Megaliths, Landscapes, and Society in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia:
An Archaeological Research
par/by Alebachew Belay
On September 25, 2020, Alebachew Belay defended his PhD thesis prepared at the Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès (UMR 5608 TRACES) under the supervision of François-Xavier Fauvelle. Alebachew Belay presents here the main results of his doctoral research on the megalithism of the central highlands of Ethiopia.
Megalithism is a wide-reaching subject with diverse temporal and typological frameworks. Meanwhile, it is one of the enigmatic research themes in archaeology, mostly characterized by controversies among scholars and collective memories in society. Major megalithic sites, particularly in Europe and Africa, continued to attract researchers from various disciplines. On the other hand, new megalithic sites are coming to light accidentally. Hence, it is among the fascinating areas of research that engage archaeologists across the world.
In Ethiopia, the archaeological study of megaliths was started by the beginning of the 20th century in the North and decades later in the South. Since then, several megalithic sites and monuments were noted and published. However, megalithic sites in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia were left unidentified for long. Their presence was first reported in the 1980s (Anfray 1983). Since then, archaeological surveys and excavations were taken-up. This effort of an Ethio-French team brought to light a previously unknown culture, later called the “Shay Culture” (Fauvelle & Poissonnier, 2012). The team conducted archaeological campaigns in a multi-disciplinary approach and documented nearly ninety tumuli in five districts of North Shewa. On this basis, excavations of three tumuli and stelae in Menz, and a hypogeum in South Wollo were conducted. Of these, the chronological establishments that place the Shay Culture between the 9th and 14th centuries and the findings from grave goods including ceramics throw light on the forgotten but magnificent megalithic culture that existed in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia.
After almost a decade of pause, the present PhD research commenced in 2016. It was targeted to broaden the scope and address major questions left in our understanding of Shay culture. In this case, major findings of the previous studies were drawn, and target priorities of the present study were set.