Even long before the times of Jesus and the Apostle Paul, Malta was the rocky knob at the western edge of the Roman Empire, the place where the leftovers of the Mediterranean Sea washed up and dug in.
Prehistoric worshipers left mysterious stone structures. Phoenician traders planted their alphabet and Arabic-inflected language. Greeks added new words and traditions.
Sailing across the water the Romans grandly called "Mare Nostrum," "Our Sea," a rich Roman governor arrived to add a mosaic-floored villa on a wind-swept hill with a view of the island curved like a pelican's beak to catch the peoples and ideas blown from across the known world.
Malta was the site of the last battle of the Crusades and one of the most-bombed targets of World War II as the Germans unsuccessfully sought to gain a foothold there for the push into North Africa.
And Malta is the site of what John Harkins of Huntsville believes will be the last and best quest of his life.
Harkins, mild-mannered Bible-reading Church of Christ deacon, proud grandpa, Auburn-educated marine biologist who now sells software for a living, is determined to be the first person since the biblical Luke to see with his own eyes evidence of the ship that carried the Apostle Paul nearly to Rome.
Foolish ? Quite possibly, he cheerfully concedes.
"I'm quite in the minority in thinking there might be some remnant," Harkins said this week, unrolling charts of the island on his desk at work. "But I know we're going to find something, though it may not be from Paul's wreck. But there's nothing (no material) I'm looking for that hasn't been found at another site."