100 Years Ago: May 1920
Note: This is the sixty-fourth installment in my series of reviews of one-hundred-year-old National Geographic magazines.
The first articles in this month’s issue is entitled “Common Mushrooms of the United States” and was written by Louis C. C. Krieger. This article is another in the series of “Nature-study numbers” which I refer to as field guides. The cover notes “53 Illustrations”, however there are fifty-four. Of these illustrations thirty-six are black-and-white photographs (seven full-page), two are sketches, and the remainder are sixteen full-page drawings, or plates, that are documented on the cover.
The field guide has an italicized preface; an introduction; entries for each mushroom including common name, genus and species, and description; and the color plates. In each entry there is a reference to the color plate numeral. This eliminates the need for an index. Most entries also note whether the mushroom in question was edible or not. The captions below the photographs have the page numbers of the associated entries thus tying these images into the field guide as well. In all twenty-six species of mushrooms are described in detail.
The preface states that the National Geographic was continuing its policy of publishing these types of articles with their illustrations in color “which stimulate a keener interest in and a more satisfying enjoyment of the glories and wonders of Nature’s forests, plains, and hills”. The paintings and descriptions are by L. C. C. Krieger, who was associated with Dr. Howard A. Kelly, of Baltimore. The delicacy of coloring and variety of hues will amaze the reader. This field guide joins many other numbers such as “Birds of Town and Country”, “America’s Game Birds”, “Mankind’s Best Friend – The Dog”, “Our State Flowers”, and “Wild Animals of North America” to name a few. Readers are cautioned that this guide must not be used as final authority in deciding whether a particular specimen is edible or poisonous. Also, this article is being amplified with much technical data and can be obtained separately, bound in cloth, at $3.00 per copy, postpaid.
More than thirty-eight million pounds of edible mushrooms were imported into the country during the five years immediately prior to the World War. In addition, the large output of American growers was consumed, as well as quantities of wild species. The species imported from France included the common meadow mushroom, the expensive truffle, and the cepe. China sent certain species largely for the use of her own people resident among us.
The wild species marketed could not be ascertained, since there was no legal control of the sale of mushrooms obtained in most cities of Europe. Gatherers in the U. S. either ate their finds themselves or sold them to any mushroom-hungry individual. From personal observation and perusal of the popular literature, the author judged that the following species most frequently found their way into the kitchen: the field mushroom, the common meadow mushroom, the Parasol mushroom, the oyster mushroom, ink-caps, “fairy-ring” mushrooms, puff balls, and, of course, Morels.
Since the establishment of mushroom or mycological clubs in some large U. S. cities, considerable interest had been aroused, with the result that members had learned to recognize many of the lesser known, yet safe, species. The war had also had an effect. It caused food shortages and high prices. People turned to hitherto unknown sources of food supply, including wild mushrooms.
Mr. Krieger compared asking a person to gather his own mushrooms for the table without instructions on which kinds to avoid to asking that person to stick their arm into a den of rattlesnakes. He went on to say that the latter would be safer since there were two known antidotes to rattlesnake venom, whereas there are none for the poison of the very common Amanita phalloides. Poisonous serpents and fungi were associated in the minds of man from early times. Pliny theorized that serpents breathed upon the mushrooms as they opened thus making them poisonous. Beliefs like one from Italy still persisted. The superstition said that by dropping a silver coin into the stew you could tell it the mushroom in it were poisonous. If the coin turned black, they were poisonous.
Newspapers occasionally published “general rules” for identifying mushrooms that were often misleading. General rules for the guidance of mushroom-hunters were trustworthy and serviceable only when formulated by experienced botanists. The late Dr. W. G. Farlow, Professor of Cryptogamic Botany in Harvard University set down six rules to avoid eating poisonous species:
(1) Avoid fungi when in the button, or unexpanded stage; also, those in which the flesh has begun to decay, even if only slightly.
(2) Avoid all fungi which have death cups, stalks with a swollen base surrounded by a sac-like or scaly envelope, especially if the gills are white.
(3) Avoid fungi having a milky juice, unless the milk is reddish.
(4) Avoid fungi in which the cap, or pileus, is thin in proportion to the gills, and in which the gills are nearly all of equal length, especially if the pileus is bright-colored.
(5) Avoid all tube-bearing fungi in which the flesh changes color when cut or broken, or where the mouths of the tubes are reddish, and in the case of other tube-bearing fungi experiment with caution.
(6) Fungi which have a sort of spider’s web or flocculent ring round the upper part of the stalk should in general be avoided.
Rules 1, 2, and 5 for the beginner were to be regarded as absolute with the exception to rule 2 for Amanita caesarea, the gills of which are yellow. Rules 3, 4, and 6 had more numerous exceptions, but should be followed unless the collector was content to experiment, and then with very small quantities. Other rules that would help to protect from serious poisoning included not collecting mushrooms in or near wooded areas except for study purposes; not accepting from a self-styled expert, learn the subject yourself; the fact that an animal had eaten a mushroom doesn’t mean it was edible for man; and soaking or boiling in water does not render a poisonous mushroom edible.
Within rotting tree trunks and decaying leaves could be found fine treads, usually white in color. These threads were loosely scattered, compact in a dense meshwork, or spread out in a flat sheet. These threads were known as “mycelium” to the botanist and “spawn” to mushroom growers. Mushrooms grew from these threads, but not how a tree grows from its roots, but rather the threads the mycelium was the plant, and the mushroom the fruit. Every mushroom species arose from a mycelium of its own; but species were distinguished by the fruit-body (the mushroom). The mycelium rarely could be distinctly identified.
The forms of mushrooms were extremely varied, but all had in common the ripening and liberation of microscopic spores, by means of which the species were enabled to spread over a wide area. Spores of different species had different colors. If the expanded cap of a common meadow mushroom were placed on a sheet of paper, gill side down, under the cover of a finger bowl for an hour, a beautiful deposit (“spore-print”) was made of the microscopic purple-brown spores. Amanita had white spores; Volvaria’s spores were reddish or pinkish; Pholiotas and Cortinarii had spores of brownish yellow, rust brown, or cinnamon; and Coprinus and Panaeolus had spores of black.
The Fungi, a class of plants of which mushrooms were the most familiar examples, played an important influence on the higher forms of life. A parasite on plants, animals, and man, they caused large scale destruction. On the other hand, as scavengers and rock-disintegrators they did work that was basic to the very existence of life. Rock was the raw material for the farmer’s soil. Weather changes – heat, cold, rain, snow, and ice – started the breaking up process to turn stone to soil. Along with them, lichens began their work. Dry, crusty things, these plants produced an acid that crumbled the hardest rock. Rains washed these particles downhill. The remains of dead lichens added to the debris to form the first soil in which other lichens and plants grew. Gradually, with infinite patience, Nature deposited soil in the valleys. Ages of work by soil bacteria and other fungi produced the rich soil needed for the farmers to grow their grains and vegetables.
Yeast, another fungus, was used in the making of bread. The good housewife would dissolve it in water, added it to the dough, kneaded and set aside the now leavened bread, and waited overnight. The following morning the bread had risen. The bread was kneaded again and baked. The yeast cells had done their work. Multiplying rapidly, they consumed sugar and produced copious amounts of carbon dioxide, which in turn made bubbles thus distending and lightening the dough.
If bread were left in a moist place it would mold. Molds, like bacteria and yeast fungi, were ever present and ready to alight and feed upon organic substances suitable to their taste. Roquefort cheese owed its flavor to a certain mold. Another was known to plug up the human ear. Industries in which the action of ferment fungi were essential included: the making of buttermilk and cheese, the tanning of leather, tobacco curing, the fermentation of vegetables (sauerkraut, fodder, etc.), all breadmaking in which yeast was used, and all fermentation processes in which alcohol was produced.
In 1916 the black-stem rust destroyed 280,000,000 bushels of wheat in the U. S. and Canada. It also reduced the barley and oat crops by 15% to 25%. Another fungus, Endothia parasitica, threatened the chestnut tree of the eastern coast with extinction. This blight started around 1904 near New York City and had spread as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as Virginia. Yet another disease, the white pine blister, had not spread far, but required preventive measures in the States concerned. Dead wood, including buildings, railroad ties, etc., was likewise being destroyed by species that specialized in scavenger-work.
The intelligence of ants had interested man from earliest times. Homer called the Thessalian legions “myrmidons” because they swarmed and fought like ants. The foresight exhibited by ants in storing food, furnished Aesop with the theme of one of his fables. Later it was learned that ants were good “dairymen”. [See “Notes About Ants and Their Resemblance to Man” in the August 1912 issue of National Geographic.] It was not until recently that ants were found to be also skilled at mushroom growing. Researchers in Java and South America had found species of termites that constructed veritable mushroom cellars in which they cultivated food for themselves. Conditions favorable to the growth of the spawn were rigidly maintained.
The field guide itself consists of a heading consisting of the common name, the genus and species in Latin, and a denotation of whether the mushroom was edible or poisonous. This heading is followed by the Color Plate numeral and this in turn is followed by a description including the mushroom’s range and preferences; its size, shape, color, and if applicable taste; and other facts unique to the species. The list of mushrooms covered in this guide include:
• The Common Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus campster). [Edible]
• The Field, or Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis). Edible
• The Fly Mushroom (Amanita muscaria and its varieties). Deadly Poisonous
• The Jack-O’Lantern Mushroom, or False Chantrelle (Clitocybe illudens). Poisonous
• Edible and Poisonous Fleshy Tube-Fungi (Various species of Boletus).
• The Handsome Volvaria (Volvaria speciose). Edibility doubtful
• Coral Mushrooms (Various species of Clavaria). Edible
• The Deadly Amanita, or Destoying Angel (Amanita phalloides and its varieties). Deadly Poisonous
• The Honey-Colored Mushroom, or Oak Fungus (Armillaria mellea). Edible
• The Garlic Mushroom (Marasmius scorodonius). Edible
• The Little Wheel Mushroom (Marasmius rotula). Edible
• Hedgehog Mushrooms (Various species of Hydnum). Too bitter to be eaten
• The Cinnamon Cortinarius (Cortinarius cinnamomeus). Edible
• The Chantrelle (Cantharellus cibarius). Edible
• The Perennial Polystictus (Polystictus perennis). [Not noted]
• The Equestrian Tricholoma (Tricholoma equestre). Edible
• Morels. Edible
• The Delicious, or Orange-Milk Lactar (Lactarius deliciosus). Edible
• Panaeolus species. Poisonous
• Lawn Mushrooms (Naucoria semiorbicularis). Edibility doubtful
• Lawn Mushrooms (Pholiota praecox). Edible
• The Glistening Coprinus (Coprinus micaceus). [Edible]
• The Imperial Agaric, or Caesar’s Mushroom (Amanita caesarea). Edible
• The Sooty Lactar (Lactarius ligniotus). Edibility doubtful
• The Ink Mushrooms, or Ink-Caps (Species of Coprinus). [Edibility questionable]
• The Wrinkled Pholiota, or The Gypsy (Pholiota caperata). Edible
• The Parasol Mushroom (Lepiota procera). Edible
The sixteen color paintings appear full-page on sixteen consecutive pages (referred to as Plates) labelled I through XVI in Roman numerals. They represent pages 423 through 438 of the issue and appear near the end of the field guide (page 439 being the last page of the guide).
An interesting side note regarding this field guide is the fact that when I got out my issue to read and review there was a sixteen-page pamphlet inserted like a supplement within it. It was another field guide entitled “Some Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms” by H. M. Fitzpatrick and W. W. Ray. It was produced by the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University and the U. S. Department of Agriculture. It was produced “in furtherance of Acts of Congress May 8, June 30, 1914. The pamphlet was reprinted in January 1963. The guide contains thirteen black-and-white photographs, including the cover photo. None of the photographs are full-page in size. The guide also has names and descriptions for thirteen different mushrooms or mushroom groups. This was a pleasant find and a nice addition to the outstanding National Geographic Mushroom number.
The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “Hurdle Racing in Canoes” and was written by Walter Burke. It has the subtitle “A Thrilling and Spectacular Sport Among the Maoris of New Zealand”. The article contains six black-and-white photographs of which two are full page in size. This is a short article with only one page of text and four pages of photographs.
Hurdle racing in canoes was a highly developed sport among the New Zealand Maoris. Two or three things were necessary for the sport: First, the canoes must be dugouts. Other canoes were too fragile, crumpling at the first hurdle. A swift-running river was also desirable, by increasing the speed and helping carry the center of the canoe over the hurdle. And the contestants had to be good swimmers. As every Maori – man, woman, or child – was, there was no risk of drowning, even in the roughest waters.
One saw the game at its very best at Ngarruawahia, a village in the North Island, a little south of Auckland, on the seventeenth of March in any year – St. Patrick’s Day. At that point the Waikato, one of the finest rivers in the Dominion, widened and swept round a bend to meet another branch. The river carried a great volume of water, draining an enormous watershed in the center of the island, including Lake Taupo, into which some thirty streams discharged. The Waikato plunged over Huka Falls below which were the Aratiatia Rapids, quite impassable for any boat.
Prior to the day, the Maoris gathered from all the adjacent territory, bringing with them their prize canoes, each dug out of the trunk of a tree. Some of these boats were large enough to carry a crew of thirty to more than forty paddlers. The largest were not for hurdling, however. The secret trials proceeded; training was keen and hard; and the betting hard, for most Maori were well-to-do and were keen sportsmen. The excitement progressed until the eventful day, when special trains brought immense numbers of Maori and Pakehas (white people) from far and near.
The program included many and varied events, but the main attraction was the huddle racing. The big canoe racing was exciting as well, but there was not the fun in those, as there were no accidents, while the hurdle racing was one continuous series of them – a spill at practically each hurdle, of which there were usually three or four.
Unless the bow of the canoe was well out of the water, it could not take the hurdle, which was from twelve to eighteen inches above the surface. The object was to get up such speed that when the bow slid onto the hurdle the smooth and well-greased bottom would continue to glide until past the center of gravity. The members of the crew would shift forward causing the bow to go down with a flop and the stern to slide off. The bow usually dipped under and partly filled with water. This was removed by rocking or by splashing out with paddles. That was how it was suppose to work, and would if a canoe could shoot ahead and take the first hurdle alone. Usually, however, about four or five canoes came down simultaneously. In the melee that ensued, the luckiest crew got out of the pile and away.
The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “Malta and Its Recently Discovered Prehistoric Temples” on the cover. The inside title reads “Malta: The Halting Place of Nations”. The article has a subtitle which reads “First Accounts of Remarkable Prehistoric Tombs and Temples Recently Unearthed on the Island”. It was written by William Arthur Griffiths with photographs courtesy of R, Ellis and Lt. Tickle. Those black-and-white photographs number thirty-three, of which five are full-page in size. The article contains a sketch diagram of one of the temple sites. It also contains a sketch map (on page 449) of the Mediterranean Sea with an inset showing the island of Malta.
Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere
Malta was but a tiny island, less than a hundred square miles in area, with no special beauty of hill or dale, almost without tree or stream, yet it was fated to play a great role in the history of the world. Situated in the narrowest part of the Mediterranean, it was on the direct route from Gibraltar to Port Said or the Dardanelles, midway from Italy and their colony in Tripoli, and from France and their watchtower on Corfu. These facts placed Malta in a position of strategic naval importance for the entire region. The World War tested Malta, but the island endured.
Since the outbreak of the war, Malta had resembled the Tower of Babel. In its harbors transport after transport had anchored, each crowded with troops of various races – English, Scot, Irish, Welsh, Australian, New Zealander, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Serbian, Montenegrin, Greek, Cretan, Hindu, Bengali, Gurkha, Pathan, men from Ceylon and the Straits, Maori, Chinese, Annamite, Tonquinese, Egyptian, Moor, Arab, Tunisian, Congolese, Senegalese, Zouave, and Bersaglieri – in seemingly endless procession. Here also came prisoners, Austrians, Bulgars, Turks, and Germans.
Soon Malta became the Island of Hospitals, where the sick and maimed found such rest and comfort as this world could provide. Before long, this privilege was denied, as U-boats spared neither hospital nor passenger ship. Malta had thus been the halting place of many nations, and the author wondered what their opinions of the island were. “A place of cursed steps” was Byron’s unpoetic tribute. “Bells, yells, and smells” was the terse but graphic description by a British bluejacket. The majority found it merely a treeless waste of arid stone. In each of those descriptive phrases there was much truth; yet to those who peered below the surface Malta was one of the treasure-houses of the world, where the history of mankind could be read in lasting tables of stone.
Untold ages ago coral insects laid the early foundations of Malta. Later their work was submerged to a great depth. Slowly the land rose again. Layers of soil and debris washed from some continent were deposited. Next came a layer of sand, and again the coral insects brought the land to the surface of the sea. Many changes occurred, until Malta emerged as a part of a mighty continent. Dimly was seen Africa joined to Spain, Tunis, Sicily, Malta, and Italy, their shores washed by fresh-water lakes until the floods descended and the earth moved, turning the lakes into salt seas and forming the island of Malta.
In the caves of Malta, notably that of Ghar Dalam, were found the fossil teeth and bones of the great and pigmy elephants, two species of hippo, stag, bear, and wolf, all petrified into one solid mass. As the vertical section of these deposits was examined, there appeared toward the top the first signs of man-worked flints, sling-stones, Neolithic pottery, and human bones. Thus, was found the first trace of man in Malta. In a hilltop excavation, the underground galleries of Hal Saflieni, the ceilings of some of the rooms were covered with red clay paintings of spiral design suggesting a connection with the period of the painted caves of the Pyrenees. It was established beyond doubt, however, that Malta was inhabited by man before it assumed its present shape.
In many parts of the island where the bare rock was exposed there could be seen deep parallel lines – cart ruts – winding their way quite irrespective of the present centers of abode. Some of the cart ruts led to the cliffs, while others could be traced under an arm of the sea, coming up again o the opposite shore. In other cases, the ruts were broken by a geological fault, the ruts continuing on a different level. Many ruts were covered by several feet of earth, fields having been formed on their sites.
In later Stone Age times Malta possessed a considerable population, judging from the wonderful buildings erected in those days. Some had been investigated, but the majority were still untouched. Besides the magnificent temple of Gigantia on Gozo, Malta possessed the unrivalled erections at Hagar Kim, Mnaidra, Corradino, the Hal Saflieni hypogeum (subterranean structure), and Hal Tarxien, as well as numerous rough stone monuments and altars, known as menhirs and dolmens. The craftmanship of the stone works showed that man had reached a high state of knowledge as far back as B. C. 5000.
From examination of the skeletons of the polished-stone age, it appeared 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. There appeared little doubt but that the early Maltese belonged to the same stock as the Iberians of Spain, the Basque of the Pyrenees, the Gauls of France, and the small, dark men of Cornwall, South Wales, and Ireland. [See “The Races of Europe” in the December 1918 National Geographic.]
The Bronze Age dwellers in Malta left behind interesting relics, a burial site having been found on the site of the Stone Age temple of Hal Tarxien. Numerous urns containing human ashes were found, together with many personal ornaments. These items demonstrated a belief in an afterlife. History proper started in Malta with the visits of Phoenicians traders, about B. C. 1500. On the Gigantia on the nearby island of Gozo was an inscription in Phoenician lettering. The ships of Tarshish found Malta a valuable port of call. This fact led Malta to its fate, a fate in common with all islands. Its whole prosperity depended on the good-will of the Ruling sea power. Since the time of Tyre to the present, the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards, and Turks had all, in succession, held power in Malta by reason of their fleets.
It was doubtful that Punic domination affected the character of the Maltese race, as this was probably only a ruling and trading caste, few in number. It was likely that this time, or in early Roman days that the custom of burial in hillside caves was adopted. Thousands of these tomb caves existed. In them was generally found an urn full of broken human bones, with a flat plate placed over the mouth of the urn and a clay lamp on the plate. Bottles of food and water were also placed in the tomb. Beautiful glass vessels of iridescent blue, purple, and green were also found in the graves.
The capital of Malta, Notabile, was situated far from the coast – about six miles – on the highest land. Here, outside the city walls, were excavated the catacombs which extended to a considerable distance. The fact that the sign of the seven-branch candlestick was carved over some of the entrances suggested a Jewish ownership, but this theory was in doubt. At Notabile was the seat of the Roman governor. His residence had recently been excavated and many interesting relics found.
In A, D. 60 St. Paul was shipwrecked in the bay now known by his name. In the Acts of the Apostles was these accounts of his arrival to, and departure from, the island: “And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” – and – “Who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed they laded us with such things as were necessary. And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria.” St. Paulo and St. Publio were very prominent names in the ecclesiastical history of the island, and the activities of St. Paul were recited in great detail.
After the fall of Rome Malta became subject to various powers, until finally the Arabs, who also ruled Sicily, took possession. While excavating in the Roman governor’s villa at Notabile several Arab graves were found, all pointing eastward. Their Semitic inscriptions seemed strangely out of place in a Roman ruin. The Arabs built the fortress of St. Angelo, which guarded the entrance to the Grand Harbor, on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Juno. In A. D. 1090 Count Roger of Normandy, having conquered Sicily, landed at Malta and exacted tribute from the Arabs. An inscription stone over the entrance to Fort St. Angelo recorded the Norman victory, and several beautiful Norman buildings were still to be seen at Notabile.
The Arabs finally left Malta about A. D. 1250, having exercised rule over the island for nearly 400 years, doubtlessly facilitated by their language, which was closely akin to Maltese. During the next three centuries Malta did not figure largely in history. It lacked agricultural resources and was periodically ravaged by the commanders of Turkish fleets, who dragged the unfortunate inhabitants into slavery, while famine and plague often followed in their wake. In 1530 the population of the island did not exceed 25,000 and was probably considerably less.
In that year a great change occurred. Charles V of Spain granted the islands of Malta and Gozo, together with the town of Tripoli, in Africa, to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, afterward known as the Knights of Malta. In the early 11th century a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a very arduous and dangerous undertaking and many pilgrims died from exhaustion. A hospital was founded about 1085 at Jerusalem for the use of the pilgrims and was dedicated to St. John. To meet various requirements, the hospital was reorganized and an Order instituted, consisting of ecclesiastics for the spiritual, lay brothers for secular duty, and knights for protection and defense.
After the capture of Jerusalem by the Saracens, Crusaders from all kingdoms of Christendom hastened eastward and the Knights of St. John, then installed at Acre, added members from many nations. In 1252 the Pope granted the title of Grand Master to the head of the Knights. For convenience, the Order was divided into subdivisions according to the principal language spoken by its members. The sections of the Order were the “Langues”, of which there were twelve. The Langue d’Angleterre was dissolved in 1540, at the Reformation. An Anglo-Bavarian Langue was reinstituted in the 18th century. Each Langue had its own headquarters, or “Auberge”, and those built in Malta were monuments of architectural beauty. At the time of the article, they were being used as office building and during the World War were scenes of intense activity.
The Order removed from Acre to Cyprus and thence to Rhodes, where its headquarters remained until the island’s fall, in 1522. [See “Historic Islands and Shores of the Aegean Sea” in the September 1915 National Geographic.] The old bond between Rhodes and Malta was commemorated by the Pope who gave the Bishop of Malta the title of Archbishop of Rhodes. In 1565 the Turkish fleets made a powerful attack on Malta, but were defeated by Grand Master La Valletta, who built the city of Valletta in memory of the victory. The Cathedral of St. John, in Valletta, was also built as the burial place for the Grand Masters. The remains of the previously interred in the Chapel of Fort St. Angelo were transferred.
In the latter part of the 18th century the Langue de France was the richest and most powerful section of the Order, though despised by the Maltese. The French Revolution at one blow deprived this Langue of most of its revenue, and a similar fate soon befell the other sections. In the course of the next few years the Order sank and for a time dwindled into oblivion. The Order still existed in England and worked in conjunction with the St. John’s Ambulance Society and the British Red Cross Society, all of which rendered magnificent service during the World War.
In 1798 the wheel of Fate again brought Malta into prominence. Napoleon, profiting by the temporary absence of the British fleet from the Mediterranean, seized the island on his way to Egypt. He expelled all the members of the Order, confiscating their property and also that of the Church. It was related that the solid silver gates of the Sacramental Chapel of the Cathedral of St. John were hastily painted over, in the hope of escaping notice, but in vain. They were redeemed at great cost together with the twelve silver statues of the Apostles. The historic crozier [Bishop’s staff] that had been brought from Rhodes escaped the enemy by being thrown into a cistern by the verger. The priests afterward accused the verger of having stolen it, refusing to belief his statement; but even on his deathbed he persisted in his story, and so the cistern was drained and the crozier found.
After Napoleon departed a governor was appointed to rule on behalf of the French Republic. Soon afterwards the British fleet returned and won the Battle of the Nile over the French. Then the Maltese arose against the French garrison, which was blockaded by the British. After a gallant defense, lasting two years, the garrison was forced by famine to surrender. After peace came Britain proposed to restore the island to the Order of St. John, but the appeals of the Maltese prevailed and Malta became incorporated into the British Empire.
Year in, year out, fresh trade had flowed through Malta, at last secure from every foe. The ships of the world soon thronged its harbors. In 1825 the famous American frigate Constitution anchored at Malta, while after the battle of Navarino, in 1827, the British, French, and Russian fleets returned there also. The change from sail to steam necessitated the provision of greater dockyard facilities for the British fleet, and millions of dollars were spent in Malta for this purpose. This brought employment and trade to the Maltese such as they had never known before. The opening of the Suez Canal brought still further prosperity, while the increased size of warships necessitated further new docks and workshops, providing still more employment for the inhabitants of the island.
Reference had been made earlier in the article to the wonderful prehistoric remains in Malta. These were extremely abundant and afforded much tangible evidence of the civilization of a past so remote as to be prior to the age of hieroglyphics and inscriptions and even oral tradition. Their study, therefore, afforded wide scope for theory, but the lack of absolute knowledge rendered it a most tantalizing, though fascinating, pursuit. Possibly the oldest existing evidence of civilization in Malta are the cart ruts previously mentioned. These existed in nearly every part of the island, cutting and intersecting each other to such an extent as to make unraveling their mystery difficult. If all the tracks were traced and inserted on a map, the sites of the centers of habitation in prehistoric times would doubtlessly be revealed.
In the arm of the Bay of Marsa Scirocco, at the southeast end of the island, there were about sixty round, bottle-necked pits or wells cut out of the rock. A number of these were now under the sea. Directly over the mouths of some of them ran two deep ruts, which led into the sea and reappeared on the opposite shore about a quarter of a mile away. The original purpose of these wells was not known, but it had been suggested that they were for storing fresh water, grain, or oil and were built at the edge of the water for convenience of shipment, thus suggesting evidence of foreign trade.
Black tufa stone rubbers were imported from Sicily and obsidian from the Greek islands had been found. Similar pits are found at the top of high cliffs near a prehistoric village called Bahria. Near this site was a megalithic ruin called Borg en Nadur, which recalled in shape those curious Sardinian towers, the nuraghi. [See “Little-known Sardinia” in the August 1916 National Geographic.] Cart tracks appeared to lead from that place to another Neolithic erection on the opposite shore.
The Phoenicians possibly used the Stone erections for their own sacrificial purposes. A votive pillar was found in this neighborhood having an inscription in two languages, recording in Phoenician a vow to Melkarte, Lord of Tyre, and one to Hercules Archigetas in Greek. The best-known temples were Gigantia, on Gozo, the small island northwest of Malta, and Hagar Kim, Mnaidra, Corradino, and Tarxien, on Malta. The last named was discovered only recently and was only partly excavated. The unique underground temple of Hal Saflieni belonged in a class by itself.
The general design of the temples consisted of two oval apses connected along the lesser axes by passages, at the far end of which was generally found the principal altar or object of worship. The passageway appeared to have been covered over with a flat slab and the oval chambers on each side domed, the corbeling of the walls being very strongly marked. The passageways did not appear to be aligned astronomically. The majority faced south or southeast.
The ruins of Hagar Kim (“Standing Stone”) crowned a barren, rocky hill on the south side of Malta, about a mile from shore. Large numbers of massive stones, some weighing several tons, were placed on end, side by side, each being joined to the next with great skill. On top of these were placed horizontal layers of flat stones, mortised together with great accuracy. One pillar rose conspicuously above the ruined walls. Near it was an altar erected before a sacred stone, while a small hole pierced the wall through which the priest possibly consulted the oracle. The top of the tall tower is hollow and shaped like a grave. Theorists suggested that possibly here infants were sacrificed or the dead exposed to birds of prey, as done in the Indian Towers of Silence. [See “The Parsee and the Towers of Silence at Bombay” in the December 1905 National Geographic.]
When Hagar Kim was explored various interesting relics were found. One was a four-sided pillar with a flat, round top, possibly a sacramental altar. Each side was decorated with pitting at the edges, while the centers contained carvings of a many-leafed plant growing out of a vase, possibly representing the Tree of Life. The most remarkable find consisted of seven stone carved figures of large-bottomed women, some draped in skirts and others apparently nude. They were possibly painted entirely red, as red ocher was still largely visible. One figure had a pigtail, but none of them had heads. There was, however, they all had sockets into which detachable heads could be fixed. These figures suggest that they were worshiped as the Mother Giver of Life. In connection with the worship of Matriarchy, it was curious to note that the Maltese language contained no word for “father”, and suggest the time when descent was reckoned maternally rather than paternally.
About halfway between Hagar Kim and the shore was the Neolithic ruin of Mnaidra. This resembled Hagar Kim but was rather more ornate and better preserved. Many of the doorways and altar stones were decorated with pittings or were finely polished. That doubtless accounted for its local name of the “King’s Palace”, Hagar Kim being called the “High Priest’s Palace”. A special feature of Mnaidra was the double-table altars. These were flat rubbed stones, a yard or two square, supported under the center by a stone pillar. The largest was called the “King’s Bed”.
Both at Hagar Kim and Mnaidra it was evident that dolmens were regarded as objects of special veneration. They may have represented the gates from this world to the next. A dolmen grave at Borg en Nadur had a lintel or upper cross-stone pierced in the center by a round hole, used perhaps in a sacrificial ceremony, so the blood of the victim might fall on the occupant of the grave. Dolman graves with holes on the side wall-stone were much more common. Near Mnaidra was a cave in which the remains of a peculiar kind of elephant were found, to which the name Elephans Mnaidrensis was given.
The Corradino Neolithic station stood on a broad plateau overlooking the Grand Harbor. The ruins were very extensive, consisting of several temples and a village. The ruins of the latter were distinguishable by being square instead of oval in shape, like the temples. On the southern boundary of Corradino was the village of Casal Paula, which overlooked the broad, flat plain of Marsa. There in 1902 a well was being bored when suddenly the foundations gave way and disappeared into a dark pit. Investigation resulted in the discovery of an underground habitation which was without equal in the world. This hypogeum, or subterranean structure, called Hal Saflieni, consisted of three series of chambers.
Mr. Griffiths next goes into a detailed step-by-step description of his own exploration of the underground wonder. The entrance was marked with two upright stones. A large cave next to the threshold was apparently used for cattle. Down the passage, on the left, was a pit, or well. Within that pit was another, smaller well with a lid. Within that was found two statues similar to the those found at Hagar Kim. Continuing he passed a side cave packed with human bones. The passage narrowed to a dolmen-shaped doorway, through which he passed to a lower level, with a sudden drop of several feet. The absence of stairs was a mystery. He had reached a long, silent cave with a large upright stone in the center. To the left was a doorway in the wall about a yard up (again no steps). Through it was a large circular cave which appeared to be the main hall of the temple. At the far end of this cave was a doorway up several yards from the floor.
The doorway led to a small oval cave. On both sides were niches, which probably contained sacred objects. Here the carving was beautifully worked and polished. Four other doorways led to caves on the level of the floor. The niches in those caves were rougher than the ones in the upper cave. The ceiling of the room was painted partly in red and partly with black and white squares. Passing out of this room through a doorway erected on a step a yard above the floor, he came to what was called the “Holy of Holies”, the upper portion of the room being carved and polished very ornately. A small room to the rear contained a stone table over which was a carved stone hook for hanging something, possibly a lamp. The doorway to this room had grooves for fitting a closing slab. The author noted that the “Holy of Holies” was the only room not decorated in paint. Bored tie-holes indicated that a curtain of screen was hung to hide the holy place from someone using the steps leading down to the lowermost rooms. In the floor, in front of the left niche were two holes closed with plugs. In the right hole was found two pairs of ram’s horns, doubtlessly having some religious significance.
Retracing his steps from the Holy of Holies through the main hall to the room containing the large, upright stone, or menhir, and turning left, the author proceeded toward another set of caves. He noticed that the passage suddenly sounded very hollow, indicating there was a well or room not yet opened. The walls along the right passage were full of drill-holes. This showed the method of excavation employed. Starter holes were drilled and then the rock was chipped away using stone hammers or chisels, several fine specimens of which were found. Continuing along this passage, he came to another room, with the drop of a yard. The wall on the left curved round at the end while the right wall was sloped. There was round recess on the left. In that place a person could stand without being seen by anyone approaching along the passage, while a spy-hole was provided for the occupant of the recess. Two holes were also bored into the walls of the recess to spy on the adjoining cave.
Passing the recess, the author came to a square entrance to a small round cave, a yard or two in diameter. Possibly the oracle was kept there. A little farther in the cave, at about face-level was a hemispherical hole in the side wall about two feet in diameter. It was noticed that any word spoken into it would be magnified, and audible throughout the entire underground structure. A curved projection was carved out of the back of the cave near that hole which acted as a sounding board. The oracle room contained the finest ceiling paintings in the temple. The design of spirals and disks possibly had some mystic meaning in connection with the soul passing through cycles.
The author proceeded to the next room where a distant view of the Holy of Holies could be obtained. The roof of that anteroom was supported by two menhirs of different designs. The one on the left was similar to the pillars at Hagar Kim, while the other was like the high altar of Tarxien. On the left was a mysterious pit. The pit was shaped like a funnel. After sloping downward and inward, the pit widened considerably. It was thought that sacred serpents were kept in this pit, the curved sides of which would prevent escape. [For more on serpent pits see “The Wonderland of Peru” in the April 1913 issue of National Geographic.]
Passing to the right of the pillar and then sharply turning to the left, the author descended a finely worked series of seven steps into the lowest and innermost rooms. These steps were erected on the lintel of a huge dolmen. Opposite the last step and isolated by a deep trench was a small inner cave. There were no steps to that small room and it was difficult to reach. On its right hand was a was a spy-hole, through which all persons at work in the trench could be seen. Adjoining the trench and divided only by another doorway were several similar compartments, the last being almost directly under the serpent pit. The innermost room of all had four openings about a foot square leading to four tiny caves, possibly for storing treasures. That completed the Mr. Griffiths tour of Hal Saflieni.
The work of exploring the underground complex began in 1906. Most rooms were found to be half-filled with earth, human bones, and broken pottery. It was estimated that the ruins contained the bones of 33,000 people, mostly adults. Theories varied on the purpose of the complex. It many have been a temple built for use by the dead, with the ones above ground for the living. Or it may have been a sacred college, wherein the priesthood was initiated into the mysterious belief of the day. Whatever the original use, it was obvious that it had been used as a burial place for the bones of the dead after a previous burial above ground.
A large number of personal ornaments and offerings were found mixed with the bones. These afforded much insight into prehistoric beliefs and customs. Besides the large stone female figures already mentioned, there were several tiny alabaster replicas found. A small carving was also found of a woman lying on her side asleep on a four-legged couch. The figure was clad fashionably and painted red. Another carving showed a woman, similarly dressed, lying face down on her couch, her arms stretched forward on either side. A large number of axe-shaped pendants of jade and polished stone were found, suggesting some connection with the symbolic axe worshippers of Crete. Two objects representing fish were found, one being placed on a plate. Seashells, both real and carved in stone were found in abundance, as were votive lamps, vertebrae of fish, artificial seeds, cones, tiny pillars, large spheres, and holed stones. Much beautiful pottery was found, practically all broken. The pottery varied from rough clay vessels to finely polished and glazed ware, ornamented with spirals or bright lines of red ocher. Perhaps the most interesting piece of pottery found was a black plate in which was drawn the figures of several large bulls. The animals were identical to those carved in high relief in the “bull sanctuary” at the Stone Age Temple of Tarxien.
Tarxien was a continuation of the village of Casal Paula, where Saflieni was situated. While digging the foundations for a cemetery chapel, the earth was found to be artificially deposited, as it contained blocks of hand-wrought masonry. Large blocks of stone had also been found a few feet down in the adjoining field. Remembering the recent discovery of Hal Saflieni, the workers thought that they might have found another underground temple. Word reached Prof. T. Zammit, who had supervised the final excavation at Hal Saflieni in 1913, and by July 1915 he caused the blocks to be cleared of soil. They were found to be the tops of walls of a prehistoric temple of the same shape as those at Gigantia on Gozo, and Hagar Kim and Mnaidra on Malta. The work was carried out in the hottest months of 1915 and 1916, when the soil was the driest, so that it could be carefully sifted to find even the smallest objects of interest. Here, a small band of students, including the author, labored under the guidance of Professor Zammit. War expenses permitted only a small expenditure of money for work during 1917 and 1918, but it was sufficient to show that the temple and its precincts extended beyond its present known limits and much of it is still unknown.
The examination of the upper layers of earth over the site of the temple contained quantities of Roman and Punic pottery, mostly in fragments. A lower layer revealed a new type of pottery, among which were found small heaps of burnt human bones. Beads, necklaces, clay birds and fish, small figures, bone ornaments, and a bronze dagger were found at the same layer. The dagger gave a clue to the mystery of a Bronze Age depository of funeral urns which had been found. This was valuable in shedding light on the life and customs of the Mediterranean Bronze Age people who flourished around 2000 to 3000 B. C. Inside the cinerary urns were also found foods – wheat, beans, etc. – for the journey to the next world, as well as small object and ornaments which had been dear to the departed in their lifetime.
Doubtless, the Bronze Age dwellers had heard that this was a holy place. In any case, such high walls formed a good shelter for their funeral fires. Hence the Bronze Age cemetery on this spot. The Bronze Age layer was strongly marked with charcoal and ashes. Below this came several feet of fine sand, containing no stones or broken fragments of rock and no trace of any Bronze Age pottery or metal. This clearly showed that this layer had been deposited by centuries of wind and rain, untouched by the hand of man. All these layers were carefully removed by the excavators. Finally, the floor of the temple was reached and cleared as perfectly as possible.
The length of the buildings from end to end was about 50 yards, while the level of the temple floor was about seven feet below that of the field. A tour of the temple, aided by the sketch below, started at a semicircular stone labeled ‘A’. It contained a tie-hole for restraining sacrificial animals. On each side can be traced large horizontal blocks extending in a semicircle, doubtless the fore-court in which people assembled before service. One entered the temple through a passage ‘AC’ and arrived in the building marked ‘BE’. Facing to the right, there was a beautiful carved dado round the room. In the center was the broken lower portion of a huge female figure, of which only the feet, fat calves and fluted skirt remained. When complete, the figure probably stood seven feet high. It stood on a slab of stone ornamented with egg-shaped symbols. Carefully placed at her feet was a sacred cone, possibly representing the male element.
Standing at position ‘C’ and looking left, one would see beautifully carved altar tables and an altar, in front of which was a small font decorated with pit-markings. Apparently, the font had been painted with red ocher. Behind the pillars was a small side chapel very beautifully decorated. One slab contained a frieze of eleven goats, while another had four goats, a fat pig, and a horned ram or buck. Looking from ‘C’ to ‘G’ one saw a large carved stone table in front of an altar. The large altar stone was hollow, with a detachable semicircular fitting. Inside was found a very fine curved flint knife, as well as fragments of beautifully polished Stone Age pottery. Possible those vessels were broken to denote that the sacrifice was completed, since practically none were found complete. Proceeding from position ‘C’ to ‘I’, one reached the principal altar of the temple. The curved façade of the floor was skillfully crafted. On the left corner of the carved stone was a tie-hole. The stone a little to the altar’s right marked the beginning of the inner sanctuary ‘J’, a semicircular building with five stone seats on each side of the altar. Corbeling noticeable on the right wall of the inner sanctuary showed that the building was domed over.
Upon entering room ‘H’ one saw a small dolman-shaped altar ‘H1’. The top of the altar table had a hole in it, fitted with a plug. Returning to position ‘I’ one then entered an earlier temple ‘K’, in which the decorations were less ornate. Going through a low doorway, one entered a small side chapel ‘K1’. Immediately opposite the chapel was a sacred stone, broader at the top, similar to those found in the “Holy of Holies” in other temples. In the passage leading from ‘K’ to ‘O’ there were holes in the masonry on each side, indicating that barriers and curtains were hung there. In the center of this large oval-shaped building was a much-burnt stone fireplace ‘M’ full of ashes. At the far end was a was an entrance, afterwards closed by a huge block of stone. Near the sacred stone was around stone plug. A large stone, used for carving the sacrifice, had a deep, round hole for draining the blood. Opposite that table was a passage leading to a small side chapel ‘M1’. It contained a small altar and the walls were carved images of two bulls facing each other and a sow. The bulls showed a cultural link to Crete and the Minotaur. Two low doorways, two feet square, led from two small rooms ‘M2’ and ‘M3’, where possibly goats or lambs were kept for sacrifice.
Returning to room ‘LM’ one mounted a long horizontal slab just beyond the round hearth. It was a beautifully carved barrier about a yard high evidently marking the part of the temple dedicated for use by the priests. Beyond this barrier a passage, again with sling-holes in the side walls, led to another oval building ‘PQ’. This had similar features to the previous room, but smaller and without carved work except a stone screen on each side, finely decorated. Between the screen and the entrance rose two huge pillars, now broken off at ground level. In the center of the room was a hearth, while apse ‘P’ contained a well-preserved altar and font. One came to the final room ‘RSTU’. No stone barriers barred the way but the passage did had holes for curtains. The last apse is the smallest of all, and the inward inclination of the stone indicated that the rooms were domed over. By retracing one’s steps to room ‘LN’ and turning left, one finds an exit ‘N’. On each side was a sort of pulpit. The exit led to a much more roughly built series of rooms ‘WX’ and ‘YZ’. Outside exit ‘N’ and on the left was a flight of steps ‘V’. Beyond these apses sufficient soil had been removed to show that prehistoric buildings extended for a considerable distance into the next field. The walls of those buildings were square and not oval buildings. Likely they were homes and not temples. The author hoped for more funds to continue this research.
Sixteen whole pages in color! What a deal!
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