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Sulas, F. 2014. Aksum, Environmental Archaeology (in). In C. Smith (ed.), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, pp. 129-138. Springer.

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Sulas, F. 2014. Aksum, Environmental Archaeology (in). In C. Smith (ed.), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, pp. 129-138. Springer.
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  Cross-References ▶ Living Communities: Local Communities inSite Management and Advocates for SitePreservation ▶ Petra, Archaeology of  ▶ Petra National Trust and the Challenge of SiteManagement at Petra ▶ World Heritage List: Criteria, Inscription, andRepresentation ▶ World Heritage Objectives and Outcomes Further Reading A KRAWI , A. 2003. NGO & government collaboration inarchaeological site management, Jordan (Petra case),in M. Greenburg (ed.)  Of the past, for the future:integrating archaeology and conversation:  29-34.Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute.- 2009. Issues atworld heritage sites –Petra case study, inF. al-Khraysheh (ed.)  Studies in the history and archaeology of Jordan.  Amman: Department of Antiquities.- 2012.Sitemanagement, history,andstatus,inD.Comer (ed.)  Tourism and archaeological heritage manage-ment at Petra: driver to development or destruction: 30-77. New York: Springer.A KRAWI , A. & L. S HEKEDE . 2010. Unique Nabataean wallpainting in Petra: conservation in situ, in  Conservationand the eastern Mediterranean: contributions to the 2010 IIC Congress, Istanbul:  214-19. InternationalInstitute for Conversation of Historic and ArtisticWorks.C OMER , D. (ed.) 2012.  Tourism and archaeologicalheritage management at Petra. Driver to development or destruction?  New York: Springer. Aksum: Environmental Archaeology Federica SulasAnthropology and Archaeology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa Introduction Rising above the Sudanese lowlands to the northand the Red Sea coastal plains to the east, thehighlands of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea havelong been recognized as a center of plant domesti-cation and host of some of the earliest complexsocietiesofsub-SaharanAfrica.Theintensificationof contactswithsouthernArabiainthefirstmillen-nium BCE favored the development of complexsocieties and, later, the emergence of the Kingdomof Aksum (BCE 50–CE 800). Aksum is located ona gentle plain at the heart of the Tigray highlands(Fig. 1) which provided excellent ground for thenew kingdom to thrive for almost a 1,000 years byengaging in long-distance trade and commerce,developing literacy and coinage. The adoption of Christianityinthemid-fourthcenturyCEfurtheredAksum’s importance within and beyond northeastAfrica. This historical significance has fosteredintensive archaeological research in the region,but the history of its diverse environment hasreceived little scholarly attention until recently.Today, Aksum (UNESCO World Heritage Site,1981) is one of the most important archaeologicalsites of Africa and remains the leading religiouscenterfortheEthiopianOrthodoxChurch.Asenvi-ronmental archaeology in Ethiopia and Eritreagrows, the historical contexts of landscape changeare becoming increasingly prominent in currentdebates about land degradation and sustainableresource uses.This review begins by outlining the environ-mental aspects that have been explored byarchaeological research at Aksum. The historicalbackground traces the emergence of archaeolog-ical research through three main phases: the “dis-covery” (1900s–1940s), the “consolidation”(1970s–1980s), and the “diversification” of thelast two decades. A third section explores theemerging critique of environmental historymodels in the light of new research findings andchanging perspectives. The review ends witha remark on the emphasis on the role of environ-mental archaeology (and history) to currentdebates on heritage management, land degrada-tion, and sustainable resource use. Definition Environmental archaeology in the northern high-lands of Ethiopia has focused on three main Aksum: Environmental Archaeology 129  A A  topics: (1) the development of settlement and itsimpact on the landscape, (2) the availability andmanagement of environmental resources, and(3) the legacy of past land uses into present-daylandscapes and societies. The emphasis on thesetopics is much the result of advances in archaeo-logical methods and the sociopoliticaltransformations that have shaped modern Ethio-pia. Intensive archaeological survey and recon-naissance records have provided data for reconstructing the settlement history of theAksum plain. However, while the research focuson the development of the kingdom has producedwell-defined settlement trajectories for the first Aksum: Environmental Archaeology, Fig. 1  Map of Aksum: ( top row ) regional map and the location of Tigray;( bottom row ) the Aksum area (contours are at 20 m interval) A  130 Aksum: Environmental Archaeology  millenniumCE,the recordsfortheperiods beforethe emergence of Aksum and following itsdecline are patchy, and there are important gaps.For example, excavations at rockshelter siteshave elucidated aspects of the later prehistoricoccupation (c. ninth/eight millennia BCE) in thehills surrounding the Aksum plain (Phillipson2000), but the landscape that hosted these earlygroups is poorly understood. In fact, no solidenvironmental record is available from Aksumfor this period, though regional and continentaldatasets of past climate are available. Theregional record of significant climate ameliora-tion at the beginning of the Holocene (c. 10,000BCE) has been linked to the peopling of the area(though sporadic occurrences of Early Stone Ageand Middle Stone Age material point to muchearlier frequentation). Substantial environmentalrecords are available only for the Aksumiteperiods, broadly encompassing the rise of socialcomplexity and the demise of the kingdom(c. 700 BCE–CE 800). Studies of plant and ani-mal remains, and geoarchaeological investiga-tions have contributed to illuminating aspects of the subsistence base of the kingdom and itsimpact on the landscape. Archaeobotanical andzooarchaeological studies have concentrated onsettlement sites and funerary contexts, andgeoarchaeological data come mainly fromlandscape sequences and buried soils (or paleosols). Regional climatic records providefurther sources of information, but the physicaldiversity of the northern Ethiopian-Eritreanhighlands together with patchy archaeologicalrecords makes it difficult to build solid correla-tions(seebelow).Theculturalandenvironmentalhistory following the decline of the Aksumitekingdom (c. 800 CE onwards) is poorly under-stood, but there is now indication that Aksum’scountryside was not abandoned (Fattovich 2008).In addition, buried soil records, palaeobotanicaldata, and historical sources provide supportingevidence for prolonged settlement and arableland use throughout the second millennium CE.Over the last decade or so, the implications of environmental reconstructions beyond archaeo-logical research have begun to emerge. Geomor-phological and land evaluation studies have oftenlinked past land uses to present environmentaldegradation (e.g., Nyssen et al. 2004). The linksbetween intensifying agriculture and the declineof the Aksumite kingdom feed into discussionsabout traditional land uses and their contributionto present environmental conditions. This highlydebated topic is unlikely to find consensusuntil a far more coherent and richer body of datais available. In fact, while Aksum is arguably theplace where most archaeological research hastaken place, environmental and land evaluationstudies have targeted other areas of theEthiopian-Eritrean highlands and beyond. Thus,correlations between local archaeologicalevidence and regional environmental proxiesrely on questionable geographical, cultural, andtemporal uniformities. Historical Background Discovery (1900s–1940s) Archaeological investigation at Aksum begun inthe early 1900s with the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition (hereinafter DAE) led by EnnoLittmann. The German team comprehensivelyrecorded ancient monuments at Aksum andother sites of Tigray and Eritrea. The detailedanalysis of ancient architecture, inscriptions,and material culture was published in four vol-umes (Littmann et al. 1913) and laid the founda-tions of Aksumite archaeology. Although thisteam was not particularly concerned with envi-ronmental aspects, the expedition’s photographicarchive includes several panoramic views of Aksum’s landscape in 1906 and, thus, before theoccurrence of main reforestation programs, infra-structure building, and urban development,which later transformed significant parts of theEthiopian highlands. This is a remarkable sourceof information that remains largely untapped.The DAE publication offered the first detaileddescription of the local archaeology, whichCarlo Conti Rossini (1928) discussed withina coherent historical context and linked to textualand oral sources. This includes, for example,reference to oral traditions linking the “fall” of Aksum to the destruction caused by the external Aksum: Environmental Archaeology 131  A A  invasions, droughts, and famines. However oldsome of these local traditions may be, they arepreserved in manuscript texts compiled in muchlater periods than those to which they refer. Thatsaid, these sources offer remarkable informationon Aksum’s landscape, and some have longbeen referenced in support of archaeologicalinterpretation (see Fattovich 2008).Inthe1930s and 1940s,systematicexcavationsat Aksum included the recording of landscapestratigraphy. In 1937, while in Aksum for therelocation of a stele to Rome, Ugo Monneret deVillard (1938) conducted a topographic study of the area and investigated the stratigraphicsequence of the plain. He identified two mainphases of sediment depositions next to the Cathe-dral Maryam Seyon (Fig. 2): the earliest phasewould have preceded the rise of Aksum, and, inparticular, it would have occurred before the erec-tion of the monoliths at the Northern Stele Park;a second phase would have taken place after thedecline of the kingdom. Shortly afterward, further sedimentary data were collected by SalvatorePuglisi(1941),wholedthe  MissioneArcheologica Italiana  at Aksum and sought to expand researchbeyond the then known archaeological area bysurveying other sectors of the plain. Puglisi exca-vated a main residential building and conductedtest excavations to the west and northeast of theold town where he recorded a stratigraphicsequenceofculturallayersinterspersedbyalluvialdeposits (Fig. 2). In the 1950s and 1960s, thenewly establishedEthiopian Institute ofArchaeol-ogy (Addis Ababa, 1952) sponsored further systematic research by French scholars who exca-vated important monumental structures and sites.Theresultsofthesestudiesprovidednewevidencefor outlining the early cultural sequence ofAksumand its surroundings. Consolidation (1970s–1980s) The early 1970s saw the beginning of large-scaleexcavations and surveys at Aksum and itssurroundings by British, Italian, and Americanarchaeologists. The new research programs weredesigned to examine the environmental factorsand cultural processes involved in the develop-ment of the Aksumite kingdom (e.g., Munro-Hay1989;Ricci1990;Michels2005).However,these were cut short by widespread sociopoliticalunrest that culminated in the demise of the Ethi-opian monarchy in 1974 and the establishment of the Derg regime (1974–1991). The new politicalsetting halted field research for nearly twodecades, but this interruption provided time for elaborating and publishing the results of theresearch conducted in the early 1970s. In partic-ular, two main works laid the foundationsfor subsequent modeling of the environmentaland settlement history of Aksum. In 1972, Aksum: EnvironmentalArchaeology,Fig. 2  View of Aksum’slandscape, November 2007: taken from BetaGiyorgis hillside, near “Dsite,” and lookingnorthward (Photo: F. Sulas) A  132 Aksum: Environmental Archaeology  Butzer (1981) had conducted preliminarygeoarchaeological investigations in the Aksumplain, which included the application of soilmicromorphology. The results were elaboratedinto an “archaeo-sedimentary” sequence that,for the first time, provided an integrated frame-work for linking cultural developments and envi-ronmental change. Although the chronologicalframe available in the 1970s has now beenrevised, Butzer’s sequence remains the main ref-erence point for any environmental reconstruc-tion of the Aksum area. The analysis of severalsections in the core archaeological area (Fig. 1)led Butzer to conclude that four aggradationphases had occurred at Aksum. The first aggra-dation phase (c. BCE 150–CE 150) was associ-ated with a period of increased precipitation andthe growth of Aksum as a regional political cen-ter. The second aggradation phase was linked tothe erosion of degraded agricultural landsupslope as a result of heavier rains and settlementand demographic increase (see below). The lasttwo phases of aggradation occurred several cen-turies after the decline of the Aksumite kingdom.Shortly after Butzer’s work at Aksum, theAmerican team led by Joseph W. Michelsconducted a systematic survey of the region com-prised between Aksum and Yeha (Fig. 1). Duringthe 6 months of intense fieldwork, the surveydocumented over 250 ancient sites, and theresulting database not only included archaeolog-ical information but also a new classification of settlement types and records of modern land uses(Michels 2005). The results of Michels’ work(2005; an interim report was published in 1984)were fundamental in showing the intensity of ancient settlement over a diversified environmentand the links between landscape characteristicsand land uses. Diversification (Since the Early 1990s) Following the establishment of the FederalDemocratic Republic of Ethiopia in the early1990s, the country regained enough political sta-bility for resuming fieldwork. New research pro-grams began investigating the development of farming and livestock holding, the settlement sys-tem and subsistence base of the Aksumitekingdom, and the short- and long-term impact of land use practices on the environment. In 1993,two large-scale archaeological projects started atAksum:DavidW.Phillipson(2000)ledtheBritishInstitute in Eastern Africa’s research in the plain,and the Italian-American expedition directed byRodolfo Fattovich and Kathryn A. Bard resumedresearch on the adjacent hill of Beta Giyorgis(Fattovich et al. 2000). In addition to sharinga multidisciplinary approach, both projects com-bined large-scale excavations and systematic sur-veys for over a decade, and, thus, they ensured anunprecedented continuity of research. The Britishexpeditionexcavatedanumberofsitestothenorthand west of the town. The excavations of rockshelter sites, as mentioned, clarified aspectsof later prehistoric occupation. Research on later periodsincludedtheexcavations atAksumitesitesand, significantly, the first rural settlement knownas “D site” (domestic). This low-status satellitefarming settlement was located to the north of the old town (Figs. 1 and 2) and yielded evidence for two distinct occupations: an early farming-based settlement (c. 700–400 BCE) and, after a significant hiatus, a lower-status occupation inthe sixth century CE. Botanical and faunalassemblages revealed a widening of the resourcebase from the early phase and included the firstappearance of African cereals such as tef (Boardman 1999; Phillipson 2000). The records from “D site” and other sites show that Near East-ernandAfricancropsweregrownfromatleastthemid-first millennium BCE and possibly earlier (Bard et al. 2000; D’Andrea 2008). Near Eastern plants (i.e., barley, emmer wheat, flax) were themost common groups and were most likely asso-ciated with dry farming. Since the mid-first mil-lennium CE, there is evidence for an increase infood plants, cereals, pulses, oil, and fiber plants(Boardman 1999). With the exception of few spe-cies (grape, sorghum, finger millet), there isa remarkable continuity between the later Aksumite times and today (Phillipson 2000:420).Asimilarscenarioisillustratedbytheresultsof exploratory pollen analyses on archaeologicalsediments from Beta Giyorgis hill, which point tothepresenceofanopengrasslandvegetationcover with tree patches from the mid-first millennium Aksum: Environmental Archaeology 133  A A
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