Edited by: Solivagant 
clyde:
The fact that the Hypogeum was built in 2500 BC


Thanks for trying Clyde but I don't "buy it". The Hypogeum contains 3 levels from different periods - Upper level (3600-3300 BC), Middle level (3300-3000 BC) and Lower level (3150 -2500 BC). It certainly was not "built in 2500BC"

The arrival of the Bronze Age in Malta (which needs to be differentiated from the timing of the Bronze age elsewhere) was a major change point (and not a good example of the gradual transition which makes it particulalrly difficult to assign arbitrary "man made" periods) and older structures such as Tarxien Temples clearly show the superimposition of a completely different culture with different funerary practices. In particular the Early Bronze age in Malta utilised Cremation.

Mr Pace, who is currently Malta's "Superintendant of Cultural Heritage" having been Director of Museums Department makes it quite clear that the Temple Phase (during which the Hypogeum was constructed across all its phases) is not even early Bronze Age in Malta. On page 20 of his book about the Hypogeum (ISBN 978-99932-27-00-7) he states (after describing the construction of all the earlier levels through to the Tarxien Phase of the Neolithic "Temple Period" which latter phase included "above ground" extensions)
"The FINAL (my caps and bold) phases during which the Hypogeum was in use are not so well understood. Notions of culture change involving the passage from the Late Neolithic to the Bronze age are still conditioned by the lack of information.... The entire culture of the temple period, the arts, buildings, monuments, aesthetics, religious beliefs and burial customs seem to have gone out of use.... The recent excavations at the Hypogeum show that the monument sustained a level of activity during the Tarxien Cemetary Bronze Age (2500 BC) The evidence raises a number of questions especially with regard to the respect of the ancient underground cemetery during the new age of metals. To date the cremation cemetery overlying part of the Tarxien temples a few hundred metres away from the Hypogeum suggests a total departure from the old burial customs that had marked the enitre span of the Late Neolithic"

So, although the Maltese Early Bronze age cultures made use of the earlier temples
a. That use is not yet really understood and could NOT have been a major factor in the case for the inscription of the Hypogeum which must depend on the main periods of construction and use of the monument rather than on some only partially understood late uses.
b. The Hypogeum itself is clearly a Neolithic structure from the Maltese Temple period which pre-dates the Bronze age in both technology and in human practices and beliefs.

I still believe that there is a major discrepancy between what the AB evaluation and the UNESCO Web site say about the Hypogeum and the reality of its historical status as stated by experts in the subject - "This unique monument dates back to early antiquity(about 2500 BC). It is the only known example of a subterranean structure of the Bronze age" (AB eval).

You hint that maybe Malta didn't want to nominate too many Neolithic sites - of course Ggantija was inscribed in the same year but that TOO was described as being from the Bronze age in its AB evaluation!!

Author clyde
Partaker
#9 | Posted: 21 Feb 2014 17:43 
By no means was I hinting that my reasoning/explanation was the correct one but it's what is taught at school in Malta.

Either way, I personally believe that really deserves its place in the WH list as a separate inscription from the Megalithic temples and it's my personal favorite in Malta because it is shrouded in mystery.

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#10 | Posted: 28 Feb 2014 08:43 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Solivagant:
Namely why it is so widely described as being "Bronze Age" - from the 1980 (very early!!) AB evaluation onwards (but I suspect always copied from that early description). See Solivagant - http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/halsaflienihypogeum.html
So, the UNESCO WEb site states
"This unique monument dates back to early antiquity (about 2500 BC) and it is the only known example of a subterranean structure of the Bronze Age." My Bold!


Further to this matter
a. I Googled the name of a Maltese Archaeological academic and sent him the question.
b. He responded and gave me the e-mail of a member of the Maltese Civil Service responsible in this area.

Here are their 2 answers. Nb my question was phrased to relate to BOTH Hal Saflieini AND Ggantija which suffer equally from "Bronze Age obsession"!!
a. "You are right in saying that the temples and the hypogeum should belong to the Late Neolithic which, in our case, goes from 3600-2500 BC for the Temple Period. I do not understand why the Bronze Age features in this. I ask you to write to the Senior Curator of Prehistoric Sites at Heritage Malta who might know more about the issue."
Followed by
b. "You are perfectly right that the sites are Neolithic and that the information on the UNESCO website is incorrect. Heritage Malta , who is responsible for the management of the sites has informed UNESCO and provided corrected texts to be uploaded on their website but we are still waiting for this update to take place."

Of course it wasn't simply the UNESCO Web site which was incorrect but the ICOMOS evaluation of 1980!!! This latter is a "matter of record" which cannot simply be changed.

Author clyde
Partaker
#11 | Posted: 28 Feb 2014 09:30 
Great for trivia and I'm glad you got a more qualified answer, but I would be greatly surprised to see any changes anytime soon!

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#12 | Posted: 28 Feb 2014 09:38 | Edited by: Solivagant 
It is a wonderful example of how "incorrect" information gets transmitted.
a. Somehow ICOMOS gets the wrong end of the stick back in 1980
b. Its "evaluation" with this incorrect information is scanned and published on the UNESCO Web iste
c. Someone in UNESCO copies it a few years later when they are given the job of creating some text for the introduction of every inscribed site
d. Collins carry it forward in their flagship book on WHS from 2009 (I didn't pick that one up when I did a proof read of it at their request after the first edition got criticised for errors on this Web site!!) - and onto every edition since then
e. The "Web" is full of sites which have copied this information and presented it as "fact" on their own sites e.g http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology-mysterious-phenomena/experts- unravel-sound-effects-malta-s-hypogeum-hal

A cautionary tale of the need to double, triple check "facts" as given out on the Web!

clyde:
but I would be greatly surprised to see any changes anytime soon!

I have been told "We are sending our contact point for Mediterranean World Heritage Sites at UNESCO a reminder about this issue. We suspect that they are awaiting the final approval of the revised Statements of Outstanding Universal Value for each site before they update the information on their website,"

Author clyde
Partaker
#13 | Posted: 28 Feb 2014 14:38 
so true! let's hope they correct the mistake soon then ;)

Author Durian
Partaker
#14 | Posted: 17 Jun 2016 20:11 
Dear Clyde,

Planning to go to Malta this end of the year, but note that Hypogeum is closed indifinite until the preservation work is done. Can you find any infornation when they will open again so I can book a ticket.

Author clyde
Partaker
#15 | Posted: 18 Jun 2016 05:08 | Edited by: clyde 
Hi Durian,

The closing dates were postponed countless times it seems and the hypogeum works actually just started in June 2016. According to the latest information, the hypogeum will remain closed till January 2017 (although there is a proviso stating that should there be the need this period could be extended further). The latest information is (unfortunately) given on Heritage Malta's facebook page. My personal bet would be that tickets will be available once again from spring-summer 2017.

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 Malta to promote its tentative WHS for 50th Anniversary since becoming a UNESCO Member

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