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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Michela GAUDIELLO, Heidelberg University, Germany

Paper presenters:

KIBROM Kebede; Jean-François BRETON; YOHANNES Aytenew; Svenja PARTHEIL; Michela GAUDIELLO

Most of the archaeological projects in Ethiopia are funded, directed and composed by international teams of experts. Rarely we can assist to a direct involvement of Ethiopian Universities, private sectors and Institutions, except when we have to require the official permission to work herein. Observing the basic organization of most of these Western archaeological teams, they always include director and field directors, archaeologists, topographers, material culture experts, sometimes anthropologists, and local workers. A few lucky, because with a higher budget, work groups have in addition archaeobotanists, archaeozoologists, GIS and geomatics experts, photographers, art-conservators, architects, engineer and other specialists. But, how many times the Ethiopian Universities have been really involved in the archaeological, anthropological and humanistic research projects whose are taking place in their Country? And how often the foreign scholars are deeply focusing on the knowledge of the Ethiopian economy, culture and history, through a complex study of : language, legends, oral traditions, present products, modern land tools and techniques, new streets and old pathways going to the markets, tradition and new socio-ideologic frames, and the development and transformation of the local ecosystem? Many times, the Ethiopian students focus their MA thesis on ethnoarchaeological researches, historical reconstructions, linguistic analysis, anthropological studies and management and touristic developments of a specific place and aspect of a local community. But rarely, they have a public space to show their personal project and compare their research with the specialists. For this reason, this panel aims to: a) share results and ideas; b) meet competences and knowledge; c) create new interests and friendship; d) show the good outcome of international cooperation and joint-project with Ethiopian Universities. We will create a temporary meeting point between foreign researchers, scholars and Ethiopian instructors and students which investigate each aspect of the research in Ethiopia, in order to stimulate a strong and long-term relationship, between new professionals in Ethiopia and eminent experts in the world.



KIBROM Kebede, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Management, Mekelle University, Ethiopia

Pottery making is a learned practice of changing clay into fired pots. From an Ethnoarchaeological perspective, the craft involves various material cultures used in different stages of the production. The principal objective of this study was to document the way in which the Mekelle potters process clay and produce pot objects by investigating the living material cultures of the craft. Interview, observations and survey were used as the main sources of data collection instruments. The Ethnoarchaeological investigation of pottery making in Mekelle is the first of its kind. Though similarities with other areas are shown in the clay extraction, decoration and firing stages of pottery production, the use of different clay types for a single pot typology is a unique tradition among the potters in the study area. Besides, the proximity of the research areas to nearly a century-aged town which is now under extensive expansion has threatened the craft. Thus, Ethnoarchaeological investigation of the area has helped to document the ethnographic data before its complete disappearance. The social ranking of the potters alongside the other craftsmen and the non-craft community is also addressed. Labor division was another interesting issue raised. In regard to the gender, Mekelle Pottery is exclusively made, transported and marketed by woman. Thus, crafts in Mekelle are gender based. For example smiths and weavers are all men in the study area. Finally significant archaeological implications and behaviors were hinted.



Jean-François BRETON, CNRS. ArsCAN. UMR 7041. Maison Ginouvès. Nanterre. France / aff. member of the PhD programme in History and Cultural Studies, Mekelle University, Ethiopia
YOHANNES Aytenew, Mekelle University, Department of History and Heritage Management, Head, Ethiopia
Wolbert SMIDT, Research Centre Gotha of Erfurt University, Germany / aff. member of the PhD programme in History and Cultural Studies, Mekelle University, Ethiopia
MULUBRHAN Adane, Mekelle University, Department of History and Heritage Management (PhD candidate) / Kwiha, Ethiopia

This is the second part of the paper presentation on the Kwiha research project carried out at the PhD Programme in History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University. The town of Kwiha, some 10 km east of Mekelle, shows continuous human occupation starting from Bronze Age (third millennium ca) throughout the Axumite times to the medieval period. Kwiha and its surroundings were occupied during the Axumite period (and maybe during pre-Axumite period?). To the northeast of the city, a stone building consists of carved pillars of a possible church (Inda Qirqos) or a domestic building, and to the northwest, three long stone pillars remain of an important building. Because Kwiha is situated on the trade route linking the Afar depression with its traditional salt-mines, it was considered as a trading center probably from Ancient times and throughout the medieval period. From the Muslim cemetery come a great number of Islamic steles ranging from the 10th cent. till the 13th cent., some of which were translated within this project. The Department of History and Heritage Management of Mekelle University started in 2014 a long-term program of surveys at Kwiha, which consists of two focus areas, corresponding to the main streams of the PhD Programme: (1) Archaeology and ancient history, including long-term surveys of the surroundings, directed by the affiliated member of the PhD Programme J.-F. Breton; (2) Ethnohistory, directed by W. Smidt, including epigraphy. The research groups formed around these topics consist of young staff members of different departments and PhD candidates, based on a cooperation agreement concluded between the French Centre of Ethiopian Studies (cfee) and the MU President’s Office. The basic idea of the research project is not only to document the diverse rich layers of historical and cultural heritage of Kwiha, with focus on the site of Kwiha Ch’erqos (Qirqos) and the nearby Muslim cemetery, but linking this with capacity building under the responsibility of Mekelle University. The project is supposed to strengthen Ethiopian institution-building and wishes to contribute to alternatives to the so far dominating mode of archaeological research directed exclusively by foreign missions. The research group believes that the future needs more collaborative projects under Ethiopian institutions, integrating foreign experts in order to form the upcoming new generation of Ethiopian academics.



Svenja PARTHEIL, Independent

The archaeological site Mifsas Bahri, lying just beside Lake Hashenge, has been explored by Heidelberg University and Mekelle University through the years 2013-2016. During this excavation human skeletal remains have been found which could be dated between the 11th and the 15th century. Most of these human osteal finds were individual disarticulated bones from secondary burials or stray finds. Just a few skeletal remains could be determined as graves and were more or less undisturbed. The osteal remains included a total of 98 adult individuals and 50 subadult individuals. The youngest individual died in preterm age (neonatus) and the oldest individual between 65‒74 years of age. The highest mortality can be found in individuals of the age classes’ infans I and adult. Only part of the present finds could be sexed: 40% of the sample showed significant male sex characteristics, and only 16% showed typical female sex characteristics. 44% of the skeletal elements could not be sexed, which is attributable to the high proportion of extremely slight individual representation of the skeletal material. The anthropological analyses of this population sample gives us a first impression of the living conditions in southern Tigray between the 11th - 15th century with the help of anthropological methods like demography and paleopathology.



Michela GAUDIELLO, Heidelberg University, Germany

Ethnological study and experimental archaeology rarely are expected as methods of research in archaeological projects. He who has no anthropological and sociological background may not accept that these fields are valuable disciplines with their own theories, methods, approaches and procedural schedules and not just mere evanescent accomplices. Primary is a direct and intimate research interaction with human beings. In contrast to pure excavation, mankind is the focal point of ethno-experimental archaeology. Without the direct observation of present-day practices and transmitted traditions, as well as a personal effort to reproduce these with the artisans tutoring with regard to their artifacts, it is completely impossible to understand the ancient custom and interpret archaeological materials. In 2013-2014, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the female potters’ world. No one, not even “open-mind” archaeologists cannot help but be fascinated by the contemporary pottery productions in the non-industrial communities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Starting from my need to understand the shapes and functions of ancient unrecognisable vessels at the beginning around several markets in the Eastern and Central Tigray, I observed different kinds of traditional pottery productions and fabrication methods. After observing, interviewing, listening and admiring the elaborate works of these women I approached our archaeological site near Adigrat. The pottery at first conceals the technical skill of the potters, their knowledge of materials and manufacturing, but also the sociological and economic values which connect the potters with their communities, institutions and traditions. I presented a part of these first results and personal inexpert observations in 2015 at a conference in Ethiopia. After four years I returned to estimate the potters' situations and share the results with the academics and the locals.