The exploration of archaeological monuments in the early modern period is often recounted as a necessary but rather erratic prelude to the more scientific achievements of archaeology since the mid-19th century. The contribution of early antiquarians is often undervalued as a result. Their contribution was often startlingly original, and deserves re-evaluation in light of current debates about archaeological resources as a public good.
This lecture will focus on the networks of knowledge and practices between the epicentre of antiquarian activity in Rome, and the Maltese archipelago, out on the periphery, south of Sicily. In spite of their remote location, the megalithic monuments of Malta were the subject of scholarly debate from the early seventeenth century onwards. The rich fossil deposits in Malta’s sedimentary limestone, as well as the tradition of Saint Paul’s shipwreck on the island, also became the subject of scholarly polemic.
An influential figure in this intellectual landscape was Giovanni Francesco Abela, whose career spanned the first half of the seventeenth century. His cabinet of antiquities became the core of Malta’s national archaeological collection. He studied the history, archaeology, toponyms and natural history of the archipelago, while conversing with some of the more notable scholars in Europe. His monumental book describing the archipelago, its archaeology and its history had a lasting influence. Although quite neglected until very recently, Abela is now attracting a new wave of scholarly attention. This lecture will build on recent work to re-examine the worldviews and understanding of the archaeological landscape invented by Abela and his contemporaries, and to investigate how this new way of thinking about the historic environment may have percolated into more popular outlooks and narratives.
Dr Reuben Grima is a senior lecturer in the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage at the University of Malta, where he lectures mainly in cultural heritage management. He read for his PhD in archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, while holding a Commonwealth Scholarship. Before joining the University of Malta, he held various curatorial roles at Malta’s National Museum of Archaeology. From 2003 to 2011, he served as Heritage Malta’s Senior Curator responsible for Malta’s two prehistoric World Heritage Sites, namely the Megalithic Temples of Malta and the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. More recently, he was a research team member of the FRAGSUS project, funded by the European Research Council to investigate fragility and stability in restricted island environments. His current research interests include cultural landscapes, the history of archaeology, and public engagement with the past.