Archaeology Materials from Aksum (Axum), Ethiopia: A short video of digital materials
This is a video I made late in 2008 that highlights some of the archaeological materials found here. Included are some explorations of the site of Aksum in Ethiopia with materials such as GIS, 3D models, text, photographs, and other spatial data. The contributors of these materials include
- British Institute in Eastern Africa, Axum Archive
- Smithsonian Heritage Collection
- The Heinz Rüther Collection
- UNO-BU Archaeological Expedition at Bieta Giyorgis, Aksum
Below is the introductory essay provided on the site by David W. Phillipson. I find it interesting as it highlights the significance of the site.
Aksum, in the extreme north of modern Ethiopia, was the capital of a major civilisation during the first seven centuries AD. It arose from the gradual fusion of an indigenous farming population with immigrants from southern Arabia who had settled in the region several hundreds of years previously. Although few in number, these immigrants introduced to the Ethiopian highlands important cultural traits, including literacy in a Semitic language, which have retained prominence in the region ever since.
Occupying what was then rich farming country, and with access to abundant natural resources including ivory and gold, Aksum rapidly became powerful and prosperous, establishing political leadership over surrounding peoples in what is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, and attracting trade contacts far beyond its own borders. Although Aksum itself is located towards the western side of the northern Ethiopian highlands, its overseas trade and other links were primarily maintained through the port of Adulis, on the Red Sea coast of modern Eritrea.
The history and internal organisation of the Aksumite polity remain poorly understood. Its prosperity seems to have reached its peak in the late third and early fourth centuries, when enormous resources were devoted to the provision of magnificent royal tombs, each marked by a huge monolithic stela carved in representation of a multi-storey building. At about the same time, Aksum began to produce its own coinage: gold issues primarily for international trade, silver and copper for more local circulation. In about AD 340, the Aksumite kingdom formally adopted Christianity, thus becoming only the second nation in the world (after Armenia) to take this step. Initially, it seems that the new religion was largely restricted to the lite, but during the next 150 years it was adopted more widely.
Despite its international status and recognition as a literate civilisation of high technological accomplishment, Aksum continued to rely on a subsistence economy that had developed in the Ethiopian highlands many centuries previously. The crops and animals of its farmers, the technology of its potters and the stone tools of its craftsmen were all of ancient, indigenous origin.
Early in the sixth century, with at least tacit support from Byzantium, Aksum embarked on military activity in South Arabia. Initially successful, this soon became an excessive drain on the kingdom’s resources. By now firmly Christian, Aksum suffered gradual reduction both of prosperity and of international importance. Over-exploitation of resources in its homeland, with disruption of overseas trade following the establishment of Arabian control of the Red Sea, led to more rapid decline around the mid-seventh century. The political capital was transferred to a more southerly location, and the issue of coinage was terminated.
Despite these developments, Aksum has ever since maintained its prominence in the ecclesiastical affairs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Its Maryam Tsion cathedral, of unparalleled sanctity, is still regarded as the mother-church of Ethiopia. Much of the belief, liturgy, tradition, art and architecture of medieval and modern Ethiopia may be traced back to Aksumite origins.
Today, Aksum is classed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Archaeological research and conservation work continue, and a new museum is under construction, catering both for local people and for growing numbers of tourists from overseas.
* The above are screenshots of some of the materials available in the collections, including the famous stelea fields of Aksum.