Ethiopia is a country I hanker to visit. A cradle of the original Christianity in Africa with its depiction of its religious art form which has always fascinated me and now to add to my interest, British archaeologists in Ethiopia have uncovered a forgotten city dating as far back as the 10 century that was once believed to be the home of giants.
A dig in Harlaa has unearthed a 12th century mosque, a jeweller’s workshop and evidence of Islamic burials and headstones. Experts from the University of Exeter also found pottery from Madagascar, Yemen and China, as well as bronze and silver coins from 13th century Egypt. The discovery suggests the Eastern Ethiopian city was once a thriving hub for Islamic communities, and that the country’s trade links reached far wider than previously thought.
Professor Timothy Insoll, from the University’s Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies hailed the finding as ‘revolutionary.’ ‘It was thrilling,’ he told the Daily Telegraph, ‘when we broke the ground. We found one area which used to be a jewellers workshop and was packed with materials that allowed us to piece together a rich narrative. This discovery revolutionizes our understanding of trade in an archeologically part of Ethiopia. What we have found shows this area was the centre of trade in that region. The city was a rich cosmopolitan centre for jewellery-making and pieces were then taken to be sold around the region and beyond.’
Professor Insoll said the treasure trove of items would go on display at a local heritage centre and at Ethiopia’s National Museum at its capital, Addis Ababa. The dig was a joint effort carried out alongside the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage. It has long been suspected that the ancient city harboured secrets about Ethiopia’s commercial prowess. Its large imposing stone buildings even created a local legend that the place was home to giants.
‘The idea that the people who lived here were giants came from the fact that the architecture was made with these massive, beautiful stones,’ said Professor Insoll. ‘The people who live here today have no connection to those stone towns, so they just assumed that the giant buildings must have been made by giant people. Of course, we know that this is not the case.’
Harlaa lies roughly 78 miles from the Red Sea Coast and 180 miles from Addis Ababa. Previous digs at the site had been extremely limited and focused on searching for human remains. Professor Insoll and his team are now determined to keep digging on the site in the hope of finding new clues about the forgotten city’s relationship with more far-flung countries such as China. ‘We know jewellery was being made here for trading into the African interior, and materials for this came in from the Red Sea, the East African Coast and possibly India, but we don’t know what was given in exchange for that jewellery. During the next stage of our archaeological research in this area, we hope to examine this by working on other sites up to 100 kilometres away.’
This latest discovery makes me keener than ever to visit Ethiopia before my time on this planet comes to an end.