Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Federica SULAS, Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, Aarhus University, Denmark.

Water has been a fundamental companion to societal development in northern Ethiopia over millennia. Known for a long history of farming, social complexity and early kingdoms, the highlands of northern Ethiopia are often seen as prone to water-scarcity in the past as well as today. Yet, water resources are here diverse from rainfall to highly productive aquifers. Today, much of this water is often readily lost due to evaporation, or it runs away as stream flow, or is stored beyond reach underground. But these problems are not new for the farming and agro-pastoral communities living in these highlands. Indeed, archaeology and history do illustrate how sophisticated socio-ecological knowledge has supported resilient water management across a great geographical diversity in the highlands since the first millennium BC. Building on recent and ongoing work, this paper reviews the legacy of the past water systems into present-day, traditional water management practices. By examining archaeological and historical records, I look into how people may have managed water at two ancient urban landscapes (Aksum and Qohaito), which developed in the first millennium AD and continued to be settled today. The archaeological records is then discussed in the light of traditional practices and modern, state-sponsored initiatives. The exercise allows for identifying properties and conditions for traditional water systems that supported communities in the past, and continue to do so today.