A 20-day expedition through remote areas of Ethiopia, punished by war and forgotten, to prospect the ancient medieval cities that Alexander T. Curle located at the beginning of the 20th century.
This was the objective of a team of three Spanish archaeologists and several colleagues from Ethiopia and Somaliland who have toured the area to prepare for future excavations.
Jorge de Torres, a researcher at the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and coordinator of the campaign, explains that they aspire to archeologically document that the Horn of Africa was a stable, dynamic, and prosperous region, despite being today one of the most troubled areas of the world.
“The idea is to dismantle, at least from a scientific point of view, borders that were raised without respecting the history and reality of the communities that inhabited the region,” adds the expert. Because according to De Torres, the geographical boundaries set in the 20th century had an impact “not only on the daily life of the Somali communities living in the area but also on our understanding of the historical reality of the region.”
A Medieval City Under A Village
Around 1930, Curle participated in a commission that delimited borders between Ethiopia and British Somaliland. The soldier was the son of the director of the National Museum of Scotland and had some archaeological training, which allowed him to locate numerous medieval sites in the area, excavate some of them and deliver all the material found to the British Museum.
Today, almost a century later, several of these places located in Ethiopian territory have not been explored again, except for some sporadic visits by archaeologists from the Ethiopian University of Jigjiga, the capital of the Somali region of Ethiopia and bordering Somaliland, a republic that declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 and continues to seek international recognition.
The idea is to dismantle, at least from a scientific point of view, borders that were raised without respecting the history and reality of the communities that inhabited the region.
Jorge de Torres, chief scientist of the CSIC, coordinator of the campaign and director of StateHorn
Thanks to Curle’s data, the team of Spanish archaeologists was able to locate some of these historical sites in Ethiopia in September and October of last year, although they were unable to identify others mentioned by the British military. The local population, who have received testimonials from generation to generation, served as their guide and help.
On their journey to Jigjiga, a two-day drive from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, the expedition traversed conflict zones and cross-regional checkpoints. The relentless rainstorms of the wet season that greeted them in the early days were succeeded by the heat and dust of the dry season.
The trip also took them to Harar, the most important historical city and Muslim enclave in Ethiopia. There, at the end of the 19th century, the French poet Arthur Rimbaud tried unsuccessfully to gain a foothold in the arms trafficking market and practically ended his days.
Finally, the Spanish archaeologists reached AwBarre, a remote town on the border with Somaliland, where they were able to visit six sites from the 14th and 15th centuries. One of them is under the current town, built around the tomb of a holy man from whom the town took its name. AwBarre was already mentioned in 1854 by the British explorer Richard Burton.
“We have found evidence of the medieval city below the current one, including medieval structures almost two meters high. We have also found many archaeological materials: ceramics from China and Persia, glass beads, cowries [pequenos caracoles de mar] or fragments of bowls imported from the Arabian peninsula”, says De Torres.
The team of Spanish archaeologists was able to locate some of these historical sites in Ethiopia, although they were unable to identify others mentioned by Curle.
Around AwBarre, archaeologists have located other sites of very different sizes and functions, from small hamlets to villages of more than 50 houses. Others appear to have had a religious function, such as the small settlement of Qararu where people were buried for centuries, even after the site was abandoned.
These findings complement the information the project collected in Somaliland and Djibouti in 2021, where evidence of a politically well-organized and dynamic society was found, with trade ties to the Indian Ocean and the Middle East.
The work of the archaeologists is part of the StateHorn project, which De Torres directs and which is financed by the European Union (EU) and managed by the Spanish Institute of Heritage Sciences of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (Incipit-CSIC).
The aim is to study the medieval Muslim settlements in the Horn of Africa and the project wants researchers from various countries to work together within a plan that involves Djibouti, Somaliland and Ethiopia. Archaeological excavations, laboratory, historical and ethnographic analyzes are planned to carry out the first major study on a little-known period in this area of the African continent.
- The UNIQUE Case For The International Recognition Of Somaliland
- Somaliland: The Little Country That Could By David Shinn
- The World Can Learn From How Somaliland Overcame Militias
- Masuuliyiinta Xidh-Xidhan Iyo Dareemada Dhagarta Xambaarsan Ee Laga Soo Werinayo Dhinaca Madaxtooyada
- KOIGI: Acknowledge Somaliland To Cure Festering Wound On Africa
- Somaliland Declaration On The Origin Of African Borders