Centro Interdipartimentale di Servizi di Archeologia Progetti Progetti in corso AKSUM ETIOPIA The Archaeological Map of Aksum

Centro Interdipartimentale di Servizi di Archeologia Progetti Progetti in corso AKSUM ETIOPIA The Archaeological Map of Aksum

Rodolfo Fattovich, Takla Hagos, Laurel Phillipson, Luisa Sernicola


Located in the central zone of the present Regional State of Tigray, northern Ethiopia, Aksum is the most important religious center of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and a very important symbol of Ethiopian cultural identity. Moreover, it is presently one of the major archaeological areas in Ethiopia, and is included in the UNESCO “World Heritage List”, as from about the 4th century BC, it developed as one of several polities on the Tigrean plateau of northern Ethiopia, emerging as the capital city of a powerful kingdom that flourished between the 1st/2nd and the 7th/8th centuries AD (Fattovich, et al. 2000: 25).

The archaeological investigation of Aksum and its territory is thence particularly relevant not only in terms of preservation of the cultural heritage, but also for understanding the process of state formation in Ethiopia and northeastern Africa in general. For this reason, a detailed, complete archaeological map of the whole territory of Aksum was implemented in 2006 as part of the Ethiopian Cultural Heritage Project, Aksum Branch (Site Inventory and Documentation Component), to provide an exhaustive assessment and description of the consistency and preservation of the archaeological heritage in the area of Aksum and its surroundings. The map was realized using different data sources: sites recorded in scientific literature (Littmann, Krencker and von L Michels, 1994, 2005; Monneret de Villard, 1938; Munro Hay, 1989; D. Phillipson, 1997, 2000; Fattovich et al., 2000), historical maps, and archaeological surveys.

Between 2005 and 2006 the systematic survey of the whole territory of Aksum was conducted over an area of about 100 sq. km, encompassing the core zone, peripheral zone and marginal zone of the Aksum archaeological area (Fattovich et al., 2000: 31 32). The team also benefited of the contribution by Dr Laurel Phillipson (UK), lithic analyst, and Dr Luisa Sernicola, (UNO, Naples, Italy), archaeologist and GIS analyst.

Dr. Laurel Phillipson kindly provided complete information about 62 sites recorded in the previous years as part of her investigation about the lithic technology in Pre Aksumite and Aksumite time (L. Phillipson 2000, 2009) and accompanied the team to visit again most of them. Dr Luisa Sernicola has provided the team with the complete database Scarpe UGG and information about over 140 sites the Joint Archaeological Project at Beta Giyorgis (Aksum) of the University of Naples Naples (Italy) and Boston University, Boston (USA) recorded between 1993 and 2005 at Beta Giyorgis hill and surrounding plain, under the direction of Rodolfo Fattovich (UNO) and Kathryn A. Bard (BU). The survey was conducted mostly walking, using the 1 sq. km grid of the EMA 1997 1:50,000 Map, Series Eth 4, sheets 1438 D3 (Aksum) and 1438 D4 (Adwa), and the Scarpe Australiane UGG 100 m x 100 m grid of the NUPI 1992 1:2,000 urban map of Aksum as bases.

The sites were located with UTM coordinates by means of two Magellan GPS 310 and recorded and described using a standardized inventory form with indication of: 1) Location: 1.1. Region. 1.2. Zone. 1.3. Woreda. 1.4. Kebele. 1.5. House No. 1.6. Locality. 1.7. Site. 1.8. Site code. 1.9. GPS (UTM coordinates). 1.10. Elevation. 2) Site characteristics: 2.1. Site dimension. 2.2. Local landmarks. 3) Monuments name: 3.1. Amharic, Local, English. 3.2. Ownership, Owner name. 4) Topography: 4.1. Terrain setting. 4.2. Profile position. 4.3. Vegetation. 4.4. Land use. 4.5. Soil type and color. 5) Cultural Affiliation: 5.1. Date range 5.1.1. Absolute. 5.1.2. Relative. 6) Date of discovery. 7) Function: 7.1. Ancient. 7.2. Current. 8) Description of finds (observed materials), quantities and associated features. 9) Overall length of monuments building. 10) Photograph Number. 12) Threats. 13) Sketch plan or drawing. 14) Additional notes (remarks)and comments. 15) : 15.1. Books; 15.2. Photographs. 15.3. Maps. 15.4. Plan. 15.5. Oral traditions. 15.6. Ethnographic evidence. 15.7. Others.

In October November 2005 the core zone of the Aksum archaeological area, in particular the site of Aksum Town, was investigated. 1a b). In March May 2006 the peripheral and marginal zones of the Aksum archaeological area were systematically examined, covering a surface of c. 90 sq km.

On the whole, over 700 sites have been recorded and stored in a database to generate the archaeological map of both the general territory of Aksum and of Aksum Town using Ikonos, Aster and Landsat TM7 satellite images, as well as the 1:50,000 maps of Aksum and Adwa (Eth 4 1438 D3, D4) and 1: 2,000 map of Aksum Town as backgrounds (Figs. 2a b).

The sites have been chronologically and functionally classified on the basis of typology, density and spatial distribution of the artifacts visible on surface. They have been dated following the chronological sequence, the UNO/BU expedition has established at Beta Giyorgis (Aksum) on the ceramic stratigraphic sequence, over 35 radiocarbon dates, imported materials and coins (Fattovich et al., 2000: 69 75), distinguishing:

Pre Aksumite Period (c. 700 400 BC)

Proto Aksumite Period (c. 400 50 BC)

Aksumite Period (c. AD 550 700)

Post Aksumite Period (from c. AD 700)

The recorded sites include a) settlements; b) cemeteries; c) ceremonial sites; c) lithic workshops; d) quarries; e) rock cut basins; f) isolated stelae.

The sites are located on the hilltops, along the slopes and in the plain with the majority of them situated on present cultivated land (42%) and abandoned land (22%) (Fig. 3). Most of them are in a very bad state of preservation, highly disturbed by soil erosion, modern settlements, cultivation, stone quarrying and illegal excavations.

Quantitative and spatial analysis available within the software ArcGIS 9.3 have been applied to the dataset to reconstruct the settlement pattern occurred in the area between the 1st millennium BC and the 1st millennium AD as part of a PhD research project conducted by Luisa Sernicola at University of Naples (Figs. 4a, b, c, d).

The final publication of the site inventory and archaeological map of Aksum is forthcoming in a digital and printed format at University of Naples The publication in English of Sernicola PhD dissertation on the ancient settlement pattern at Aksum is also forthcoming.

Preliminary reports and general synthesis of the archaeological map of Aksum and the ancient settlement pattern of the region have been presented in:

Ciampalini R., A. Manzo, C. Perlingieri, L. Sernicola, Landscape Archaeology and GIS for the Eco cultural Heritage Management of the Aksum Region, Ethiopia, in From Space to Place 2nd International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology, Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop, CNR, Rome, Italy, December 4 7 2006, M. Forte and S. Campana eds., BAR International Series 1568, Oxford, pp. 219 226, 2006.

Fattovich R.

Sernicola L., 2009, Un GIS per la ricostruzione del modello d antico nell di Aksum (Tigray, Etiopia settentrionale), Atti della XII Conferenza Italiana Utenti ESRI, UGG Scarpe Prezzo Roma, pubblication on CDRom.

Sernicola L. and L. Phillipson, 2011, Aksum Regional Trade: New Evidence from Archaeological Survey, Azania, 46, 190 204.

Sernicola L. and F. Sulas, Continuit e cambiamento nel paesaggio rurale di Aksum: dati archeologici, etnografici e paleoambientali, in Studi in onore di Yaqob Beyene, Studi Africanistici, Serie Etiopica, vol.7.