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Northern Red Sea region: Museum within a Museum (Part II)

Skeleton of Whale from Shumha Island
The Northern Red Sea region was a center for different civilizations, political developments, introduction of religions, human evolutionary developments, cultural and historic events. Two of the major global religions Christianity and Islam, for instance, were introduced through Eritrea’s Red Sea not only to Eritrea but to vast geographical areas outside Eritrea. Let’s also have a look on some of the other events one after the other starting with the political and military developments.

In the earliest times Eritrea was ruled by sea lords. The influence of the Sea lords reached the Red Sea area in the 14th century, but gradually faded in the 18th century. The Turkish who step their foot on this area in the 16th century also tried to head to the highlands. The Egyptians who followed the Turkish in 1846 expanded their territories to the Danakil areas and to the northern highlands. The Egyptians also constructed modern and first of its kind commanding offices,  hospitals and a number of fortresses a few km away from the then Emkula.

The Italians, who set their foot in Eritrea since 1869, nominated Massawa-the oldest city in the region- the capital of their colonial rule. At that time, Britain, France and Austria had consulate offices in the then centuries old Massawa. The Red sea region which was once a center of wealth and civilizations had  in the last five hundred years become the very center of colonialism and  also a center of international battles as well as center for freedom fighting. This region witnessed recurrent wars that include the expansionist attempts of the Turkish towards the highlands of Eritrea.

In the late 19th century, the bloody war continued in the region when the Italians were heading to the highlands as well as during the World War II. At the time the Italians were defeated, Massawa was the most advanced port in the region, but when the British left the country during the period of federation with Ethiopia the port was in its minimal capacity.

The decisive chapters of the struggle for independence were also written in this region. Massawa port, Ghindae front, and mountains of Sahel were places of repetitive victories that were achieved at different times. Salina war of 1977, liberation of Nakfa and the offences that followed, and Operation Fenkil are some of the historic events. Thus, understanding the overall contents of this region is having a general understanding of the country. All of these historical assets that have been mentioned earlier are documented in the regional museum.

One could also see the traces of the Turkish, Egyptians, Italians, and also traces of the bloody struggle for independence through making a tour in the port city. But, the museum is a must visiting center for it would offer any visitor a wealth of knowledge not only through real objects but through the photographs that are displayed there.

The regional museum comprises rooms that hold representative items of different historical eras, varied natural, culture and religious relics. The natural heritage section of the museum displays aqua-terrestrial creatures. Skeleton of whales and other sea animals, and varied fossils of terrestrial creatures that are gathered from different area of the region are included in this section. This section of the museum indeed represents unique marine bio diversity of Eritrea’s Red Sea, and histories of millions and thousands years of terrestrial creatures of the eastern escarpment. Besides coral reefs, and skeletons of Dugong and other sea animals, a lengthy whale skeleton that was discovered in 1999 in Shumha Island south of Dahlak Kebir is displayed there. The skeleton’s length is 14 meters and it weighs about 22 tones.  This section of the museum alone has the potential to be an independent museum once expanded and reached the level to hold all forests, deserts, and sea creatures such as birds, fishes, vegetation and wildlife.

Another section for the very earliest archeological finding has contents that depict the different phases of human evolution. If extensive researches and studies conducted, the same as most of the places around the Rift Valley of eastern Africa, the Eritrean part of rift valley has also a great potential to become a source of reliable knowledge. It is, thus, possible to develop this section of the museum into a truism attraction and making it an academic center.

Due to the general contents it harbors, Eritrea’s eastern escarpment is a focal place which attracts international interests for the study of human evolution and migrations from Africa to different parts of the world. Fossils and stone tools discovered around the banks of Dandero River at Buya site, such as: fossils of extinct pig and horn-corn of antelope that age from 1-to-2 million years and the skull of Ms. Buya that ages more than one million years are displayed in this section.

Some traces discovered around the western part of semi-Island Buri indicate fishing and swimming activities of the people who used to dwell around this area some 100, 000 years ago. Some of the decisive incidents in the history of human evolution happened in this region and some of the routes the earliest humans migrated to the semi-island Arabi and Sinai are also part of the Northern Red Sea region. This region, which was once the hub for the earliest and decisive evolutionary development of humans, was also equally important for the historic events that followed. 

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