African Archaeological Review

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 305–325 | Cite as

Variability in Eritrea and the Archaeology of the Northern Horn During the First Millennium BC: Subsistence, Ritual, and Gold Production

  • Peter R. SchmidtEmail author
Original Article


Around the margins of Asmara, Eritrea, hundreds of sites dating to the early and mid-first millennium BC have been documented. They range from single family dwellings to small and large hamlets, small and large villages, and small towns. We call these Ancient Ona sites, using the Tigrinya term for ruin. Our findings testify to significant subsistence, ritual, and economic variation within a region of 12 by 17 km: (1) different subsistence strategies in the well-watered, open basin to the west of Asmara (emmer wheat, barley; cattle) compared to the uplands north and east of Asmara (lentil, teff; goats/sheep); (2) ritual events, marked by stone bulls' heads and a huge ash deposit at Sembel Kushet, that brought people together in rites of passage and intensification during Meskel-like ceremonies, including ritual exchange; and (3) the exploitation of gold north of Asmara among heterarchically organized communities that exchanged specialized products within this region.


Eritrea Ancient Ona ‘Pre-Aksumite’ Ritual Gold Bulls’ heads 


Aux environs d’Asmara, en Erythrée, des centaines de sites datant du début et milieu du premier millénaire avant notre ère ont été recensés. Ils comprennent des habitations unifamiliales, des hameaux de taille diverse, des villages petits et grands, ainsi que des petites villes. Nous appelons ces vestiges ‘sites Ona anciens,’ en nous inspirant du terme Tigrinya désignant une ruine. Nos trouvailles démontrent une diversité considérable en matière d’économie, de moyens subsistance, et pratiques rituelles dans une région de 12 par 17 kilomètres: 1) Les stratégies de subsistance employées dans le bassin ouvert et bien arrosé a l’ouest d’Asmara (amidonnier, avoine, bovins) diffèrent de celles en usage dans les hautes terres au nord et à l’est d’Asmara (lentille, teff, chèvres/moutons); 2) Les évènements rituels sont représentés par des tètes de taureaux en pierre et par un dépôt énorme de cendres à Sembel Kushet; ils rassemblaient les gens dans des rites de passage et rites d’intensification similaires à ceux des cérémonies de Meskel; 3) Au nord d’Asmara, l'or était exploité par des communautés ‘hétérarchiques’ impliquées dans des échanges de produits spécialisés dans la région.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.WaldoUSA

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