African Archaeological Review

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 255–289 | Cite as

The Holocene Archaeology of Southwest Ethiopia: New Insights from the Kafa Archaeological Project

  • Elisabeth Anne Hildebrand
  • Steven Andrew Brandt
  • Joséphine Lesur-Gebremariam
Original Article


Southwest Ethiopia’s cool, moist, and steep highlands differ from other African environments, and may have fostered distinct patterns of Holocene resource use and intensification. Prior to 2004, only a few archaeological projects probed eastern and northern margins of this region. The Kafa Archaeological Project (2004–2006) excavated ten caves and rockshelters in different environments in the heart of southwest Ethiopia to obtain a Holocene chronology and compare it with adjacent regions. At Kumali Rockshelter, middle Holocene deposits show use of a microlithic industry to obtain wild game, and excellent macrobotanical preservation promises to reveal changes in plant use from 4,700 14C bp to the present. Ceramics and domestic animals appear at Kumali and Koka by ~2,000 14C bp, suggesting herding and pottery making appeared late and contacts with neighboring regions were tenuous. Technologically conservative people continued microlith production and sporadic rockshelter use into the eighteenth century CE.


Le haut plateau escarpé au climat frais et humide du Sud-ouest de l’Éthiopie se distingue des autres environnements africains et a favorisé des schémas variés d’utilisation et d’intensification des ressources Holocènes. Avant 2004, seuls quelques projets archéologiques ont exploré les bords nord et est de cette région. Le Kafa Archaeological Project (2004–2006) a fouillé dix grottes et abris sous roche, situés dans des environnements divers au milieu de cette région pour obtenir une chronologie holocène et la comparer aux régions voisines. Dans l’abri de Kumali, les dépôts de l’Holocène Moyen montrent l’utilisation d’une industrie microlithique pour la chasse, et la très bonne conservation des restes macrobotaniques promet de mettre en évidence des changements dans l’utilisation des plantes entre 4,700 14C bp et aujourd’hui. Céramiques et animaux domestiques apparaissent à Kumali et à Koka vers 2,000 14C bp suggérant une appearance tardive de la poterie et de l’élevage et peu de contacts avec les régions voisines. Les populations locals, marquées par une forte inertie technologique, ont continué à faire des outils microlithiques et utiliser sporadiquement les abris sous roche jusqu’à la 18ième siècle de notre ère.


Ethiopia LSA Holocene Rockshelters Herding Food production 



Fieldwork was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation (2004–2006 grant to EH), and a Fulbright Scholarship (2004–2005 to EH). SB’s participation was assisted by a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant (2004 to SB). Writing was supported by a Humboldt Fellowship for EH at University of Frankfurt. Fiona Marshall, Katharina Neumann, and Elizabeth Stone kindly commented on earlier drafts, as did two anonymous reviewers. EH directed most survey and excavations; SB directed Duba excavations, and co-directed fieldwork at Gacheb and Chiri. Analyses were by EH (ceramics), SB (lithics) and JLG (fauna). Erich Fisher participated in Kumali excavations, and Luke Johnson inked EH’s lithic drawings. Research was facilitated by Ethiopia’s Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the National Museum, the Southern Region Cultural Office, the Kafa Zone Cultural Bureau, Ch’eta and Tello Districts, and Dr. Kassaye Begashaw of Addis Ababa University (MA field school). Our thanks to the five MA students, to ARCCH representatives Kebede Geleta, Dawit Tibab, Chelachew Mesfin, Balew Buye, and Sewagenew Shiferaw, and to local expert Melese Wolde. Ashilo Atemo, Initiative Africa and local teachers gave crucial logistical help. Finally, we thank our field assistants—Alemayehu and Tirfu Ashilo, Asfachew and Ayele Abate, Gebaio Gebre, Ingida Imero, and Kochito Kero—and the people of Kafa.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology DepartmentStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  2. 2.Anthropology DepartmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Muséum National d’Histoire NaturelleParis, Cedex 05France

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