European Research Council Projects

European Research Council Funded Project | 10 March, 2017

FRAGSUS Project: Fragility and Sustainability in Restricted Island Environments

Caroline Malone Professor Caroline Malone
School of Natural and Built Environment
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The FRAGSUS project explores the life of the Neolithic Temple population, who settled in Malta between 5500BC and 2400BC, and focuses on how the prehistoric people responded to and exploited the limited resources of a remote island environment.

Learning from island civilisations

 temple ruins site in Malta

The two islands Malta and Gozo, together known as Malta are smaller than Lough Neagh. The Temple people established their civilisation on one of Europe’s most remote islands where possibly 10,000 people developed a unique civilisation lasting for some 3000 years. A lot of questions around this prehistoric period prevail and are focused on an island world: 

    • How did a small island community in prehistoric times manage to sustain life over thousands of years?
    • What was the impact of human settlement on the island?
    • What happened to the Temple population? Did the civilisation collapse and if so, why?
    • What lessons can be drawn about living in a remote island with limited resources?

Professor Caroline Malone

An archaeologist and anthropologist, Caroline has been carrying out research in Malta since 1987, and was part of the first team of archaeologists to undertake work since Malta was declared independent in 1964.

The collaborative approach has enabled the project to bring a range of expertise as well as the use of cutting-edge technology together to uncover some of the long prevailing mysteries associated with this remote period.

Unravelling Mysteries of the Prehistoric period

The Temple people travelled in dugout canoes or rafts across 50 miles of treacherous sea from Sicily, loaded with plants and animals that would enable them to sustain life on the island. 

A small island with a steep unstable landscape begs the question, ‘how did this prehistoric community manage to sustain dense, complex life over thousands of years and what social, economic and ritual controls emerged to enable this?’

Cutting edge techniques that analyse soil and pollen show how rapidly the process of deforestation, erosion and degradation occurred when humans first colonised the islands. The study seeks to understand if and how the Temple population adapted their subsistence practices to overcome the harsh environmental challenges in order to secure their civilisation, or whether their practices led to the destruction of the Temple Culture.

 “Looking at a small island is a test case or laboratory to find out what happened in the past and therefore what might happen in future.” Caroline Malone, Principal Investigator

Presenting the Past 

Collaboration has been key to this project with academics and students from numerous countries getting involved in the work. The public will have the opportunity to view many of the artefacts and remains, which will be exhibited at the National Museum of Archaeology in Malta next March-April in celebration of Valletta, European Capital of Culture 2018.

Aspects of the Maltese Temple period have been incorporated into teaching at Queen’s University Belfast which has inspired four students to undertake their doctorates in this field.  Areas of research include terraces, human remains, ritual and rock, ensuring that the learning and legacy of this prehistoric era lives on, impacting on future generations.

“A good ERC project isn’t just about now. It’s looking at the past and hopefully developing the future as well.” Caroline Malone, Principal Investigator"

More on the advances being made at the FRAGSUS Project

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