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Title: Geological reconnaissance and provenancing of potential Neolithic lithic sources in the Maltese Islands
Author: Chatzimpaloglou, Petros
ISNI:       0000 0004 8501 2237
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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This study aims to identify the petrological characteristics of Neolithic chert artefacts associated with the Temple Period (c. 4000-2500 cal BC) and their probable sources from the local Maltese chert formation as well as the main possible chert sources in Sicily. Were the chert and flint materials used by prehistoric Maltese peoples obtained from local sources or imported from abroad? In particular, the archaeological literature just assumes that the chert/flint and cultural attributes of the Temple period came from Sicily; this assumption has never been tested or proved. There are also a number of important subsidiary questions which will stem from the implications of this investigation. These include: 1) to what extent were the Maltese people isolated or part of an extended Mediterranean network through trade or exchange relationships; 2) if they were isolated, how would they be able to survive in such a seemingly restricted environment?; 3) if they were more connected to external cultural groups, what was the impact of these connections on Maltese identity?; 4) were they deliberately sourcing raw stone material for specific purposes?; 5) was there a link between the properties of the rocks (quality) with the usage of the rock artefact? and how did Neolithic Maltese people understand and assess rock 'quality'? This last question has further related implications: 6) is the chaîne opératoire the same for all raw stone materials or does the quality and the type of rock have a significant effect on the process? These questions are not all definitively answerable in this thesis, but have a significant bearing on the results of the ERC-funded FRAGSUS project and other archaeological projects dealing with the islands' cultural development. In addition to the above thematic lines of inquiry, this research investigates to what extent a scientific perspective on sourcing lithic artefacts can provide conclusive evidence of resource exploitation sources. Traditional archaeological methodologies for stone sourcing (largely based on macroscopic qualitative assessments) are often subjective and unreliable, or produce un-verifiable results. Therefore, a more scientific methodology designed for examining rock outcrops is a necessary addition to this process, and is the reason why I have selected a methodology based on the geological and petrological properties derived from the geological formation of the rock outcrops. The approach consists of both traditional and new geological techniques, including: a) macroscopic examination, b) Optical and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), c) Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIRS) d) X-ray Fluorescence (XRF), and e) Laser ablation - Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). All of these strands of evidence have contributed to an over-arching chaîne opératoire approach to link source - choice - manufacturing process - tool - use - discard aspects of the life of chert artefacts recovered from several key Neolithic sites in Malta and Gozo, namely from Xagħra Circle, Ġgantija, Taċ-Ċawla, Santa Verna, Kordin and Skorba. Thus a major outcome of this research is to propose a specific methodology for the analysis and sourcing of chert artefacts for the wider Mediterranean region, which can be reliably used in future archaeological projects. To date, the geological and archaeological literature has suggested a long list of potentially informative techniques for sourcing lithic assemblages. However, there has not yet been any investigation which indicates the most informative and reliable combination of appropriate techniques. It is believed that the chosen techniques as applied to the Maltese Islands have produced reliable results on sourcing chert assemblages, as each method approaches a different, yet related quality of the rock. In conclusion, the macroscopic, microscopic and geochemical characteristics of the chert sources and artefact assemblages have suggested a combination of mainly local chert sources during the Temple period of the Neolithic, as well as a more minor component of imported material from Sicily and another unknown source altogether. Moreover, the type of tools and manufacturing techniques have provided strong evidence of a distinct local craft tradition employed on the Maltese Islands during the late Neolithic. It further confirms the interaction with neighbouring societies and gives a possible indication of cultural influence and exchange. Finally, this study has presented a beneficial methodology for lithic analysis for all archaeological researchers working on the provenance of lithic material elsewhere in the Mediterranean area and the wider world.
Supervisor: French, Charles Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Neolithic Malta ; Sourcing lithic assemblages ; Resources networks ; Geological methods ; Geoarchaeology ; Communication between insular societies