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Working Together to Unearth the History of Eritrea

By: Mical Tesfay

There are a lot of archaeological sites, including Adulis, in Eritrea that have hidden the rich history of the country and its people. The history buried in those sites is waiting to be told through excavation and research by archaeologists in the country working with professionals from other countries.

As part of the on-going efforts to unearth the history of ancient Eritrea, training was given to young Eritrean archaeologists and anthropologists by Italian professionals. The training, which was given from 1st – 5th and 15th – 19th November, was organized by the Commission of Culture and Sports in collaboration with Italian institutions — Research Center on Eastern Desert, Politecnico di Milano, Universita Cattolica di Milano, Universita Orientale di Napoli, Universita dell’Insurbia di Varese, and the Piccini Group.

According to Dr. Tsegai Medin, the training was given as part of the on-site studies being conducted in Adulis to forty graduates of archaeology and anthropology from the College of Arts and Social Sciences.

The first week’s training aimed at equipping participants with methodologies for cataloguing cultural heritage. The archaeological heritage is a set of movable and immovable cultural property of different types, ages and contexts of origin throughout the national territory. The use of standards and controlled vocabularies permit precise and scientifically correct descriptions of the properties and emphasizes the relations between heritage and territory, making the data more consistent and more usable in‐house and in broader environments and more capable to withstand changes in technology and practices over time. It is also the basis for risk assessment, preservation and fruition.

The participants said they were satisfied with the quality of the training they received. Filmon Tewolde, a participant who works at the National Museum, said the training is a milestone in their quest for knowledge and skills to do further investigation and research in the field of archaeology and anthropology. He added that it gave them an opportunity to see the interconnectedness of a variety of fields such as geography, botany and topography which will be useful for them in performing their tasks as archaeologists. Talita Gebremichael, another participant who is currently working with the Commission of Culture and Sports, said the training gave them an opportunity to share knowledge about anthropology and archaeology and skills on how to select and match information and how to reproduce archaeological objects using 3D laser scanner among others. She added that the training they took will be very useful in the near future.

The second week training focused on Landscape Archaeology as a scientific discipline which was addressed outlining methodology and providing tools to support a broad understanding of an archaeological site. Starting from data collection to the design of specific datasets, the aim of this teaching module was to integrate the knowledge and the information regarding archaeological heritage with the other information regarding the territorial context at different scales, thus pointing out features and layers of the landscape of Adulis area and its surrounding. In this integrated, holistic approach it was possible not only to better understand the relations of a cultural site with its surrounding in ancient and present times, but also to assess possible risks in order to better manage the site itself. The application of Geographic Information Systems fits this multi-scale and interdisciplinary approach, and was proposed combining the topics of hydrogeology, water management and their relation to ancient and recent archaeological strata. The lectures and the practical activities pointed out how to integrate different fields of research and different non-destructive investigation tools at various scales.

The ancient port city of Adulis, about 50 km south of Massawa, was one of the most important ports and major trading hubs in the Red Sea. It is located on the south western coast of the Red Sea in the well-protected bay of Zula. The destruction and abandonment of Adulis between the seventh and eighth centuries C.E, probably due to natural catastrophic events that occurred concurrently with the Arabic invasion, led to the isolation of the kingdom from access to the sea, while the Islamic communities who settled along the coast took over the role of Aksum in controlling trade between the Mediterranean and the Indian ocean. In the end, the port city was abandoned and buried by the unconsolidated alluvial sediments transported from the central highland hills and Ghedem Mountains. Many historians and merchants had visited the city and wrote about it, which serve as the primary sources of some parts of its history.

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