Does anyone have any idea or knowledge why Neolithic temple stones have these small holes? They are facing the sun, and the other side of the stones is flat. Smaller object were drilled all over, not just on one side. I saw these in Ħaġar Qim, Malta:

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2 Answers 2


Such stippling is a common feature at prehistoric Maltese sites. They are often considered a primitive decorative pattern - somewhat of a forerunner of a modern art form.

It is the best preserved of all the Maltese temples ... The two left-hand lobed chambers are linked by a trilith niche of stones decorated by stippling; the inner of these two chambers is subdivided and in it stands two betyls, or pillar altars.

- Service, Alastair and Bradbery, Jean. Megaliths and Their Mysteries: A Guide to the Standing Stones of Europe. MacMillan Publishing Co.: New York. 1979


The device of stippling the background with an infinitude of tiny hammer-pick holes exquisitely sets off the boldly rounded curves that seem to have been a happy obsession with these artist-masons.

- Hogg, Garry. Malta: Blue-water Island. AS Barnes, 1968.

However there is no real way to be sure about their purpose. Some suggests, for instance, that a row of the dots counted the number of days between equinoxes.

  • Is some stones one can see "counted" dots. But drilled holes on figures fills totally the surface of the stone. Hard to think they are counted, but has anyone tried?
    – MarkokraM
    Nov 14, 2015 at 14:39
  • @MarkokraM I'm not saying they are counts of things. Like I said, the most likely, and the most popular, explanation is still they are just a decorative pattern. I was just making a point on how it's not really possible to know why someone who left no records made such marks.
    – Semaphore
    Nov 14, 2015 at 14:43
  • So if no knowledge, how about ideas, just wild guesses?
    – MarkokraM
    Nov 14, 2015 at 15:01
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    I ran across the equinox counting paper also, and had the thought that maybe the decorative patterns were there to conceal the functional patterns. But the real answer is "there is no real way to be sure about their purpose". +1
    – Comintern
    Nov 14, 2015 at 15:24
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    @MarkokraM A hypothesis is falsifiable. By demanding that there must be deeper meaning to these patterns, you have developed a conclusion. A hypothesis is not the same thing as a conclusion. Moreover, "we can't know for sure" is a perfectly legitimate conclusion to draw when there is no evidence. How can you possibly know what people who lived 5000 years ago were thinking? Just because you don't like the facts doesn't make them "the worst".
    – Semaphore
    Nov 14, 2015 at 16:18

It is a decorative pattern. Artists call this kind of stippled background pattern a ground. In Japan it is known as nanako, which means fish eggs. The purpose is to set off and accentuate the primary design.

  • In pillars they just used background pattern, but nothing on it? In those cases it should be called just a pattern. Or was it was a background for sun light rays? Then why such background? Maybe answer is really easy if we could see how sun light behaves on stone blocks...
    – MarkokraM
    Nov 14, 2015 at 14:38

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