Wherever one travels around the world, one is likely to find an institution that cares for (conserves) a collection of artifacts and other objects of artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific importance. That institution is known as a “Museum”. A museum makes many ancient objects available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Museums have varying aims, ranging from serving researchers and specialists to serving the general public.
Eritrea is exceptionally endowed with archaeological sites spanning all segments in human history. In as much as having the highest density of archaeological sites in sub-Saharan Africa, the country is a goldmine for research on multitude of issues corresponding to human evolution, development and rise of complex societies, medieval history and the like. Yet, authentic representations of the heritage resource base and the practice of museology have been only a recent trend as much of Eritrea’s history was distorted due to colonial pursuits for a long and protracted period.
Considering the role of museums in representing a nation’s history, however, the Eritrean government has laid the ground for institutional functioning of the National Museum of Eritrea following the independence of the country. The museum came on effect only one year after Eritrea’s independence.
The National Museum of Eritrea has partaken in the legacy of preserving, protecting, studying as well as presenting Eritrea’s heritage. It’s a venue for accommodating different people from different religious, ethnic, linguistic and social backgrounds and creates a common understanding among nationals by displaying representations of the nine ethnic groups and different religious communities of the country.
The enshrinement of this ethos in its mission is the conception of the universal exercise of museology and, thus, it functions in the service of the society and plays a vital role in its development in as much it provides a platform for cultural renaissance and exchange. The museum, houses a number of artefacts exhibited to disseminate information on various aspects of Eritrea’s past to nationals and foreign visitors alike.
1. Paleontological section: discoveries of hominid skull and fossils of extinct mammals in the Danakil depression of Eritrea have placed Eritrea as one of paleontological goldmines in the world. The paleontological section is a snapshot to evolutionary developments and the reconstruction of ecological and climatic changes in the past millennia. Finds from Buya in Eritrea include the famous homo erectus type of late humans known as “The mother of Buya” dating one million years, a jaw of an extinct Elephant species dating 26 million years from Dog’ali, Molar of extinct Elephant around Der’ayto, a very ancient hand axe made out of stone (sometimes it’s known as Tsnts’hle in Tigrinya language) and femur of a Bovid are the components of this display platform.
2. Archaeological section: Archaeological records of the prehistoric and historical periods are abundant in Eritrea, with cultural developments in the course of these periods resulting in the emergence of complex societies in this part. Material evidence of these periods and, more importantly, the research findings of greater Asmara area (which have been dated from 8th-2nd millennium B.C.), proto-Ge’ez inscriptions, a medium pot that holds wine and oil from Greek, Grinding stone, Incense burner from Keskese, Beads from Techonda’e, Ghee cups from sembel, humans bust from Sen’afe and bracelets found in Mai-temenai are displayed in this section to demonstrate these Facets of human history.
3. Natural history section: This section displays stuffed extinct and extant wild life like vulture, Aardvark, Lizard and Snake species in Eritrea. Apart from presenting a history of fauna in Eritrea, the Natural history section is a medium for educating the public about the impact of unwarranted hunting on wildlife.
4. Archives of art works: The struggle for independence has made remarkable contributions in documenting the cultural traditions and the history of the Eritrean society. Cognizant of the influence of these endeavors in consolidating national identity, art works have been produced during the struggle depicting various aspects of the Eritrean reality. Numerous paintings by the famous Eritrean revolution painters such as Michael Adonai, Brhane Adonai, Mussie Asgedom and Ghirmay Ghebrelul (Hakhli) and sculptures by martyred fighter Kibrom Garza produced during the struggle are displayed in this section.
5. Medieval section: Christian and Islamic traditions have largely contributed to the making of the nation and particularly the introduction of Christianity in the 4th century A.D. and Islam in the 7th A.D. have resulted in significant cultural changes. Material evidence attesting to the development during the medieval period which are exhibited in this section include decorated door frame, Degiat Bahta Hagos’s sword, a bullet case, church bells, Kufic inscriptions and kettles.
6. Ethnographic section: The ethnographic section is displays contemporary cultural materials from the nine Eritrean ethno-linguistic groups. In this section various traditional music instruments (known as Begena, Wata and Kirar in Tigrigna), water container(kuada), traditional game instrument(Sheded), pillow, Dog’s food holder, goblet, horn of a Rhino and traditional arm chair are placed. This section also demonstrates the significance of preserving cultural materials for posterity in a world affected by globalization and modernization.
The continuing acceleration in the digitalization of information and the increasing capacity of digital information storage, are expanding the traditional model of museums by including virtual exhibits and high resolution images of their collections that patrons can pursue, study, and explore from any place using the internet.
By preserving the relics, artefacts and other objects in its collection, by continuing to procure newly found relics, artefacts and other objects and by using new technologies, the National Museum will remain to be a custodian of ancient and contemporary Eritrean history.