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Decoding the Megaliths Volume 57 Number 4, July/August 2004
by Mark Rose

A young scholar searches for the meaning of Malta's megaliths.

It was a baptism by fire," recalls Reuben Grima of his first real assignment out of college. The Hypogeum, a vast 5,500-year-old burial complex carved into Malta's limestone bedrock, was threatened by water seepage and the corrosive effects of carbon dioxide exhaled by tourists. That was in the 1980s. During the 1990s, Grima was involved with a project supported by UNESCO, which had designated the subterranean monument a World Heritage site, to address these problems.

Grima was one of the first students in the University of Malta's archaeology program, launched in the late 1980s. It was a pivotal time, as the country embarked on efforts to develop a homegrown archaeology and heritage service after years of relying on British and Italian colleagues. Today with Heritage Malta, which oversees the country's archaeological and cultural assets, Grima is the curator for a number of the country's most important Late Neolithic (3600 to 2500 B.C.) temple sites, including the six that make up the combined Megalithic Temples of Malta entry on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Looking after these monuments is, he frankly admits, completely out of scale with the resources now available to deal with it. "One of the main challenges," he says, "is to build a team that is well equipped to deal with the issues posed by the management of these sites." At present, Grima is part of a core group, along with Katya Stroud, a young archaeologist specializing in conservation and management of the temple sites, and Mario Galea, an experienced conservator, that relies on specialists and university and government colleagues.

When not consumed by his day job--looking after Malta's World Heritage sites--Grima does his own research, much of which is focused on understanding the megalithic sites. Having taken a year at the University of Reading in England in the mid 1990s for his M.A., he is now completing his Ph.D. at the Institute of Archaeology in London, focusing on the landscape context of the Maltese megalithic structures and on public understanding of archaeological sites and landscapes. At present, he is finishing his dissertation during his free time: evenings and weekends. In trying to get his mind around the megaliths, Grima has come up with some innovative suggestions.

Mark Rose is executive editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America