10th Century Forgotten City Unearthed in Ethiopia, Once Thought to be ‘Home of Giants’
An international team of researchers led by the University of Exeter archaeologists, has unearthed an ancient, forgotten city in Ethiopia - once thought to be home of giants. The discovery reveals significant and previously unknown information about the origins of international trade and Islam in the country between the 10th and early 15th centuries.
Small Finds Led the Way
Archaeologists excavating at Harlaa in Eastern Ethiopia, have uncovered a 12th-century mosque, evidence of Islamic burials and headstones. The finds also include glass vessel fragments, rock crystal, carnelian and glass beads, imported cowry shells and pottery from Madagascar, the Maldives, Yemen and China. Additionally, bronze and silver coins from 13th-century Egypt were also found. No organized archaeological exploration had ever taken place in this area of Ethiopia before, but the constant discovery of pottery and coins from local farmers, convinced experts that there might be hiding a cultural and archaeological “treasure” of Ethiopia’s history. Interestingly, the immense size of some of the building stones that were also found there, gave birth to a local legend that the city was once home to giants.
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Part of 12th-century mosque, including mihrab, niche and floor. The mosque is similar in style to others found in East Africa, suggesting connections between Islamic communities in the region (Credit : Tim Insoll , University of Exeter)
However, Professor Timothy Insoll, from the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter and leader of the research, set things straight, “Local people were extremely keen for us to solve mysteries. Farmers had been finding strange objects, including Chinese coins, as they were working on their land, and a legend began that the area was home to giants. We have obviously disproved that, but I’m not sure they fully believe us yet. Some people have said the bodies we have discovered are the children of giants,” he tells News Network Archaeology .
The remains of some of the 300 people were found in a grave complex ( Credit: Tim Insoll , University of Exeter)
Finds Reveal the Cosmopolitan Character of the Town
The researchers had been working for over two years in the area before making the discoveries or arriving at any conclusions. Professor Timothy Insoll says as News Network Archaeology reports , “This discovery revolutionizes our understanding of trade in an archaeologically neglected part of Ethiopia. What we have found shows this area was the center of trade in that region.”
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Examples of various beads found (Credit: Timothy Insoll )
Remains found in the dig show that jewelers were creating stunning pieces in silver, bronze and semi-precious stones and glass beads. They used some technology usually associated in that period with jewelers in India, revealing trade and possible immigration from that country to Harlaa. Professor Timothy Insoll explains, “The archaeological findings suggest this place was home to a very mixed community. We know jewelry was being made here for trading into the African interior, and materials to do this came in from the Red Sea, East African Coast and possibly India, but we don’t know what was given in exchange for that jewelry. During the next stage of our archaeological research in this era we hope to examine this by working on other sites up to 100km away.”
Area thought to be a jeweler’s workshop (Credit: Tim Insoll )
Excavations Will Continue Next Year
The research is funded by the European Research Council and previously by the Max Van Berchem Foundation in Switzerland. The archaeologists, from the Universities of Exeter, Addis Ababa and Leuven, will continue digging next year, in other sites and deeper underground, in order to unearth more evidence of people who lived there earlier in history.
Excavations at the site in Ethiopia. (Credit : Tim Insoll )
Ultimately, several of the finds will be exhibited in a heritage center directed by local people who hope to bring money to the area. Some of the findings will be displayed in the country’s national museum in Addis Ababa. The work was completed in partnership with the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage.
Top image: The excavation at the mosque in Harlaa, Eastern Ethiopia. (Image Credit: Timothy Insoll , University of Exeter)