General pathology in the Circle: biocultural insights into population health, trauma and care in Neolithic Malta
The ERC-funded FRAGSUS Project (Fragility and sustainability in small island environments: adaptation, culture change and collapse in prehistory, 2013–18) led by Caroline Malone has focused on the unique Temple Culture of Neolithic Malta and its antecedents. This third volume builds on the achievements of Mortuary customs in prehistoric Malta, published by the McDonald Institute in 2009. It seeks to answer many questions posed, but left unanswered, of the more than 200,000 fragments of mainly commingled human remains from the Xagħra Brochtorff Circle on Gozo. The focus is on the interpretation of a substantial, representative subsample of the assemblage, exploring dentition, disease, diet and lifestyle, together with detailed understanding of chronology and the affinity of the ancient population associated with the ‘Temple Culture’ of prehistoric Malta. The first studies of genetic profiling of this population, as well as the results of intra-site GIS and visualization, taphonomy, health and mobility, offer important insights into this complex mortuary site and its ritual. Remarkable evidence on the bioanthropology of care practised by these populations, together with a relatively low level of interpersonal violence, and examples of longevity, reveal new aspects about the Neolithic Maltese. Detailed case studies employing computerized tomography describe disease such as =scurvy and explore dietary issues, whilst physical activity and body size have been assessed through biomechanical analysis, supported by taphonomic study, isotopic analyses, a review of mortuary practices during prehistory and a robust new chronology. The results form a rich contextualized body of material that advances understanding of cultural change within the context of small island insularity, and provides biological comparisons for the graphic figurative art of early Malta. These data and the original assemblage are conserved in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta as a resource for future study.