Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Robert H. Tykot, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Pluckhahn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffrey G. Ryan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Davide Tanasi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nicholas Vella, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy White, Ph.D.


prehistory, Malta, central Mediterranean, ceramics, pXRF, chemical analysis


The insular nature of the Maltese archipelago provides a unique opportunity to explore trade and cultural change from the Neolithic to the Bronze Ages in the central Mediterranean. I hypothesize that, during the period in which the Maltese islands were experiencing a form of isolation—owing either to their distance from Sicily and other populated regions, to the collective formation of an inwardly-focused culture, or to a combination of these factors—it is unlikely that pottery played a significant role as either an import or export in the archipelago’s exchange relationships with other communities in the central Mediterranean. I accordingly propose that ceramics were only significant in the interaction networks between Malta and its neighbors during periods when the archipelago was culturally connected to Sicily.

Except for a limited number of archaeometric studies (Barone et al. 2015; Molitor 1988; Mommsen et al. 2006), analysis of similarities among ceramic wares produced in Malta and elsewhere that allow archaeologists to draw conclusions about the nature of Malta’s connectivity to other communities has been based on macroscopic observation. The present study builds on the few archaeometric studies by determining the provenance of ceramic samples based on their trace elemental composition. Included in this study were both clay samples and ceramic artifacts representing each of Malta’s chronological phases from the Neolithic to the Bronze Ages.

Specifically, in order to address the question of the role that pottery played in the prehistoric trade of the Maltese islands, 392 Maltese ceramic sherds were analyzed using a Bruker III-V handheld portable X-ray fluorescence device, which revealed the relative abundance of six trace elements, namely thorium, rubidium, strontium, yttrium, zirconium, and niobium. The trace elemental composition of the Maltese pottery was compared with that of 18 Sicilian ceramic sherds and clay samples from both Malta and Sicily.

The results of this research support my hypothesis in part, suggesting that neither ceramics nor raw clay materials played a significant role in overseas trade during Malta’s period of cultural isolation, which extended from the Ġgantija phase to the end of the Tarxien phase. On the other hand, ceramics played a more active role in Malta’s interaction networks during periods of connectivity with Sicily, for instance in the Neolithic Age. This study also provides the first chemical evidence that Malta exported pottery to Sicily during the Bronze Age and that Malta’s contact with Mycenaeans was indirect in nature. The findings presented here thus contribute to understanding Malta’s role in trade and interaction networks from the Neolithic to the Bronze Ages and point to new approaches to exploring the cultural change that becomes apparent in the Maltese Temple Period.