Maltese chert: An archaeological perspective on raw material and lithic technology in the central Mediterranean

By: Huw S. Groucutt

The Maltese Islands in the central Mediterranean are renowned for their prehistoric archaeological record, particularly the megalithic ‘temples’ and associated ceramics and artwork. The temples were built by a society lacking metal technology, who relied on stone and organic materials. Knapped stone tool (lithic) technology, to produce sharp edged tools for tasks like cutting, hide working, and wood shaping offers insights into human behaviour in Malta, as well as into themes of exchange and connectivity. As well as imported chert and obsidian, local chert was widely used to make stone tools in prehistoric Malta. The local chert has generally been described as low-quality, yet relatively little research has been conducted on its distribution, characteristics, and use. In this paper I report a survey of chert sources, identifying a wider distribution of chert outcrops along the west coast of Malta than previously discussed. Some general macroscopic properties are outlined, as well as aspects of variability in the chert sources. Knapping experiments were then conducted on samples of chert collected, allowing clarification of its characteristics. These observations are used to offer some insights into lithic technology in Neolithic and Temple Period Malta, such as the hypothesis that the high frequencies of multidirectional flake production and subsequent ‘scraper retouch’ reflect adaptations to the characteristics of local chert.

Malta Archaeological Review 2022, issue 13,
Received: 9 Augist 2021 | Accepted: 25 July 2022 | Published online: 5 December 2022