This is an intriguing case that I had somehow overlooked until recently. The Hypogeum, which was discovered by chance in 1902, holds a fascinating history. Construction workers, engaged in cutting cisterns for a new housing development, stumbled upon it when they inadvertently broke through its roof.
The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum had remained sealed off for thousands of years, believed to have been constructed between 3300-3000 BC. It served as a sanctuary and necropolis, housing the remains of over 7,000 people (initially reported as 30,000 people) densely concentrated at its entrance. Archaeologists have documented this remarkable site, which stands as one of the best-preserved examples of the Maltese temple building culture. It is closely associated with the Megalithic Temples and the Xagħra Stone Circle.
It’s said the workers tried to hide the temple at first, but eventually it was found.
The study of the structure was first conducted by Manuel Magri, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Museums Committee, starting from November 1903. During the excavations, a portion of the contents of the Hypogeum, including grave goods and human remains, were emptied out and discarded without being properly catalogued. To confound things further, Magri died in 1907 while conducting missionary work in Tunisia and his report on the Hypogeum was lost.
Why is it that the initial discoveries from significant findings like these frequently go missing? There’s some heavy duty cover ups going on with the hypogeum and the reasons are unknown.Shadow Hunter
Excavation continued under Sir Themistocles Zammit, who attempted to salvage what he could. I’m Zammit began publishing a series of reports in 1910 and continued excavating until 1911, depositing his findings at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. The Hypogeum was first opened to visitors in 1908 while the excavations were ongoing.
The four houses built on the site of the hypogeum were demolished to build the museum. Real attempts to preserve the site started in 1991 when it closed for a decade to arrange it for visits. In 2011, a more intensive program was launched to monitor the decay of the site.
It’s sort of odd that every time a new investigation begins, it eventually leads to prolonged closure from public access? Could it be that they stumble upon something undisclosed they wish to keep hidden from public view?Shadow Hunter
The Hypogeum reopened in May 2017 after closing for a year to improve its environmental management system.
Later archeological excavations indicate there was once a surface shrine that marked the entrance to the Hypogeum, with its subsequent destruction likely shielding the lower structure from discovery for thousands of years.
Nothing remains of any potential enclosure that would have marked the entry to the Hypogeum.
The underground structure may have originated from a natural cave, expanded over time by cutting directly into the rock with crude tools including antlers, flint, chert and obsidian. Burial chambers in the upper level of the Hypogeum date from the early phases of the Maltese Temple Period, with lower chambers dating from later.
The site may have first been used as early as 4000 BC, and was likely used until around 2500 BC, based on pottery sample analysis and examination of human remains.
The temple structure uses a careful direction of light from the surface to penetrate into the lower chambers, with intricate patterns painted on portions of the ceiling with red ocher, following motifs of spots, spirals and honeycombs. One of the main chambers, called “The Holy of Holies”, appears to be oriented such that light from the winter soltice illuminated its facade from the original opening above.
A resonance niche cut in the middle chamber, called the Oracle Room, was possibly designed to project chanting or drumming throughout the rest of the Hypogeum.
A broad range of objects were recovered from the site, including intricately decorated pottery vessels, stone and clay beads, shell buttons, axe-heads, and carved figures depicting humans and animals. The most notable discovery was the Sleeping Lady, a clay figure thought to represent a goddess.
The remains of some 7,000(as I said this number was originally 30,000 , now it’s been lowered to 100) individuals were found in the Hypogeum, and though many of the bones were lost early in excavation, most of the skulls were deposited at the National Museum. A small percentage of the skulls have an abnormal cranial elongation, similar to priestly skulls from Ancient Egypt, fueling speculation about the people who occupied the Hypogeum, and their practices and beliefs
Until 1985, the unearthed skulls were on display at the National Museum of Archaeology. Strangely, Heritage Malta, the authority responsible for Malta’s prehistoric heritage, removed them from public view around 30 years ago, and, since then, they have only been available to researchers by special permission.
Heritage Malta outright dismisses some theories which have been floating about, related to ‘serpent priests’ or ‘alien skulls’. Fair enough, the theories – despite the curious evidence – only exist within the realm of speculation. But, in 2017, Heritage Malta set out to completely ‘bust the myth’ regarding the elongated skulls at the refurbished Visitors Centre at the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. Why so much effort to dissuade anyone from believing that anything extraordinary had been found down there?
Photos and books by Dr Anton Mifsud and his colleague Dr Charles Savona Ventura, who first investigated the skulls, testify to their existence and abnormality. Vittorio Di Cesare and Adriano Forgione of HERA magazine, Rome, Italy were the only non-officials able to obtain permission to investigate the skulls. They published a very thorough article regarding their findings and it would seem that they were very impressed.
Most interesting to them was the skullcap with the lengthened posterior. Their research confirmed that the cranium was naturally long and not as a result of bandaging or boards, as was customary in ancient South American civilizations. And, they couldn’t find evidence of median knitting, technically named sagitta, which is considered ‘impossible’ by medics and anatomists. Di Cesare and Forgione also did not discount that this find was particular to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. They went on, in their article, to draw parallels and conclusions related to the Egyptian culture and so-called ‘serpent priests
From an examination of the skeletons of the polished-stone age, it appears that the early inhabitants of Malta were a race of long-skulled people of lower medium height, akin to the early people of Egypt, who spread westward along the north coast of Africa, whence some went to Malta and Sicily and others to Sardinia and Spain.”National Geographic June 1920
Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, Denisovans, Modern Man … are the ‘long heads’ a hybrid species? A different species? Aliens? What is certain is that they were real and apparently revered as gods such that modern human beings purposefully mutilated themselves to look like them. Yet, instead of capitalising on this find, Malta hides away the ‘long-headed’ skulls and dismisses any notion that they could bear any special importance. Just…odd!
So while Heritage Malta shrugs off the extraordinary find in the depths of the earth at the Hypogeum, Belgian author Philip Coppens, who focuses on fringe science and alternative history, and others around the world, continue to raise interesting questions. Such as:
- Why were the reports of Emmanuel Magri, the first official excavator of the site, never published? Why, upon his death in 1907, had all of his notebooks on the excavation disappeared?
- Why, when it was originally reported that the bones of 33,000 people were found, was this figure later changed to 7,000, and then reduced again to a mere 100?
- Why were the elongated skulls removed from public view in 1985? Why are they now only available to researchers? Why are only six of the original eleven still at the museum? Where are the others?
- Why was the Hypogeum of Santa Lucia sealed off and never excavated since it was discovered in 1973?
- Why was the Brockdorff Circle – a hypogeum in Gozo – buried and forgotten after it was discovered in 1820, only to be rediscovered in 1964? And why did it take until 1987 and 1994 to properly excavate it? What might have gone missing since the 19th Century?
- Could there be any truth to the tales of strange giant humanoids dwelling in hidden caverns below the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum? Is there any truth to the tales of disappearing children? What could be the reason for the cover-ups?