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Kwiha (Tigray, Ethiopia): the Aksumite city

Kwiha (Tigray, Éthiopie) : cité aksumite
Jean-François Breton et Yohannes Aytenew Ayele
p. 53-66

Résumés

Kwiha, à une dizaine de kilomètres à l’est de Mekelle, capitale de l’État régional du Tigray, a été occupé de façon discontinue entre le iiie millénaire avant notre ère et la période contemporaine (Barnett 1999 : 135-138). Un abri sous roche, fouillé dans les années quarante, aurait été le lieu de productions d’obsidienne, puis de céramique, du iiie au ie millénaire. Kiwa et ses environs furent ensuite occupés pendant la période aksoumite, et peut-être déjà à la période pré-aksoumite, jusqu’à son déclin au viie siècle de notre ère. Kwiha, situé sur la route commerciale menant aux mines de sel de la dépression de l’Afar, était probablement un marché de sel très ancien, où les communautés musulmanes vivaient aux côtés des chrétiennes. Du cimetière musulman proviennent un nombre important de stèles islamiques portant des inscriptions arabes allant du xe au xiiie siècle. Suite à un amendement au protocole d’accord conclu avec le Centre français d’études éthiopiennes (CFEE), les chercheurs de l’université de Mekelle ont lancé un programme de recherche interdisciplinaire à long terme à Kwiha. Cette étude préliminaire avait pour objectif une évaluation provisoire de l’occupation du site et du territoire antique de Kwiha, de ses ressources naturelles et de l’utilisation des sols. Une collecte systématique de la céramique de surface à Kwiha et dans ses environs a été réalisée entre 2014 à 2017 et cet article en fait l’étude préliminaire.

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Entrées d’index

Index géographique :

Éthiopie/Ethiopia, Tigray, Aksum, Kwiha
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Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 We write: “Kwiha” (in Tigrinya) and not “Qwiha”, an italian transcription, following the Latin one, (...)

1Kwiha1, located some 10 km east of Mekelle (Tigray), shows discontinuous human occupation starting from iiird millennium throughout Aksumite periods to Ethiopian modern time. Archaeological evidence suggests that a rock shelter in Kwiha used to be the place where obsidian lithics and later ceramics were produced (Barnett 1999). After that, Kwiha and its surroundings were occupied during the Aksumite period and possibly also during the Pre-Aksumite period. To the northeast of the site, a rectangular stone building with rows of pillars is locally believed to have been destroyed by imam Ahmed ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (1507-1543) during his campaigns in 1533 against the Christian highland state of Ethiopia.

  • 2 Administratively, the entire area formerly belonged to Wegre Hariba, a chief place and seat of the (...)

2Because Kwiha is situated on the route leading to the Afar Depression with its salt mines, it was probably a trading centre from ancient times and throughout the medieval period (Smidt 2007, 2011). There were Muslim trading communities living side by side with the Christian community. Travelers and scholars have found a number of inscriptions in Arabic in Kwiha, more precisely in the settlement of Wegre Hariba2, dating back to the 10th-13th centuries (Smidt 2011).

  • 3 Breton J.-F. (2015) – Kwiha (Mekelle Area) Preliminary Report (January 2015). Mekelle, Mekelle Univ (...)

3The aim of the study was an evaluation of Kwiha’s territory, with its natural resources and land use3 (Breton & Aytenew 2017: 46-49). Would it have been occupied during Aksumite period (50 BC-550 AD) only or later during early medieval times? Would there be a break or a discontinuity of occupation? Would there be some evidence of any pre-Aksumite occupation (450-50 BC)? These are some preliminary questions that the surface pottery collection tried to solve. This paper should be anyway considered as a preliminary study.

Travelers at Kwiha: a short account

  • 4 Belete or Bilet should be near (North-East of) Kwiha (which did not exist at that time).

4Francisco Alvares, entering Tigray in ca. 1524, first visited Wuqro (misspelled as “Agroo”), then Agula’ situated on the Eastern Tigrayan trade route. Following the track southwards, he mentions a place named Belete (or Bilet)4 on his way to Wegre Hariba where he met the governor of Inderta (Alderley 1881: 97).

5One of the earliest scholars to take an interest in the archaeological ruins of Kwiha was the British settler Nathaniel Pearce who lived in Ethiopia from 1809 to 1819. During his journeys in Tigray, he visited Kwiha (spelled “Quened” by him). “Two days after our arrival at Woger Arreva, which is situated on the top of a mountain that formed the boundary of Enderta, in the Telfain, he took me to Quened, having several men with us with instruments for digging. Quened is a small village, on each side of a swamp, full of springs, which formed themselves into a brook that runs inter the river Dola. A vast number of willows, called in the country Queha, whence it takes its name, grow in all part of the swamp” (Pearce 1938:121-122).

6N. Pearce was also taken to see the ruins where he found broken “obelisks” as well large stones curiously cut like those in Aksum. He also found stones with inscriptions in Arabic that the locals had dug out from the ground in order to show them to him (Ibid.: 125). On the northern edge of the town are ruins, including a set of monolithic pillars possibly coming from a destroyed basilica. There is also a local oral tradition that the ruins were part of a church dedicated to Saint Cyriakus (in Tigray known as Cherqos, in Geez Qirqos), thus called Inda Cherqos, and that it was destroyed by Imam Ahmad bin Ibrahim in the 16th century. The ancient remains of Kwiha have also been documented later by several scholars such as Conti Rossini (Conti Rossini 1937) and Mordini (Mordini 1944-1945: 150) in the 1930s and 1940s.

  • 5 Quite evidently the place “Belete” already mentioned by Alvares.

7In 1937, C. Conti Rossini found remains of stone ruins at the locality called Bilet5 in the north-eastern part of Kwiha. Among these ruins, he discovered four steles with Arabic inscriptions. Photographs of the four steles were studied by another Italian scholar, Pansera (Pansera 1945: 3-6), who published the contents of the inscriptions.

An assessment of the occupation of the site of Kwiha

  • 6 Breton J.-F. (2015) – Kwiha (Mekelle Area) Preliminary Report (January 2015). Mekelle, Mekelle Univ (...)
  • 7 A protocol of Amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the cooperation within the Kwi (...)

8Mekelle University has started a long-term program of surveys at Kwiha, as part of an Ethiopian-led interdisciplinary research project in archaeology, epigraphy and ethnohistory. From 2014 to 2017, scholars from the Department of History and Heritage Management (MU) surveyed the site and collected a large amount of pottery, with Jean-François Breton as the archaeological field director appointed by the responsible Department of History and Heritage Management6 (Breton & Aytenew 2017; Breton 2019). The project serves as a field school within the newly founded PhD Programme in History and Cultural Studies. This paper deals with the preliminary assessment of the surveys and the pottery7.

4th to 3rd millennia BC

9In a rock shelter excavated in the 1940s by F. Moysey, “the assemblage comprised ceramics, flaked and ground lithics and faunal remains” (Barnett 1999: 128). The rock shelter at Kwiha contains an interesting series which can be dated to the Late Stone Age, based on an assessment of the pottery and the typology of the stone industry. Following Moysey’s excavation, the material was taken to Nairobi, where it is currently stored in the foreign collections of the National Museum of Kenya. It was recently studied by Barnett (Barnett 1999). She could classify a Level 4: spanning from the 6th millennium to the 5rd millennium BP; a Level 3: spanning from the late 5th millennium to the early 3rd millennium BP; and finally a Level 2 and top of Level 3: datable to the Pre-Aksumite period, ca. 3rd century AD (Ibid.: 137).

  • 8 There is however a doubt on the evidence of an occupation of the site during the 3rd/2nd millennium (...)

10The assemblage consists predominantly of microliths, but contains large utilized blades, burins and scrapers reminiscent of the Hargeisan culture of the northern Somali plateau (Ibid.: 137-138). The ceramics found at the site consist of reddish non-decorated pots which were in use in the prehistoric period (Ibid.: 128-137)8.

Pre-Aksumite and Aksumite occupation

11The ancient site of Kwiha occupies a rocky spur, at an altitude of 2,200 m, dominating wide areas to the North, and May Bandéra River (refering to Tgn. bandéra, derived from Italian: Flag River) to the East. This permanent water resource strengthens emphasizes the central position of the site and gardens are still cultivated in its narrow valley (fig. 1, 2).

Figure 1 – Map of the site of Kwiha with areas of surveys

Figure 1 – Map of the site of Kwiha with areas of surveys

Drawing: J.-F. Breton and Y. A. Aytenew ; graphic computer: R. Douaud

Figure 2 – Map of the center of Kwiha with areas of surveys

Figure 2 – Map of the center of Kwiha with areas of surveys

Drawing: J.-F. Breton and Y. A. Aytenew ; graphic computer: R. Douaud

  • 9 Oral tradition mentions that a church was constructed here by atsé Made Tsiyon (1314-1344), while o (...)

12In the northern corner there stands the compound of the church of Inda Cherqos (or Inda Qirqos) with its cemetery9. The modern church under construction, built directly over the ancient mud-brick one, is a landmark visible from afar. All around the church there are remains of the ancient settlement of Kwiha.

13Some 300 m east of the Inda Cherqos Church lie the ruins of a monumental building (Building 1: fig. 3) some 13.70 m long by 7.5 m wide (13°29’198 N, 39°32’929 E; altitude: 2,192 m) (Godet 1977: 44; Smidt 2004: 268). The plan was drawn in October 2014 with Yohannes Aytenew after cleaning of the whole eastern part (Breton sous presse). These remains consist of large limestone blocks lying on the ground, which can be readily identified as stone bases, pillars with or without capitals and separate capitals. From this plan, one can hypothetically reconstruct a three-aisles building, orientated east to west.

Figure 3 – Building 1: seen from the east

Figure 3 – Building 1: seen from the east

© J.-F. Breton 2017

  • 10 We were told that some pillars had been taken to Mekelle in the 1960s.

14Some 100 m west of the new church of Inda Cherqos, currently under construction, three monolithic pillars are lying (Building 3). Two of them are the same size: 2.40 m (by 0.50 m by 0.50 m), while the third one is 1.88 m (by 0.50 m by 0.50 m). Because of their similarities, these pillars may stem from the same building10.

15Between 2014 and 2015, different walls were exposed on the eastern side of the Kwiha site as result of terrace building by famers and of road building. South-east of the Inda Cherqos church, a deep hole was recently dug in order to build a burial vault; this showed evidence of stratified layers of occupation and walls built in rubble stones.

Islamic Period

  • 11 All the inscribed stones were found at Bilet, the plain directly below the Inda Cherqos church, and (...)

16A large number of inscribed tomb stones testify to the occupation of Kwiha and its surroundings during the early Islamic Period11. In addition to the inscriptions discovered by Conti Rossini, twelve more were found in 1962 and taken to the National Museum in Addis Ababa. In the 1960s renewed research on the inscriptions was carried out by M. Schneider (1967). She tried to compare the Arabic writing styles in the inscriptions with steles from the Dahlak Islands (Schneider 1983a).

  • 12 Muluberhan Adane (2016) – About Kwiha cemetery. Mekelle, Department of History and Heritage Managme (...)

17Later, more Islamic inscriptions were discovered (Tekle Hagos et al. 2013)12. These inscriptions should be integrated into the medieval context of an Islamic community trading along commercial routes. The most important route, the eastern Tigrayan trade route running south to north, links Kwiha north to Wuqro and Negash. Another inscription, probably from one of the earliest mosques of the region, published by W. Smidt and approximately dated to the 10th century based on paleography (Smidt 2009, 2011), was kept in the church of Wuqro for a long time. In turn, Negash is well known for its former Muslim community, dating back to the 7th century according to Muslim tradition, and also displays more recent Arabic inscriptions (Smidt & Haggag Rashidy 2012).

The landscape around Kwiha

18Kwiha village faces north, crowning a group of hills at a general altitude of 2,250 m. The crest is totally occupied by Kwiha town with its market, municipality, churches, hospital and schools initially developed during the Italian occupation. The old western villages on the top of the limestone outcrops are now connected to Kwiha center by modern roads forming a continuous line of dwellings.

19All these hills dominate, to the north, the gently sloping plain irrigated by three rivers, joining at different points (fig. 4).

Figure 4 – The gardens by river Gembela

Figure 4 – The gardens by river Gembela

© J.-F Breton 2017

20Stretching from east to west, there are about five main hills (fig. 1).

21- The most easterly hill (n° 1; fig. 1) dominate the new city of Kwiha at an altitude of 2,275-2,285 m. As some cliffs could have been strongholds, such as Imba Feqadu, a survey was conducted in 2015, but no fortifications were recorded and no significant pottery was collected (Area 18).

22- Below Imba Feqadu, to the north, is hill n° 2 (fig. 1), reaching 2,230-2,240 m, and ending on its western side in a steep cliff over the river May Bandéra. The slopes and the top of this hill are covered with terraced fields and small rocky spurs but as a large military camp occupies most of its south-western part, survey is impossible.

23East of the old asphalt road Mekelle-May Mekden-Wuqro, hill n° 2, ends by a steep cliff over this road. Pottery is abundant just on the crest (near the TV antenna) with a high density of obsidian (Area 11). On its south side, there is an ancient building (probably Aksumite), rectangular and made of flat stone, ca. 6 m by 7 m and preserved up to 2 m high (13°29’118 N, 39°32’990 E; altitude: 2,218 m). Many potsherds have been recorded nearby (Area 12). So, it seems that the crest east of the road was a densely occupied area during Aksumite period.

  • 13 Slopes were probably covered by trees in Antiquity as on many sites in Aksumite territories.

24To the north, the slopes becoming more and more gentle, are now occupied by agricultural terraces (Areas 16 and 22)13. In the plain, the lowest part being called “Bilet” (Schneider 1983b: 113), partly occupied by new plants, there is an Islamic cemetery. Preliminary excavations in the cemetery were conducted by J. Loiseau in 2018. All around, potsherds are few, but bricks were found here and there.

25- The central hill (n° 3; fig. 2) is separated by a rather deep gorge in which flows the Bandéra River whose source is located near the Elementary school. The old asphalt road Mekelle-May Mekden-Wuqro, probably constructed in the 1930s, runs through this gorge. A large part of the hill is occupied by houses, small fields and eucalyptus. On its north corner stands the compound of the church of Inda Cherqos with its cemetery; this modern church, still under construction and built on top of the ancient one, is a landmark (altitude: 2,197 m) visible from afar. All around the church are remains of the antique settlement of Kwiha (see above) where pottery was collected (Areas 1 to 6).

26The deforested northern flanks of this hill show a terrace, roughly following the contour lines, used nowadays for dry-farming agriculture and animal grazing (Areas 7-9). One building of about 6 by 7 m made of massive granite boulders (13°29’385 N, 39°32’656 E, altitude: 2,170 m) may belong to 2nd millennium, but no pottery is associated (Area 10). To the east, along May Bandéra river, there is one highly concentrated zone of pottery (13°29’532 N, 39°32’779 E) but no trench pit was possible (Area 10).

27- Hill n° 4 stands above a spring whose scarce water is used for gardens below. All this area is covered with an eucalyptus forest and gardens are irrigated by a small watercourse whose source, May Ayni, is located at an altitude of 2,218 m (Area 15). South of Area 15, another river flows, whose water is also used for vegetable crops. Close to this river, abundant ceramics exist in some places (13°48’81° N, 39°54’258 E) but no ancient building is visible.

28In the west, a ravine, where a small seasonal river flows, separates hills n° 4 and 5. There again, gardens are laid out around water canals, from 2,210 m down to 2,180 m. This river joins May Bandéra River some 500 meters to the north.

29- Hill n° 5 (fig. 1) has a flat rocky top with abrupt slopes all around but is now fenced and survey is not allowed.

30The May Bandéra River flows north-west in a small gorge cut into alluvium and, at some places, into limestone. Small-sized pebble and stone walls, probably recently built, perpendicular to the river course, are intended to reduce the effects of floods. At an altitude of 2,125 m, May Bandéra joins Dollo River, flowing from east to west. Before reaching the junction, the Dollo River flows through gardens and this is probably the largest cultivated zone of all the Kwiha neighborhoods. These are certainly the “swamps full of springs” recorded (Area 13) by N. Pearce (1938).

31Further down the river (from now on named Gembela or Dora’), small gardens are also to be seen along the eastern side and limestone is gradually replaced by schist and granite. Small waterfalls alternate with pools. A long canal supplies water to a large agricultural area (altitude: 2,115 m) and some meters below, another canal on the west side irrigates more gardens (Area 20; fig. 4). Collected pottery – even in small quantities – demonstrate that these gardens were used in late Aksumite period, and maybe later.

32In the valley of the Gembela, the altitude of 2,110 m seems to have been the ancient limit of Kwiha’s irrigated territory. Further west is the Inda Gabir village where no pottery was ever collected, so the eastern limit of the ancient Kwiha territory was probably located there. Gardens continue down the valley to Elala (Area 21), now one of the northern suburbs of the urban area of Mekelle. Both sides of the river are dominated by rocky spurs deprived of trees, and irrigation canals are still used for watering the gardens.

Pottery: a preliminary catalogue

  • 14 Inventory, drawings and photographs were carried out at the Department of History (Mekelle Universi (...)

33This preliminary report is based upon the substantial pottery finds from the 2015 to 2017 surface collections. In each area pottery was systematically collected. The collection comprises more than 250 potsherds with specific forms and respective decorations14.

34As there are no complete vessels, the corpus is arranged according to four main locally made wares, each named based on its diameters or its shapes (cf. annex). Some of them seem to fall into reasonably discrete geographical and chronological groupings in Tigray. The material is clearly derivated of the shape of the Aksumite ceramic tradition.

35- Open and closed shapes have been classified only according to their diameters because no complete form is available: between 30 and 50 cm large (fig. 5), between 25 and 30 cm large (fig. 6). Small bowls are between 15 and 20 cm in diameter (fig. 7).

Figure 5 – Large basins, jars and bowls (30-50 cm in diameter)

Figure 5 – Large basins, jars and bowls (30-50 cm in diameter)

Graphic computer: R. Douaud

Figure 6 – Large jars and bowls (25-30 cm in diameter)

Figure 6 – Large jars and bowls (25-30 cm in diameter)

Graphic computer: R. Douaud

Figure 7 – Small bowls and basins (15-20 cm in diameter)

Figure 7 – Small bowls and basins (15-20 cm in diameter)

Graphic computer: R. Douaud

36- Ledge-rim basins: There is a small range of decorations on the wide-ledge-rims basins. The rounded-edge everted rim with a reaching lip may be among the later rims (late Aksumite). (Munro-Hay 1989: 252). Variations of the basic idea of incised lines joining to a central impressed hole (fig. 8). Chevrons or incised zigzags do not occur.

Figure 8 – Ledge-rim basins

Figure 8 – Ledge-rim basins

Graphic computer: Rozeen Douaud

37- Hole mouth: rare (QW-2-5; fig. 5).

38- Small pots: few (QW-1-3; fig. 10).

39- Handles or grips are considered for their incised lines only (fig. 9).

Figure 9 – Handles and grips

Figure 9 – Handles and grips

Graphic computer: R. Douaud

Figure 10 – Bases

Figure 10 – Bases

Graphic computer: R. Douaud

40As it was not possible to employ microscope or thin sections on site, and also no detailed physical analysis has yet been undertaken, the fabric could not be considered as a criterion. The coarse-wares of uniform type, being hand-made with brown and orange slip on both faces, the body being red clay tempered with crushed limestone or decayed basalt. There were very few fine wares. Fine orange (or orange reddish) clay appears only in Area 2 (QW-2-5) and 13, lithic black clay in Area 5 QW-5-1; fig. 11), grey clay ware (QW-1-4). Burnishing is generally brown or red (Area 16). Decoration comprises mainly crossed lines and finger prints. There was one image of a possible animal on a potsherd (QW-7-1; fig.11).

Figure 11 – Decors and specimens

Figure 11 – Decors and specimens

Graphic computer: R. Douaud

Conclusion

41Without any excavation having been undertaken so far, the surface collection of pottery only allows some preliminary conclusions. It seems that most of the potsherds belong to the Middle and Late Aksumite periods.

42Fine and common red wares, almost exclusively found in the oldest levels (Proto and Early Aksumite) of numerous sites, such as Wakarida, were not found during the survey. Therefore, it is probably during the Middle and Late Aksumite period that Kwiha experienced its greatest prosperity and the maximum extension of its territory.

43Obviously, pottery has been collected in every plot of Kwiha territory. As all surveyed areas (n° 1 to 22) display pottery in various percentages: on hill n° 2, the Areas 11 and 12 display one of the highest surface pottery densities (Middle/Classical Aksumite periods), it is probable that all of these areas were occupied during the Middle and/or Late Aksumite periods.

  • 15 See comparisons with Wakarida landscape and land use (Gajda et al. 2015: 211-216) and Aksum landsca (...)
  • 16 But the extent of forest on these hills during Aksumite period remains largely unknown.

44Therefore two types of agriculture may have probably coexisted: dry-farming and gardens15. Plough cultivation may have been practiced on the slopes of hills 3, 4 and 516, down to the junction of the two rivers May Bandéra and Dollo. Irrigated perimeters appear in two main places: firstly, on the high slopes between Hills 3 and 4, using permanent or seasonal waters from the springs and, secondly, in the lower course of Dollo River, after it joins May Bandéra River, and then further down in the floor of the Gembela valley.

45The relatively small amount of Late Aksumite pottery would suggest difficult times. A decline of demographic pressure, as a result of environmental degradation, can, however, not be confirmed due to the lack of geo-environmental studies. Late Aksumite pottery is mainly attested on the top of hill n° 3 (Areas 1-6), suggesting that the peripheral zones were less densely occupied, and that this hill remained the core of the settlement.

46To summarise, most of the pottery from Kwiha can be broadly placed in a time span from the end of the Middle Aksumite period up to the post-Aksumite period. As Mifsas Bahri can be mainly placed into the late Aksumite Period (550-700 AD; Gaudiello & Yule 2017: 272-273), Kwiha may represent a link between Wakarida, Wuqro and Lake Hashenge during this period and possibly during the Middle Aksumite period. Therefore it should be considered that the late sphere of Aksum extended far south of the capital.

Figure 12 – Potsherds decorated (a) with wavy lines (QW-11-4) and (b) with incised triangles (QW-11-3)

Figure 12 – Potsherds decorated (a) with wavy lines (QW-11-4) and (b) with incised triangles (QW-11-3)

© J.-F. Breton

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Smidt W. G. C. (2004) – Eine Arabische Inschrift aus Kwiḥa, Tigray. In: V. Böll, D. Nosnitsin, Th. Rave, W. G. C. Smidt & E. Sokolinskaia (eds), Studia Aethiopica in Honour of Siegbert Uhlig on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag: 259-268.

Smidt W. G. C. (2007) – Kwiḥa. In: S. Uhlig (ed.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, 3 (He-N), Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz: 468-70.

Smidt W. G. C. (2009) – Eine weitere arabische Inschrift von der osttigrayischen Handelsroute: Hinweis auf eine muslimische Kultstätte in der “dunklen Periode”? Aethiopica 12: 126-135.

Smidt W. G. C. (2010) – Another unknown Arabic inscription from the eastern Tigrayan trade route: Indication for a Muslim cult site during the ‘Dark Age’. In: W. Raunig, Prinz Asfa Wossen Asserate (eds), Orbis Aethiopicus. Beiträge zur Geschichte, Religion und Kunst Äthiopiens. In memoriam Peter Roenpage. Juden, Christen und Muslime in Äthiopien - ein Beispiel für abrahamische Okumene, Dettelbach Verlag J. H. Röll, 13: 179-91.

Smidt W. G. C. (2011) – A Note on the Islamic Heritage of Tigray: the Current Situation of the Arabic Inscription of Wuqro. ITYOP̣IS - Northeast African Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 1: 151-154.

Smidt W. G. C. & Haggag Rashidy M. M. (2012) – Another Arabic Inscription from the Eastern Tigrayan Trade Route (III): The malik al-Ḥabaša in Negaš. ITYOP̣IS-Northeast African Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 2: 123-130.

Tekle Hagos, Smidt W. G. C. & Haggag Rashidy M. M. (2013) – The two Arabic inscriptions of Mekelle Museum: A further contribution to the history of the eastern Tigrayan trade route (IV). ITYOP̣IS-Northeast African Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 3: 150-53.

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Annexes

The Pottery Catalogue

Large basins, jars and bowls (30-50 cm in diameter; fig. 5)

Open shapes

QW-2-4: Rim. Diameter: 30 cm. Grey paste. Brown slip inside and outside. Area 2.

QW-5-1: Rim of a cup. Diameter: 34 cm. Smoothing outside near the top of the rim. Area 5.

QW-12-2: Upper rim of a large vase. Diameter: 46 cm. Red paste. Lithic tempered. Slip outside and inside. Decorated with crossed lines. Area 12.

QW-12-4: Upper rim of a large vase. Diameter: 30 cm. Beige slip outside and inside. Smoothing inside and outside. Area 12.

Closed shapes

QW-1-2: Rim of a large hole-mouth bowl. Diameter: 36 cm. Grey core. Orange/brown slip inside and outside. Interior smoothing. Area 1.

QW-2-3: Upper rim. Diameter: 30 cm. Black paste. Orange/brown slip outside. Area 2.

QW-11-2: Rim. Diameter: 33 cm. Red/orange slip outside and inside. Area 11.

QW-12-3: Upper rim. Diameter: 30 cm. Lithic tempered. Brown slip outside and inside. Area 12.

QW-12-11: Upper rim. Diameter: 50 cm. Red paste. Brown slip inside and outside. Smoothing inside. Area 12.

Jars and bowls (25-30 cm in diameter; fig. 6)

QW-2-1: Rim. Diameter: 26 cm. Interior: black. Brown/orange slip inside and outside. Area 2.

QW-3-2: Rim. Diameter: 28 cm. Grey paste. Straw tempered. Red slip outside and inside Area 3.

QW-4-1: Everted-rim of a large beaker (?). Diameter: 28 cm. Grey core. Brown slip outside. Area 4.

QW-4-3: Rim. Diameter: 26 cm. Brown slip outside and inside Area 4.

QW-4-5: Possible rim. Diameter: 22 cm. Grey/brown slip inside. Brown slip outside. Incised lines outside. Area 4.

QW-8-1: Rim of a jar. Diameter: 29 cm. Grey paste. Beige slip outside. Incised crossed lines outside. Area 8.

QW-8-3: Rim. Diameter: 28 cm. Smoothing outside and inside. Area 8.

QW-10-2: Rim of a jar. Red slip outside. Diameter: 28.5 cm. Finger prints outside Area 10.

QW-12-5: Rim. Diameter: 29 cm. Lithic tempered. Brown slip outside and inside. Area 12.

QW-16-1: Rim. Diameter: 24 cm. Light grey paste. Red slip outside and inside. Area 16.

Bowls and basins (15-20 cm in diameter; fig. 7)

Open shapes

QW-1-1: Rim. Diameter: 20 cm. Grey core. Outer slip orange/brown. Interior smoothing. Area 1.

QW-1-4: Rim. Diameter: 18 cm. Almost vertical rim. Greyware. Lithic tempered. External and internal smoothing. Area 1.

QW-3-4: Rim. Diameter: 20 cm. Grey paste. Brown slip outside and inside. Crossing incised lines outside. Area 3.

QW-4-6: Fragment of a rim. Diameter: 16 cm. Grey paste. Orange slip inside. Brown slip outside. Incised lines outside. Area 4.

QW-9-1: Rim. Diameter: 20 cm. Red brown slip outside. Area 9.

QW-12-9: Rim. Diameter: 20 cm. Straw tempered. Brown slip outside. Orange slip inside. Area 12.

Closed shapes

QW-2-5: Rim of a small “hole mouth bowl” (?). Diameter: 15 cm. Orange paste. Orange slip outside. Area 2.

QW-8-4: Fragment of a neck. Diameter: 16 cm. Brown slip outside and inside. Incised lines outside joining in a hole.

QW-13-1: Fragment of a body. Diameter: 15 cm. Straw tempered. Brown slip outside. Area 13.

Ledge-rim basins (fig. 8)

QW-3-1: Rim of a water basin. Diameter: 28 cm. Grey paste. Straw tempered. Light brown slip inside and outside. Incised lines joining in a hole above and under the rim Area 3.

QW-9-2: Rim of a water basin. Diameter: 30/32 cm. Lithic tempered. Red slip outside. Incised lines joining in a hole on the upper side Area 9.

QW-10-1: Rim of a water basin. Diameter: 13 cm. Orange slip outside; Wavy lines incised outside. Area 10.

QW-13-1: Fragment of a water basin. Diameter: 15 cm. Exterior smoothing. Traces of fire. Incised lines. Area 13.

References: (Munro-Hay 1989, Ledge-rim bowls: 251-252, fig. 16, n° 120, 124, 128, 133, 137, etc.; Gaudiello & Yule 2017: fig. 7.11.10, fig. 7.19.69; Gajda et al. 2015: fig. 15, n° 8-10; Benoist et al. 2016: fig. 5, n° 4- 6, 11-13).

Small vases (fig. 10)

QW-1-3: Rim. Diameter: 5 cm. Red/orange slip inside and outside. External smoothing. Area 1.

Handles and grips (fig. 9)

QW-4-4: Handle. Grey paste. Brown slip. Area 4.

QW-8-2: Grip or handle. Diameter: 40 cm. Beige paste. Beige slip outside. Area 8.

QW-8-4: Fragment of a handle. Diameter: 16 cm. Red slip. Incised lines in triangle. Area 8.

QW-12-1: Handle. Diameter of the jar: about 40 cm. Brown slip outside. Horizontal lines above the handle. Area 12.

QW-11-1: Handle decorated with small incised lines. Beige slip. Area 11.

QW-11-5: Handle decorated. Diameter: 10 cm. Lithic tempered. Brown slip outside and inside. Wavy lines at the base of the handle. Area 11.

QW-11-6: Handle or grip. Diameter: 18 cm. Orange slip outside and inside. Incised curved lines at the base of the handle. Area 11. Parallels (Gaudellio & Yule 2017: fig. 7.3.16).

QW-12-6: Handle or grip. Diameter: 20 cm. Orange slip inside. Red brown slip outside. Incised lines on both sides of the grip. Area 12.

QW-12-8: Handle with grip. Diameter: 13 cm. Black paste. Brown slip outside. Area 12.

QW-12-10: Handle. Diameter: 18 cm. Lithic and straw tempered. Red brown slip outside. Area 12.

QW-17-1: Fragment of a handle. Diameter: 44 cm. Area 17.

Bases (fig. 10)

QW-2-2: Base. Diameter: 10 cm. Black paste. Crushed basalt tempered. Brown slip outside. Probably a base of an ovoid jar. Proto-Aksumite period (?). Area 2 (Anfray 1990: 49). Proto-Aksumite period (?). Area 2.

QW-3-3: Base. Diameter: 14 cm. Straw tempered. Brown slip inside and outside. Incised lines at the foot. Above the base, there are two holes at different heights. Area 3.

QW-4-2: Base. Diameter: 20 cm. Grey paste. Brown slip inside. Red/brown slip outside. Outside decorated with a circle. Area 4.

QW-4-5: Base of a stove (?). Diameter: 16 cm. Thickness: 3 cm. Area 4.

QW-8-5: Base of a stove (?). Stone and straw tempered. Greyware. Brown slip outside and inside. Area 8. (Munro-Hay 1989: 284-286).

QW-10-3: Base. Diameter: 23 cm. Brown slip inside and outside. Incisions outside. Area 3.

QW-15-2: Decorated base. Diameter: 28 cm. Lithic tempered. Curved incised lines. Area 15.

Decors (fig. 11)

QW-3-5: Roulette and incised lines. (Parallels: Gaudiello & Yule 2017:113-114, fig. 7.4.25) Area 3.

QW-4-6: fragment of a body with decorated incised lines from a point (Area 4).

QW-7-1: Fragment. Four legs of an animal. Area 7.

QW-15-3: Finger prints (Paralles: Gaudiello & Yule 2017: fig. 7.12.26).

The classification by periods of the Kwiha pottery follows the classification established by R. Fattovich (2010): Proto-Aksumite Period (ca. 450-50 BC), Early Aksumite (50 BC-150 AD), Classic Aksumite (ca 150 AD-400-450 AD), Middle Aksumite (400/450- 550 AD), Late Period (ca 550 AD-700 AD), Post-Aksumite Period (ca AD. 700-1000)17.

- Possibly proto-Aksumite: QW-11-4 (fig. 12) (decorated with triangles: early at Mifsas Bahri; and possibly QW-2-2).

- Classical Aksumite: few sherds only, red burnished, decorated with parallels lines (QW-3-4).

- Middle Aksumite: QW-4-5 and QW-4-6 (Area 4), QW-8-4 (handle with crossed incised lines), QW-8-5 (Area 8), QW-12-1, QW-12-7 (Area 12), QW-10-1 (wavy lines) (Area 10), QW-11-3 (Area 10), QW-11-3 (decorated with wavy lines, fig. 12), QW-11-3 (Area 11), QW-13-4 (Area 13), QW-15-2 and QW-15-3 with finger prints (Area 15), QW-16-1.

- Late Aksumite: QW-1-3 (Area 1), QW-1-4 (Area 5), QW-9-2 (decor with incised line: Area 9).

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Notes

1 We write: “Kwiha” (in Tigrinya) and not “Qwiha”, an italian transcription, following the Latin one, which writes QU for KW. The toponym used in this paper is Kwiha.

2 Administratively, the entire area formerly belonged to Wegre Hariba, a chief place and seat of the governor of Inderta, while Kwiha was a nearby settlement. When the Italians chose Kwiha as their administrative centre under the Italianizing name „Quiha“, Kwiha subsequently acquired the status of a town (Smidt 2007). Therefore, the territory of Wegre Hariba (today called Igre Hariba) is today confined to the main village of this name nearby Kwiha. See Smidt 2009, 2010.

3 Breton J.-F. (2015) – Kwiha (Mekelle Area) Preliminary Report (January 2015). Mekelle, Mekelle University, unpublished.

4 Belete or Bilet should be near (North-East of) Kwiha (which did not exist at that time).

5 Quite evidently the place “Belete” already mentioned by Alvares.

6 Breton J.-F. (2015) – Kwiha (Mekelle Area) Preliminary Report (January 2015). Mekelle, Mekelle University, unpublished.

7 A protocol of Amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the cooperation within the Kwiha project of Mekelle University was signed on 23 April 2014 between Mekelle University and the French Center of Ethiopian Studies (CFEE), following the suggestion of the PhD Coordinator Wolbert Smidt to the CFEE. The project focuses on capacity building and a full-fledged academic research and documentation of the archaeological site of Kwiha. The disciplines involved are ancient history, philology and linguistics (including Arabic epigraphy) and social anthropology and ethnohistory. Reports about the 2014-2017 surveys were forwarded to the Department of History and to Heritage Management, MU. The Memorandum of Understanding together with the Protocol has been extended until 14 November 2022. See Breton J.-F. 2019.

8 There is however a doubt on the evidence of an occupation of the site during the 3rd/2nd millennium BC, cannot be given for granted only on the basis of radiocarbon dates, of the ceramics and the lithics. Around Kwiha, there are no sites indisputably attributed to this period.

9 Oral tradition mentions that a church was constructed here by atsé Made Tsiyon (1314-1344), while other oral traditions mention an earlier church dating from the Aksumite period.

10 We were told that some pillars had been taken to Mekelle in the 1960s.

11 All the inscribed stones were found at Bilet, the plain directly below the Inda Cherqos church, and, according to local tradition, probably also at the direct surroundings of Inda Cherqos. In older times these areas belonged to Wager Hariba, which explains the reference “au lieu-dit Wuqer Hariba, au nord de la ville, du côté est de la route carrossable” (Godet 1977). Today’s village Igre Hariba is located south-east of Kwiha.

12 Muluberhan Adane (2016) – About Kwiha cemetery. Mekelle, Department of History and Heritage Managment, Mekelle University (unpublished).

13 Slopes were probably covered by trees in Antiquity as on many sites in Aksumite territories.

14 Inventory, drawings and photographs were carried out at the Department of History (Mekelle University) by J.-F. Breton and Y. A. Aytenew. We are grateful to R. Douaud (CNRS, Nanterre) for all her graphic realization.

15 See comparisons with Wakarida landscape and land use (Gajda et al. 2015: 211-216) and Aksum landscape (Fattovich et al. 2000; Bard et al. 2014). More accurate information could be provided by forthcoming excavations.

16 But the extent of forest on these hills during Aksumite period remains largely unknown.

17 I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Michela Gaudiello for her expertise in 2018.

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Table des illustrations

URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 460k
Titre Figure 1 – Map of the site of Kwiha with areas of surveys
Crédits Drawing: J.-F. Breton and Y. A. Aytenew ; graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 257k
Titre Figure 2 – Map of the center of Kwiha with areas of surveys
Crédits Drawing: J.-F. Breton and Y. A. Aytenew ; graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 195k
Titre Figure 3 – Building 1: seen from the east
Crédits © J.-F. Breton 2017
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 2,0M
Titre Figure 4 – The gardens by river Gembela
Crédits © J.-F Breton 2017
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 1,3M
Titre Figure 5 – Large basins, jars and bowls (30-50 cm in diameter)
Crédits Graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 376k
Titre Figure 6 – Large jars and bowls (25-30 cm in diameter)
Crédits Graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 488k
Titre Figure 7 – Small bowls and basins (15-20 cm in diameter)
Crédits Graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 672k
Titre Figure 8 – Ledge-rim basins
Crédits Graphic computer: Rozeen Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 520k
Titre Figure 9 – Handles and grips
Crédits Graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 720k
Titre Figure 10 – Bases
Crédits Graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 504k
Titre Figure 11 – Decors and specimens
Crédits Graphic computer: R. Douaud
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 424k
Titre Figure 12 – Potsherds decorated (a) with wavy lines (QW-11-4) and (b) with incised triangles (QW-11-3)
Crédits © J.-F. Breton
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/docannexe/image/2481/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 261k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Jean-François Breton et Yohannes Aytenew Ayele, « Kwiha (Tigray, Ethiopia): the Aksumite city », Afrique : Archéologie & Arts, 15 | 2019, 53-66.

Référence électronique

Jean-François Breton et Yohannes Aytenew Ayele, « Kwiha (Tigray, Ethiopia): the Aksumite city », Afrique : Archéologie & Arts [En ligne], 15 | 2019, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2019, consulté le 19 février 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/aaa/2481 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/aaa.2481

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Auteurs

Jean-François Breton

breton.jeanfrancois2015@yahoo.com – UMR 7041 (ArScAn) CNRS, Maison Archéologie et Ethnologie R. Ginouvès, 21 allée de l’Université, 92023 Nanterre cedex, France

Yohannes Aytenew Ayele

aytenewyoh@gmail.com – Department of History and Heritage Management, University of Mekelle, Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia

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Droits d’auteur

CNRS - ArScAn. Cartographie d’après www.geoatlas.fr

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