I guess I have always had a fascination with time and time travel from Dr Who in my childhood (which Doctor did you start with?) to relativity and astronomy as an adult; time is perplexing to understand. The main problem with time I guess is the numbers involved in measuring it and at the heart of it is light. Our standard measurement of time is based on the orbit of our planet around the our sun, one complete orbit equates to a year in our lives. We used to use the moon as a smaller unit of time, but that didn’t fit as an integer into a year so our months became a bit of a muddle and still don’t have a set length. From years then we leap to days, the time between two sunrises but again that changes depending on the time of the year and where you live on the planet. All our numbers for time are arbitrary really except our year.
Numbers have to be a manageable size before we lose sense of what they mean. One hundred seems a reasonable number to me. I have lived nearly 50 years and I come across people who have lived 100 years, conceptually I get what a hundred years is from my point of view whlilst at the same time marvelling in all that has changed in my lifetime. I can imagine cycling a hundred miles (not easily I might add but with training it would be okay), a hundred minutes, a hundred people, even a hundred rocks. Can I image a thousand though? I can try being logical about it, picture a hundred people than image nine more groups of people around the first, you have a thousand, but I don’t think I can picture that straight off. I can drive 500 miles in a day easily (Scotland to London) but I can’t people the overall route in my mind from experience only sections that I see. I need to abstract 500 miles into 8 hours of driving to get a better hold on it so perhaps there is also something about the level of detail too that I can retain.
These things come into my mind because I am trying to understand the temples built here on Malta and to be honest I really can’t get my head around them. People seemed to have started to live on Malta over seven thousand years ago and started building temples six thousand years ago. The people were farmers (there isn’t enough land mass here for hunter gathers). People don’t know why the temples were build but with the artifacts found inside them it would appear to be for worship because they are no signs of people living in them. The temples are an amazing architectural challenge to build without machinery and modern tools, solid slabs of stone were hollowed out to become doorways (four feet high?), the roofs even seemed to be made up of slabs of stone. Malta is not a natural place to farm, stones are everywhere with little soil to grow things in. How does a community grow enough food here to support themselves, let alone build temples hundreds of square metres in size? This was done thousands of years ago.
Since visiting some of the temples earlier in the week I have had the opportunity to visit the archaeological museum in Valletta and gain more knowledge about the first settlers of Malta. People lived here before the temple building period in what is known as the Early Neolithic times. There were three distinct periods over the first thousand years. I have seen the pottery produced and can see why archaelogists think this. Similarly the temple building time is split into five periods each with its unique pottery. The temple builders seemed to have been wiped out by something (famine, disease, drought) because the next set of people to come here are classified as the Bronze Age. They lived different lives to the temple builders and artifacts found from this period are made of materials that can be found in Sicily so it seems that that is where they arrived from. The bronze age settlers lasted nearly two thousand years before the Phoenicians arrived, traders and crafts people of great skill. The archaeological museum’s exhibits ends at this point in time. I understand a lot more about the temple builders now and the periods of settlement around them, but I can’t say I am any closer to comprehending them. It’s all rather sad really perhaps because I don’t really know what I expect to understand.
Unfortunately the meeting of the EU countries in Valletta today meant that the museums to do with the Knights were closed to the public. The number and size of the forts in Malta are amazing and again I would like to understand more about how they came about and why Malta was deemed so important to defend in such a way and without easy access to the internet my small guidebook doesn’t shed much light. The forts were built in the 16th century, do I have any clearer understanding of that time?
I guess humans have a lot more knowledge of that time because more information survives to this day and more importantly written accounts exist as well as paintings. It is easier to imagine the forts being constructed because we have images of such things being done and a greater understanding of the techiques used and the machines developed to help. Maybe my imagination is no more authentic than creating an image of the temple builders but I guess our archived knowledge suggests it would be more accurate.
I have spent the last five days with my friends who have cycled 17 000 kilometres over the eighteen months since last I saw them. They are obviously fundamentally the same people that left Scotland, but they have had dozens of adventures and encounters since then too and so are changed by their experience. I can’t say I notice too much difference though, anxieties and annoyances still surface though perhaps they are more at ease with life and the challenges it can throw at them. Their success in travel gives me confidence to push myself a bit more to get out there. After five days do I understand their motivations any better? No, I don’t think I do, but I wonder whether understanding is really important.
I strive to understand so many things in life and whilst I think it is good to pursue knowledge, I think there comes a point when it is necessary to live life without understanding. It seems to me that living life is getting out and doing. In the same way a walk can free up the inspiration or creative juices, living life by doing things may too also lead to insights and understanding that sitting around at home thinking may never uncover.
I still haven’t managed to get into the skins of the temple builders, to understand the motivations of the Knights here, or my friends’ need to tour or get my head around the 13.4 billion years that the universe has existed but then perhaps I don’t need to right now. I have tried to connect to these things and in doing so I have lived a bit of my life. That is probably enough for now.