An Historical Ecological Approach to the Investigation of Early Social Complexity in the Horn of Africa: First Steps

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Papers will present preliminary results of a new investigation initiated by the Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP). We have formed a transdisciplinary research partnership between Simon Fraser University Addis Ababa University, and the University of Kansas, which will integrate the work of archaeologists, palaeoenvironmentalists and ethnoarchaeologists. We aim to blend scientific and traditional knowledge to understand human-environmental interactions taking place at two critical points in the later prehistory of the Horn of Africa: the origins of social complexity during the Pre-Aksumite period (c.1600-800 BCE) and the Pre-Aksumite to Aksumite transition (c. 400 BCE-CE100). Papers will focus on integrating: archaeological studies on ceramics, lithics, grindingstones, zooarchaeology, and archaeobotany; palaeoenvironmental investigations of stable isotopes, soil micromorphology and soil charcoals; and studies of traditional farmer adaptations to environmental stress, completed within a framework of historical ecology.

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  • Documents (13)

  • Agricultural History of the Horn of Africa: New Archaeobotanical Evidence from Mezber (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alemseged Beldados. A. Catherine D'Andrea.

    Archaeobotanical analysis of samples from the site of Mezber are underway with the goal of investigating the early agricultural history of northern highland Ethiopia. Mezber is a Pre-Aksumite site excavated by the Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP) with cultural deposits dating from 1600 BCE to CE 1, and occupied over four phases. In 2014-16, a total of 59 soil samples ranging in size from 1.8 to 7.5 liters was processed by manual flotation. Macrobotanical remains from light fractions...

  • Burning Forests of the Past in Eastern Tigrai (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Zewdu Eshetu. Tsige Gebru Kassa. Valery Terwilliger. Mitchell Power. A. Catherine D'Andrea.

    The influences of Ethiopia's palaeoenvironments on its past societies may inform land management practices now. A staple for reconstructing palaeoenvironments is to record palaeovegetation changes. Botanical remains for reconstructing palaeovegetation are usually archived in lake sediments. Eastern Tigrai had the most developed ancient civilizations known to sub-Saharan Africa but no lakes. When we began research in Eastern Tigrai, the region had been deforested for so long that botanists...

  • The Daily Grind: Trends in Grinding Stone Use in Eastern Tigrai from 1600 BCE to Modern Times (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Laurie Nixon-Darcus.

    A morphological investigation of grinding stones recovered from the Northern Ethiopian site of Mezber revealed changes through time that likely were made to increase efficiencies. The need for efficiency may have been due to increasing needs (e.g. larger populations, an increasing reliance on grains in the diet, a desire to reduce grinding times). Through the phases at Mezber the archaeological evidence suggests a change in the quantity of grinding stones. The growing numbers of recovered...

  • Development of Craft Specialization during the Pre-Aksumite Period in Eastern Tigrai, Ethiopia: Insights from Modern Hide-Workers (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Peterson.

    The pre-Aksumite period in Eastern Tigrai witnessed social and economic changes that have been traditionally attributed to the impacts ofexternal influences, in particular the Sabaeans. Recent studies are exploring internal or indigenous factors influencing the development of economies and early social inequality/complexity in the northern Horn. One such factor may have been the local development of craft specialists to cope with increasing demands for certain goods, such as hides. The export...

  • Early Farming Communities in East Africa and the Horn: new zooarchaeological evidence from Mezber, northern Ethiopia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Helina Woldekiros.

    Animal herding formed a central component of pre-Aksumite (>800 B.C.E – 450 B.C.E) and Aksumite (450 B.C.E-800 C.E.) subsistence economies in the North Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands. Despite this, detailed understanding of animal utilization and diversity of species is lacking for this period. New data on species abundance and radiocarbon date from the site of Mezber in the North Ethiopian highland throws a new light on the earliest mixed farming communities in the Horn of Africa over the...

  • An Ethnoarchaeological Approach to Traditional Farmer Knowledge and Fire Ecology in Eastern Tigrai, Northern Ethiopia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Zoe Walder-Hoge.

    This study will conduct ethnoarchaeological interviews of Eastern Tigrai rural consultants on traditional farmer knowledge, risk management and fire ecology. The data will enable the integration of farmer knowledge within an historical ecology framework to understand human-environment interactions taking place during the Pre-Aksumite and Aksumite periods (>800 BCE- CE 700). A previous palaeoenvironmental study examined extensive charcoalized wood and burned matter in the region, however an...

  • Geoarchaeological assessment of long-term site- and field-management characteristics at the pre-Aksumite site of Mezber, Tigrai Plateau. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Paul Adderley. Mitchell Power. Valery Terwilliger.

    The ancient polities of the Tigrai Plateau and this region’s pronounced climatic variations combine to create a research paradigm where social-environmental interactions can be considered over the long-term. Existing regional-scale indicators suggest that human responses to climate variability differed between peoples, polities and time-periods. Framed by an ongoing regional study designed to examine high-resolution climate and environmental markers at a broad-spatial scale, the study of the...

  • Historical Ecology: An Approach to the Investigation of Ancient Human-Environmental Interactions in the Horn of Africa (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only A. Catherine D'Andrea. Valery Terwilliger.

    Recent archaeological survey, excavation, ethnoarchaeological and palaeoenvironmental research conducted in northeastern Tigrai by the Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP) has produced new insights into the Pre-Aksumite and Aksumite periods (>800 BCE-CE 700). The principal ETAP excavations thus far include the Pre-Aksumite site of Mezber (1600 BCE-1CE) and Ona Adi (c. early 1st millennium CE) which was inhabited during the Pre-Aksumite to Aksumite transition. Both sites were occupied...

  • Learning From Scratch What The Environments Were Like As The Complexities Of Societies Changed In Eastern Tigrai (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Valery Terwilliger. Marilyn Fogel. W. Paul Adderley. Zewdu Eshetu. A. Catherine D'Andrea.

    Home to Aksum and other highly-developed polities, the Tigrai Plateau is a leading contender for sub-Saharan Africa's richest center of ancient state formation. This and its susceptibility to environmental (climate and land cover) variation make the region compelling for evaluating whether environmental changes affected the trajectories of polities. Soils exposed by gullying are the longest continuous archives of environmental proxies in the region. Many proxies are affected by both climate and...

  • The pre-Aksumite Period in Eastern Tigrai: The Chronology and Stratigraphy of the Site of Mezber (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lynn Welton.

    The current understanding of the pre-Aksumite period of northern Ethiopia has been heavily influenced by data originating from sites in western Tigrai, particularly those in the area of Aksum. The Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP), however, has also documented substantial evidence for pre-Aksumite settlement further to the east, through both survey and excavation. This paper will summarize ETAP’s efforts to understand the pre-Aksumite period in eastern Tigrai at the site of Mezber,...

  • The Pre-Aksumite to Aksumite Transition in EasternTigrai: Ceramic Evidence from Ona Adi (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Habtamu Mekonnen.

    The pre-Aksumite to Aksumite transition (PA-A transition) is critically important for the culture history of the Horn of Africa. This period in Western Tigrai (400/300–150 BCE) represents a cultural break between the Sabaean-influenced pre-Aksumite period (≥800–400/300 BCE) and the predominantly indigenous kingdom of Aksum. Pre-Aksumite and Aksumite polities in Western Tigrai were not directly related and marked by significant sociopolitical change. The emerging picture of the PA-A transition in...

  • Temporal and Spatial Variability in Pre-Aksumite Lithics from Mezber, NE. Ethiopia: Social and Economic Implications (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Steven Brandt. Lucas Martindale Johnson. Abebe Taffere.

    With over 33,000 total excavated flaked stone artifacts and >18,000 analyzed from deposits in primary context, Mezber offers a unique opportunity to understand the role of lithics in Pre-Askumite societies. Using multiple raw materials and reduction sequences, knappers produced a wide array of LSA/Neolithic tools for domestic use, and a narrower range for specialized activities. Locally available chert was the most common raw material, although pXRF results indicate ≥3 as yet unknown distant...

  • Towns and Villages of an African Empire: Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP) Archaeological Survey 2005-2008 (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael Harrower. Joseph C. Mazzariello.

    The Empire of Aksum was one of the earliest and most influential African complex polities, yet remains one of the world’s most scantly documented ancient civilizations. The Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP) surveyed a 196-km2 area between the ancient capital city of Aksum and the Red Sea over four field seasons from 2005-2008. This work documented 137 archaeological sites, including 7 ancient towns larger than 6 hectares, and contributes a substantial body of data on geographies of...