Manipulating the Bones: Eating and augury in the Maltese Temples

Caroline Malone

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    Paper exploring the role of animals and food in the development of feasting ritual in Neolithic Malta "Few social occasions demand greater effort in terms of playacting and ritual behaviour than feasts. These may require clothes to demonstrate status and affil- iation, and the participants must play a role that is almost theatrical, employing special manners and rituals in the public consumption of food. The food served is also different, special and imbued with sym- bolic values through its presentation, preparation and the manner of its disposal. This chapter explores the nature of play in feasts and special celebratory meals and the multiple symbols used in the components of the feast, combined with the playacting involved in one context of European prehistory. The drama of formal eating involves not only the place and its paraphernalia (the space, table, dishes, cutlery, and lighting), but also the food (alive, dead and cooked) and its presentation. Much of the consumption is structured and organised as if part of a dramatic per- formance such as the order of the dishes and their ingredients (for example, soup, followed by fish and meat), the way they are served and the participation of the guests involved. There will be first feeders, high tables, and such formalities are the very stuff of drama and playacting, combined with ritual action in the mannered, repeated and deeply embedded order of action. Status is especially important for both the guest and the host, and dramatists and writers have long parodied dinner parties as mirrors of society in a given place and time. Patronius’ Satyricon and his" "depiction of “Dinner at Trimalchio” (Sullivan 2011) is just one splendid example of dramatic excess and pomp in the Roman world. For prehistory, insight into the tastes of a society is difficult, although plenty of evidence survives that might hint at the drama and play of competitive feasting."
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRitual, Play and Belief in Early Human Societies
    EditorsIan Morley, Michael Boyd, Colin Renfrew
    Place of PublicationCambridge
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages24
    ISBN (Print)9781316534663
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017
    EventFrom Play to Faith: Play, Ritual and Belief, in Animals and Early Human Societies.: Becoming Human: The Emergence of Meaning (sponsored by the John Templeton FOundation) - McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, United Kingdom
    Duration: 13 Sep 201216 Sep 2012


    SeminarFrom Play to Faith: Play, Ritual and Belief, in Animals and Early Human Societies.
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

    Bibliographical note

    I was invited to participate in a advanced seminar held at the McDonald Institute Cambridge and then invited to submit the paper for the publication. The theme derived from research undertaken under a John Templeton award on the Spirituality of Early Malta and its art. The material is entirely original and derives from first hand museum and monument study.


    • Malta, prehistory, temples, ritual, feasting
    • Prehistory, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, Anthropology

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Arts and Humanities(all)
    • Psychology(all)
    • Social Sciences(all)


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