Human Influence on the Scenery

The first known traces of man in Malta may date from approximately 15000 years ago when Palaeolithic man followed the deer herd migration south as a result of the advancing ice on the continent. At this stage, with a hunter-gatherer culture, man had a very limited effect of his surrounding environment. Definite changes to the environment were only felt when man learned to cultivate the fields and husband animals in the Neolithic phase of his culture. Definite evidence of Neolithic man on the Islands dates to about 7000 years ago. Excavations at Ghar Dalam and Skorba have shown that the first colonisers were people at a Neolithic level of cultural development: they were able to make stone implements, knew the art of pottery making and lived by farming and husbandry.

The Early Neolithic farmers probably had a relatively simple agriculture utilizing a system of shifting agriculture in which land was roughly cleared of vegetation, cultivated for a few years and then abandoned. Carbonized seed analysis have confirmed that Early Neolithic man cultivated barley, wheat, leguminous plants - Lens esculenta (Lentil of Neolithic Anatolian type), two types of wheat - Triticum dicoccum (Emmer wheat) and Triticum compactum (Club wheat), and a hulled variety of barley.

Early Neolithic man also intentionally and unintentionally introduced a number of animal species to the Islands. He brought with him a number of domesticated animal species including pigs, sheep and goats. He also domesticated cattle. At Skorba with its Early - Late Neolithic phases, cattle bones seemed to be more frequent in the deposits of the earlier phases, though overall the commonest bones recovered belonged to goats and sheep. The reason for the change in animal husbandry is related to grazing patterns of the various species. Goats and sheep, unlike cattle, graze very close to the ground thus requiring poorer grazing grounds.

The population on the Islands increased progressively, enough to enable the development of a new culture requiring the building of a significant number of large temples during a period of about 1500 years (c. 4100 - 2500 BC).  The increasing population was supported by a higher agricultural production achieved mainly by utilising the land more intensively, by the reduction of pasture land and woodland, and by shortening the fallow periods in the shifting agricultural system. The Temple Culture farmers relied basically on the same crops that were utilised in the earlier Neolithic period, though there were probably changes in emphasis. There may well have been more interest in crops like the olive and the vine.

Persian Ibex


Wild Boar

Frieze with sacrificial animals from Tarxien Temples

The demands placed on the land made this liable to lose its fertility. Over a period of time, shifting cultivation and heavy grazing altered the natural vegetation and resulted in the clearance of the woodland areas. The woodland apparently disappeared as farming became more intensive and the disturbed land was encroached by plant species best suited for this environment.

The stresses placed on the environment by the increasing agricultual efforts of Late Neolithic man may have contributed to the eventual decline of the community. The Neolithic Temple culture of the Islands of Malta in the Central Mediterranean disappeared around 2500 BC. It appears likely that scarcity of food, with accompanying deaths from malnutrition and disease, broke down the social relationships of the Temple Culture and abandonment of the Islands.

The Islands were again re-populated after a few centuries with Bronze Age communities who apparently relied significantly on husbandry from their livelihood. With the advent of Punic settlers about 2500 years ago, the Islands were subsequently exposed to a continuous trade and cultural contact with the various surrounding Mediterranean lands - a contact that has more or less been maintained until the present time.

The last millennia have seen a progressive increase in the local population, becoming particularly alarming in the last century. The increase in population has made significant demands on the environment and the natural habitat areas. The demands for agricultual land have resulted in a significant depletion of natural soil cover. This has accelerated soil erosion with an increase in the garrique environment area and exposure of the bed rock. In an attempt to decrease soil erosion, the local farmer has introduced a terraced arrangement of his fields - a feature which has had a significant effect of the countryside appearance. He has also undertaken efforts to conserve soil by transporting soil from uncultivated sites to potential agricultural land.

The increasing population has made demands related to housing requirements. Large tracts of land have been gradually changed into residential areas, a process that has required large areas to be dug out as quarries. The building drive has also been contributed to by advancing industrialisation with the building of an extensive road network, industrialsed zones, harbours and breakwaters, airport, etc. The increasing proportion of covered land has had a significant effect on rain-water runoff. The builing of roads and utilization of valleys as building sites, has decreased the land's potential to absorb rain-water giving rise to sudden floods emptying into the sea, with a marked increase in loss of soil. The same process, together with increasing demands, has also helped deplete the water table resulting in an increase in water table salinity. The industrialisation process has also increased air and water pollution with its adverse effects on the environment, and the increase in chemical weathering of the rock.