TSEGAI Medin, (Ph.D candidate. University of Rovira I Virgili, Tarragona, Spain)
Eritrea - (new country)?
The Eritrean coastal environments revealed evidences of technological industries that belong to our direct ancestor, Homo sapiens. This Homo species conquered a wide paleoecological landscape, preferably, the coast of the Red sea around 125, 000 years before present. They adapted to survive at the coast of the Red Sea and used marine-life as a major diet. These coastal habitats played a major role in understanding the sustainability of Human evolution, sedentary life and dispersals of Humans. The technological evidences of this Homo species is evident from a number of sites along the coast of Red Sea (Abdur, Asfet, Gelàlo NW and Misse East…), dated from ca. 125, 000 to 10,000 years before present. The discovery of Middle and Late Stone Age stone industries, in association with varied type of shells are conspicuous along the coasts of the Buri peninsula in the wide coast of the Red Sea.
Evidences of Holocene culture (from 12, 000 years go to present) is correlated to the first emergence of socio-cultural trophy- in our land. The evidences are found at extensive areas within the country. Recently, an attempt is made to understand the gap between the Pleistocene to Holocene culture in the basin to reconstruct the cultural continuity from the remote past to 10,000 years old society-the analysis is still ongoing and the result is promising.
Proto-historic evidence (symbolic language), rock paints and engravings, roughly dated to around 5000-2000 years before present. Generally, after twenty to thirty generation (according to ethnographic accounts) from the present, humans start to depict their symbolic arts in inaccessible caves in our region. The emergence of symbolic behavior is associated with the first evidence of domestication of plants and animals, sedentary life, agriculture, trade and other cultural interactions before the introduction of writing. Evidences, of such symbolic representation is documented, in highlands and lowlands of the country. Among these are; Adi-Alewti, Iyago, Karibosa, Saro, Mai-ainei, Quarura…etc. The rock art paints and/or engravings are generally represented by figures of animals (zoomorphic), human (anthropomorphic) and geometric styles. These styles encode many levels of social information (resistance, agriculture, art, etc) and are securely tied to places unlike other archaeological materials. Even today these symbolic representations are practicing within the diverse ethnic groups in the country.
Sedentary life of complex agro-pastoral societies in our region was traditionally believed to be thrived around the 2nd millennium B.C. This historic period portrayed extreme dynamics of societies in the highlands and even the lowlands of Eritrea. Lands were abandoned and even again inhabited by the same or different societies. Societies were living in higher lands for defense, to save marshy areas for agriculture and to avoid insect-borne diseases. The sedentary life of societies enabled to introduce agriculture, ceramic technology, trade (barter exchange), ritualization and building houses. This historic times covers a wide time frame since the eve of the medieval period. Evidences of sites that fall within this historic period are huge and are equally distributed within the country. To mention some; Harenay, Kokon, Greater Asmara Area (Sembel, Maitemenay; Maichehot, Una-Gudo, Weki-Duba), Dekemhare (Kurbaria), Dubarwa (Qelebes), Adi-Bari…etc. The trade between the indigenous societies played a vital role in promoting socio-cultural interactions. This network soon went further towards the sea, probably with higher necessity of salt and obsidian materials in the hinterland. However, in return various products like, Myrrh, frankincense (Boswellia, and commiphera) elephant ivory, ebony, gold and animals (panthers, cheetah, monkeys and baboons) were exchanged with societies from the sea, within the region and further to the North with the Egyptian Pharaoh. Eritrea was considered one of the most exotic and mysterious places to the Egyptian Pharaohs. The geographical link was mentioned in the Egyptian inscriptions during the time of Amenhotep III. Furthermore, recently, the DNA analysis from mummified baboons in the British Museum has revealed the location of the land of Punt within the territory of Eritrea and some parts of eastern Sudan.
The ancient Port city of Adulis is mentioned as a gate way to external influences and prosperity in various classical sources. For example, it is well known in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (1st c. A.D.) and the Christian Topography (6th c. A.D.) as important port of trade in Antiquity. It was serving as hub of trade between external domains (Romans, the Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, Arabs…etc) and the hinterland of Africa. The sites of Qohaito (tentatively listed in UNESCO World Heritage List), Metera, Keskese, Tokonadaè and further to Axum are among the most prosperous cities having strong ties in trade and administration to the Adulite kingdom. Scientific studies are not significantly conducted in this site apart of the two phases of field works organized by the National Museum of Eritrea, the University of Asmara and Southampton University in 2004 and 2005. However, recently (in 2010), after a successive colonial destructive excavations, a five years research plan was already commenced under collaborative agreement of the Eri-Italian Museums and Universities. This research project is expected to prosper the scientific importance of the port city and reveal its mysterious connection to other external entities in a scientific scrutiny.
Excavation cite at the ancient port city of Adulis
Medieval part of Eritrea has a tremendous and complicated history covering ample range of time. This period is represented by the introduction of leading religions in our region, ca. 4th and 7th century AD. Evidences of ancient Churches (e.g. Kidane-Mihret church, Senafe) and Mosques (Sahaba, Massawa) along with new theological doctrine, religious cultures and comprehensive scientific knowledge were flourished at its peak. The kingdoms (Bahri Negestat) in the highlands of the country were successively engaging in hostile battles with the Ethiopian kings, the Islamic power from the lowlands and other external colonial powers. There are evidences of raided Monasteries and churches during this time. Based on present ethnographic accounts followers of these major religions were cohabited peacefully at the same region up to today. However, like any other periods of history, this part of Eritrean history is not widely understood even to date.
The recent history of Eritrea is primarily linked to the unprecedented struggle for liberation preceded by the awful and successive colonial times. Traces of colonial vestiges (e.g. Asmara architectural parameter) are evident in extensive areas of the country (The historical parameter of Asmara is in the Tentative List of UNESCO world heritage list). Eritrea was in the dark part of colonialism for centuries and the impact was colossal. After successive colonial oppressions, Eritreans started to oppose, first in individual or limited number but later in an organized demeanor for freedom.
The generation of that time fought for liberation (as of our forefathers) for about thirty bloody years. The struggle became feasible through mass participation of people at all range of age and gender. The EPLF (the only and ruling power), struggled without allies and overthrown the giant Ethiopian power from the sovereign land of Eritrea in 1991. The secret of the success of the long and genuine Eritrean struggle could be because of strong culture of solidarity, progressive resistance to oppression, martyrdom, self-reliance,…etc.
The trenches built during Eritrea's long liberation struggle. Nakfa, Eritrea.
At last the strong unity and/or harmony of the people brings the long lasted colonial times to an end and this was secured after the successful referendum conducted in 1993. Eritrea becomes independent once forever. However, after seven years, of peaceful times, a sudden and insignificant war emerged with the neighboring country of Ethiopia. This war was fabricated by the US administration and physically operated by the Ethiopian Government. The overall hidden agenda was to control the sovereign land of Eritrea, exploit its resources and throw-down the people in eternal hardships of immigration, hunger, illiteracy…etc. Nowadays, the American government is engaging in repetitive attempts to pass punitive sanctions against Eritrea to agitate the economic boom in the country and to create unstable political ambiance in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea´s series evolution of history flows through intense difficulties in time to arrive in the present juncture. The present Eritrea and its diverse culture (language, lifestyle…etc) is not a one night creation, it is happening after a long process of time. The cradle of humankind site of Eritrea is keeping the fossil legacy of our ancestors from Millions of years. This process witnesses the historical evolution of societies through time, the hardships and resistance and solidarity in millions of years. The current political instabilities in our region are part of these historic endeavors. Nowadays, the Eritrean people are reluctantly traveling through enormous political hardships; however, like always no retreat. The Eritrean´s history making process is still continuing and the current resistance to giant political realm is part of our modern history. This is a small part of the intense historic facts about Eritrea`s antiquity. Eritrea´s history i as old as humanity; rather than an overnight created account.