Since 2009, this joint Ethiopian-German project has investigated Yeha, an archaeological site located 35 km northeast of Aksum (Tigray province), with regard to the causes, development and effects of Sabaean cultural transfer on Northern Ethiopia, and the process by which the Sabaeans acculturated to the native population.


At the beginning of the 1st millennium BC at the latest, Sabaeans migrated from the area surrounding their capital Marib into the regions of modern southeast Eritrea (Akkälä Guzay) and northern Ethiopia (Tigray). The result was a transfer of culture and technology from South Arabia to the northern Horn of Africa. This cultural landscape known as Ethio-Sabaean extends particularly to areas along the trade routes from the ancient port of Adulis to the Tigrinian Highlands. South Arabian forms of culture spread out and become visible in political, social and religious life, uniting with the indigenous structures. This process is manifested in various areas such as: architecture, building techniques, art, epigraphic documents written in the ancient South Arabian alphabet, and forms of religion and rule.

Since 2009, the joint Ethiopian-German project “Yeha – Zentrum des äthio-sabäischen Gemeinwesens Di´amat” lead by the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) has studied the site of Yeha. This project was closely linked with the long-term project “Kulturelle Kontakte zwischen Südarabien und Äthiopien: Rekonstruktion des antiken Kulturraums von Yeha (Tigray/Äthiopien)“ funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Within this framework, the Topoi project “The pre-Aksumite site of Yeha (1st half of 1st millennium BC) in the highlands of northern Ethiopia: Studies on ancient water use and irrigation techniques” focussed on local and regional water management.

The geographical focal point of the research was the site of Yeha, which in view of its monumental architecture and inscribed evidence can be considered the political and religious center of this Pre-Aksumite culture. Since 2012 several Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) soundings were carried out in the close vicinity of the ancient site of Yeha. These helped to clarify existing structures and gave a broader insight into Yehas architectural layout.

The local water management in Yeha is dominated by the very terraced landscape. In contrast to the Sabean culture other, especially monumental, water management constructions seem to be missing around Yeha.

Building upon the hitherto known archaeological and epigraphical evidence and on the anticipated results from research in Yeha and vicinity, the emergence and change in this cultural sphere were analyzed and possible lines of tradition traced from the time of the Sabaean presence until the Aksumite period were specified. This approach included ethno-historical research, which due to the conservative memory landscape of Tigray enables methodologically based conclusions about social forms and ways of life in antiquity. Moreover, geoarchaeological issues were pursued by the different project partners concerning the reconstruction of the paleoenvironment, climate history and use of natural resources to provide evidence for different subsistence forms.

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