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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Robin Skeates

Skeates, R. (2017). Soundscapes of Temple Period Malta. Time and Mind 10(1): 61-67.

Author(s) from Durham


During the later prehistoric Temple Period (c. 3400–2500 bc) we can begin to discriminate some of the diverse sounds and soundscapes that characterized the Maltese Islands. For example, we can imagine the sounds of the early farming communities, particularly in relation to the architecturally bounded spaces of their dwelling places. These combined the background noise of the subtly distinct island environment with the foreground noise familiar living things and routine activities (for example, the voices of children, women and men, barking dogs, bleating sheep and goats, buzzing flies, scratching hoes, crackling hearths, the slap of daubed clay). This dynamic blend of sound contributed to the islanders’ evolving sense of home. But communication through sound – presumably including music (for which we have no primary archaeological evidence for prehistoric Malta) – really came to the fore during dramatic ritual performances inside and outside the resonant, enclosed, and relatively dark spaces of the stone-walled tombs and monumental shrines (or ‘temples’) of the Temple Period. Here, a high premium is likely to have been attached to the right sounds and words (for example, music, rhetoric, echoes) made and heard at the right times by the right people, instruments, or perceived spiritual forces. These ritual sounds would have intensified the drama of the ceremonies, whilst serving as agents in their control.