Rising from the sea, the mysterious handwork of giants

On the tiny Mediterranean islands of Malta, massive megaliths constitute a singular treasure: the oldest freestanding stone monuments

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Author Robert Wernick journeyed to the three-island nation, 60 miles off the tip of Sicily, to explore a little-known archaeological wonder. Malta is the site of the world's most ancient temple complexes: recent dendrochronological dating has put the age of these monuments at just short of 6,000 years. The islands' limestone megaliths, centuries older than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Egypt, therefore antedate anything we think of as an advanced civilization.

The origins of the Maltese builders, and the substance of their culture, is lost to time. How was it that a colony of isolated settlers subsistence farmers and herders created such enduring grandeur? This question absorbed a team of archaeologists from the Universities of Malta, Cambridge and Bristol for nearly eight years. Their investigations uncovered many treasures, including pots, stone friezes, a wealth of small figurines and an entire burial ground.

Last year, UNESCO placed the Malta temple complexes on its list of irreplaceable world treasures to be preserved at all costs.

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