A Pre-Aksumite Culinary Practice at the Mezber Site, Northern Ethiopia

  • A. Catherine D’AndreaEmail author
  • Linda Perry
  • Laurie Nixon-Darcus
  • Ahmed G. Fahmy
  • Elshafaey A. E. Attia


This study integrates ethnoarchaeological, archaeological, and microbotanical evidence to investigate ancient culinary practice at the Pre-Aksumite archaeological site of Mezber (1600 BC-AD 1) in Eastern Tigrai, northern Ethiopia. Starch grains were successfully extracted from Mezber grinding stones and four taxa were identified to cf. Fabaceae and sub-groups of Poaceae. The small sample of starch extracted from the grinding stones appears to be in general agreement with the Pre-Aksumite macro-botanical record. Recovered starches were damaged by grinding and heat treatment both of which suggest they were deposited on grinding stones through food preparation activities involving grinding. Ethnoarchaeological studies of grinding stone surfaces and cooking practice were completed to provide an interpretive context for archaeological starch and grinding stone evidence. Heating damage observed on cf. Triticeae starch suggests that Mezber inhabitants were processing roasted barley flour which is a widespread culinary practice today.


Archaeobotany Culinary practice Ethiopia Ethnoarchaeology Foodways Grinding stones Roasted barley flour Pre-Aksumite period Starch 



We dedicate this paper to the memory our friend and colleague, Prof. Ahmed G. Fahmy, who initiated the laboratory analysis of microbotanical samples from Mezber grinding stones. We are greatly indebted to our Gulo Makeda consultants who shared with us their knowledge in using grinding stones and the making of besso. In particular we thank Waizoro Zaid Mahray, Haleka Tehwoelde Brahn Beyene, Waizoro Nigisti Hagos, Haleka Gebreselassie Gebreyesus, Waizoro Medhin Abade, Ato Hailu Hago, and Ato Mebhratu Areyhu. Our superb interpreters, Habtamu Mekonnen and Yemane Meresa, had a significant role to play in the success of ETAP fieldwork. We are grateful to the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), and in particular to Ato Desalegn Abebaw for assistance in obtaining research permit clearances. In addition our work was supported by the Tigrai Agency for Culture and Tourism and Ato Kebede Amare. Many thanks to Shannon Wood who produced Figs. 1 and 2 and Lynn Welton who completed Figs. 3 and 4. We are grateful to Prof. Ross Jamieson and Dr. Daniela Balanzategui for discussions on the role of máchica in Ecuadorian indigenous cuisine. ETAP fieldwork reported herein was funded by grants awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, including SSHRC Standard Research Grant No. 410-2011-1646 and SSHRC Insight Grant No. 435-2014-0182.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Catherine D’Andrea
    • 1
    Email author
  • Linda Perry
    • 2
  • Laurie Nixon-Darcus
    • 1
  • Ahmed G. Fahmy
    • 3
  • Elshafaey A. E. Attia
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Foundation for Archaeobotanical Research in MicrofossilsFairfaxUSA
  3. 3.Department of Botany and MicrobiologyHelwan UniversityHelwanEgypt

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