The prehistory of the Maltese islands has been divided in phases, which are named for the different styles of ceramic wares excavated by archaeologists from various sites around the islands. The corresponding BCE dates are calibrated radiocarbon dates (Renfrew 1972). The illustrations of the ceramics below the time line, correspond to ware found in each phase (these are not to scale).
Immigrants crossed over from Sicily around 5000 BCE. They were farmers and they brought over domesticated animals and various seeds. The pottery of this first phase known as GHAR DALAM – from a cave in the south of Malta – has similarities to that found in Monte Kronio, close to Agrigento in Sicily. After a century had passed the GREY SKORBA pottery (from the dull grey ware which followed the Ghar Dalam ceramics) started to be given a reddish coating, and this became recorded as the RED SKORBA phase.
The ZEBBUG phase ware with its different worked clay, and decorated pear shaped ceramics, was introduced to Malta by a new group of immigrants that followed the previous population. These new immigrants developed into an independent insular population which seems to have lived quietly for some 500 years – this included the next MGARR phase. Then inexplicably they started suddenly to construct Malta's magnificent temples.
During the GGANTIJA phase the first temples were built, and a lot of ceramic ware was decorated with a new technique – surface scraping of the ware, after firing.
The SAFLIENI phase followed that, and introduced new pottery styles and decorations. The apex of the temple culture was reached in the TARXIEN phase. During these centuries many temples were built, refurbished and enlarged . Tarxien ceramics were richly decorated and many elaborate designs were used. At the end of this phase the temple culture mysteriously disappeared, and it seems that the islands were abandoned for some time. Following an interval of some decades, the islands became repopulated. These new people settled the islands during the BRONZE (and IRON) phase. They cremated their dead and although these new people had a knowledge of metallurgy, in many respects their way of living was inferior to that of the people of the Tarxien period. Bronze age people in some cases used the ruins of the temples as cremation cemeteries. Architecturally the only remains connected with this period are the small megalithic structures known as 'dolmens'. These dolmens are very similar to some found in the south of Italy. The ceramics from this period are dull and unimpressive.
In the BORG IN-NADUR phase we see the introduction of fortified villages, and the use of shallow storage pits dug out of the rock. Most of the ceramics of this phase have open forms and stand on a conical base.
The last period of Malta's prehistory is the BAHRIJA phase. This is not a 'real' phase, but represents a new culture that settled on the hill of Bahrija in Malta. These Iron Age people must have arrived from the South of Italy, and they shared the island with the people of Borg in-Nadur.
By 700 Before Common Era the PHOENICIANS took over the islands, most probably peacefully. The people came originally from what is today the Lebanon. The Phoenicians stayed in Malta using its sheltered harbours, and when they choose Carthage as their main city, in about 480 BCE, Malta became a PUNIC colony. Around 255 BCE, during the first Punic war, the islands were plundered by the Roman navy. With the second Punic war, the islands were taken over by the ROMANS, and in 218 BCE Malta became part of the Republic of Rome.