This Wednesday, Ghajnsielem author Revel Barker will be signing copies of his latest book at the Harbour Craft studio, 8th September Street, Xaghra, Gozo, at 7pm.
The First Gozitans (… and Ggantija) is the title of Barker’s latest book because, according to the author, the people who built the world-famous monuments are deserving of just as much recognition as the structures they built.
He pointed out that they existed, as a number of small and relatively isolated communities, for two thousand years or more before the decision was made to build Ggantija.
“But why did they build it? There is no evidence that they worshipped any God,” says Mr Barker. “If they suddenly found one, where did they get the idea that they needed to build and attend a ‘temple’ in order to communicate with it?”
Church attendance, the author said, is a relatively recent tradition. “The first Christians, for example, used to meet in each other’s houses. The early Gozitans could have done the same.”
Yet more astonishing, he says, is that they decided at the start to build a monument that would last for ever – and take for ever, to build.
“They excavated the largest rocks they could find on the island – giant stones that would each take 50 strong men to move even a short distance – and that were about a mile away from the site. How did they move them? How did they lift them?”Asks Mr Barker.
“The first Gozitans were farmers. They needed to take time off from their near-subsistence farming to help with the building. It must have been impossible for whoever was in charge of construction to know how many people would volunteer their time and their effort on any given day.”
The author remarked that at some early stage it must have occurred to the builders that they would not live to see the completion of the monument they were so carefully building.
“In fact the same realisation must have been obvious to succeeding generations – for construction would take more than a thousand years, starting around 3600BC (before the pyramids, before Stonehenge), and was not even finished when work on it was suddenly and inexplicably abandoned, about 2500BC.”
“How was their enthusiasm maintained, to work on a project that they knew they would never see ending?”
Mr Barker said that the first Gozitans had learnt to sail, and probably been taught basic navigation before they had set off into the unknown from Sicily. They had turned an island of scrubland and stone-covered earth and a few forests into working farmland.
“They started building, first, with twigs and clay, then they invented clay bricks and built houses with them. Then – and, importantly, nobody else that they were aware of had done it before – they started building with bricks,” he said.
“They invented damp-proofing, a form of concrete, plastering, columns, drainage and sloping roofs while the rest of Europe was living in caves or houses built of twigs and moss. They built a boat that could carry cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, a veritable Noah’s Ark.
“These people were intelligent, inquisitive, acquisitive, artistic and astonishingly inventive,” says Revel Barker. “Conditioned by the isolated but socially stable environment into which they had placed themselves they discovered a creative genius that has amazed, and puzzled, the world. Nobody told them how to do any of it, because nobody had done anything like it before.”
The First Gozitans (and Ggantija) will be available this week on the Gozo ferries and at all good bookshops in Malta and Gozo, or, with free postage worldwide, from the Book Depository .