New book looks at Ghajnsielem: The first man-made village on earth
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Is Ggantija, as it has frequently been described, really “the oldest man-made building on earth?” Or even the oldest in Europe?
These are just some of the questions being explored in a new book out this week by Revel Barker.
And, according to the book – Ghajnsielem First And Last – being published this Monday about the history of Gozo’s newest parish, the temple is “not even the oldest building in Gozo.”
In fact, what the book says is that the Neolithic sites at L-Imrejzbiet and Tal-Qighan (Borg il-Gharib) should be excavated, on the basis that they are the remains of cottages and houses in which the builders of Ggantija lived.
Writer Revel Barker, a long-term resident of Ghajnsielem, says that they logically pre-date the temple, “which is regularly (but wrongly) described as the oldest free-standing building, anywhere.”
Mr Barker went on to say that, “there is a massive temple in Asian Turkey that is far older than anything that we’ve got. But, closer to home, and more importantly to us, and to Europe, and to our tourist trade, we have sites that could possibly pre-date Ggantija by as much as 2,000 years.”
He also pointed out that archaeologists from universities in Malta, Cambridge and Belfast, all agree that the unexcavated Ghajnsielem sites were where the “temple-builders” lived.
Mr Barker says it “stands to reason that the early settlers built their homes long before they felt the need for any place of communal gathering, before there even was a community, and therefore before they began to build any temple.”
He pointed out that work on Ggantija started around 3600BC. “To put this into an historical context of importance, building is said to have started on Stonehenge some 500 years later, in 3100BC; the oldest Pyramid was built around 2630BC, about 1,000 years more recently.”
But the first settlers arrived on Gozo from Sicily around 5000BC, and maybe several centuries before that date, he said.
According to the writer, they probably built houses of mud and sticks before inventing clay bricks and constructing walls with them.
Mr Barker remarked that a two-room example of such a brick structure was unearthed – literally – during excavations for a house on the main Mgarr road in Ghajnsielem and reported by a local amateur archaeologist. Parts of that settlement are believed to be now under that road.
A short distance away across a flat field, Mr Barker said that the same Neolithic community built what have been identified as “cottages and houses” in stone, possibly while they were living in their “mud huts.”
He added that at the turn of the last century a German archaeologist had remarked on the similarity of the building style with that used to create Ggantija. “It will come as no surprise to anyone to learn that another main road, this time from Xewkija to Qala, was allowed to run straight through this prehistoric village, even over tomb caves,” says Mr Barker. “… “Just as the Mgarr road had been built over part of the clay-built sector of the site.”
In his book he calls for an academic archaeological excavation and examination of both parts of “the first settlements in Ghajnsielem.”
He describes his book as “a slim volume – of necessity because obviously so little is known about pre-history. But hopefully it is sufficiently short and simple enough for people to read and to encourage someone to sit up and pay attention before what is left of this Neolithic village is lost for ever, either to the elements or to commercial interests.”
Ghajnsielem First And Last – will be available on the Gozo ferry and from all good bookshops from tomorrow, Monday, the 30th of October.