Archaeologists Unearth Forgotten Islamic Ancient City In Ethiopia

British archaeologists in Ethiopia have uncovered a forgotten city dating as far back as 10th century AD that was once believed to be the home of giants. 

The dig, in Harlaa, unearthed a 12th century mosque, a jeweler’s workshop and evidence of Islamic burials and headstones.

Experts from the University of Exeter and Ethiopia’s cultural ministry also found pottery from Madagascar, the Yemen and China, as well as bronze and silver coins from 13th century Egypt.

The dig was a joint effort carried out by the University of Exeter and the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage. CREDIT: T INSOLL

The discovery suggests the eastern Ethiopian city was once a thriving commercial hub for Islamic communities, and that the country’s trade links reached far wider than previously thought.

Harlaa is near the ancient Ethiopian town of Harar, a declared world heritage site. (University of Exeter/Drawn by Nadia Khalaf)

Prof Timothy Insoll, from the university’s Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, hailed the findings as “revolutionary.”

“It was thrilling,” he told the Telegraph, “when we broke the ground, we found one area that used to be a jeweller’s workshop and it was packed with material that allowed us to piece together a rich narrative.”

Excavation underway at the site CREDIT: T INSOLL

“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. The city was a rich, cosmopolitan center for jewellery making and pieces were then taken to be sold around the region and beyond.

The dig uncovered secrets about Ethiopia’s past as a thriving trade hub CREDIT: T INSOLL
Beads found in Harlaa, Ethiopia. (University of Exeter)

Prof Insoll said the treasure trove of items would be put on display at a local heritage center and also at Ethiopia’s national museum in the capital of 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 harbored secrets about Ethiopia’s commercial prowess.

The discovery has been hailed as “revolutionary” by one senior archaeologist CREDIT: T INSOLL

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,” explained Prof 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 was not the case.”

Harlaa lies roughly 78 miles from the Red Sea coast and 180 miles from Addis Ababa. Previous digs on the site had been extremely limited and focused on searching for human remains.

Prof Insoll and his team are now determined to keep digging on the site in the hopes of finding more 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 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 jewellery,” he said.

“During the next stage of our archaeological research in this era we hope to examine this by working on other sites up to 100 km away.”

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