Eritrea`s ancient history is markedly very complex
Cultural Heritage is an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation, including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values. Cultural Heritage is often expressed as either Intangible or Tangible Cultural Heritage (ICOMOS, 2002).
Eritrea`s ancient history is markedly very complex and this could be due to geo-strategic location a wide variety of landscape and favorable habitat within the Horn of Africa. Having more than 1200 kilometers long coastal territory in the Red Sea, the country topography is represented by the low-lands arid and semi-arid areas, highlands escarpments with a fertile land and favorable environment. This part of the Horn of Africa has been a magnet to life millions of years ago. For example, the land of the present day Eritrea attracted large mammals from the Arabian land about 27 million years ago. This time-frame represents a portion of African mammal evolutionary history, which is substantially unknown to science.
Twenty million years later, the Eritrean Danakil (as part of the extended African Rift valley), became home to our human-related ancestors. This geological time-frame is indispensable to our understanding of human evolution in Africa. The Land of Eritrea has a striking importance in understanding the evolution of African ecosystems during the Pliocene and Pleistocene, that is, 6-7 million years ago. The evidence of this is known from the Engel Ela – Ramud Basin in the Danakil Depression of Eritrea, a place which is less than 500 km far from where Lucy, an almost complete fossil evidence of Australopithecus afarensis, was found 40 years ago.
In Eritrea, the first ever evidence related to our direct ancestors is coming from the sites of Buia in the Northern Red Sea Zone, 31 km far from the Gulf of Zula. The sedimentary deposits that preserve the fossil specimens of our human ancestors and the large mammalian fauna are dated to around 1.0 million years. Amongst these the most prominent localities include: Maebele, Dioli, Aalad, Aalad- Amo, Mulhuli-Amo…etc. These are the most prominent localities with the evidence of well preserved fossils of humans and other large mammals. However, the discovery of the complete human skull (~1.0 million years old) from Aalad (also called Homo-site) was an exceptional scientific breakthrough. To date, evidence of a complete skull of Homo between 1.4 million years to 650,000 years is scarce in Africa. This unique fossil finding from Buia filled the gap between Homo erectus (1.4 Ma) and Homo heidelbergensis (0.65 Ma). About 1.0 million to 200, 000 years the Danakil part of Eritrea was populated by our ancestors and large animals, and by about 125, 000 years they adapted to the coastal and maritime environment of the Red Sea. Our ancestors lived in this region of our land millions of years back and their evidence is well documented on the continental and coastal landscapes of the extended Danakil depression.
The subsequent historic event is roughly represented by the evidence of rock art. Rock arts are human-made markings placed on natural stone and reflect humanity’s cultural, cognitive, and artistic beginnings. It further shows the emergence of symbolic behavior of humans before the advent of writing. Evidence of rock art is well documented across the country and amongst these, the most prominent sites include: Adi- Alewti, Iyago, Karibosa, Saro, Mai-ainei, Quarura. The Eritrean rocks are generally represented by figures of animals (zoomorphic), human (anthropomorphic) and geometric styles and represent various levels of social information, like resistance, agriculture, art… etc.
Thereafter, ancient history of Eritrea is represented by different dynamisms of historic events. These include the emergence of complex agro-pastoral societies and also the urban civilizations on the highlands and lowlands of Eritrea. Eritrea is also the birthplace of ancient and socio-culturally highly diversified civilizations in the region. The Medieval Period is among the most intricate slices of our historic records. This period encompasses the introduction and foundation of the leading religions in our region Christianity entered Eritrea around 4th and Islam 7th century.
The recent history of Eritrea is primarily linked to the unprecedented struggle for liberation, preceded by desolate and successive colonial times. This represents the dark and centuries- long colonial rules and their colossal impact. The gallant Eritrean people opposed the dominance and successive colonial oppressions. This is labeled as our Recent History, a history bounded in hardship, resistance and solidarity throughout time.
Eritrea has experienced a rich and diverse history filled with intense periods of difficulty. Present day Eritrea with its diverse culture, is not by any means an overnight creation! The process of the historical evolution of our society started over millions of years ago from the cradle of humanity as evidenced by the fossil legacy of our ancestors.
In the last 25 years, much effort has been made to document, preserve and understand the complexity, density and condition of our cultural heritage resources across the country. Likewise, it is worth remembering that a huge part of our cultural heritage is still totally unknown and far from speculation, Eritrea`s ancient history is not well researched and totally unknown to many. Bearing in mind its indisputable significance and its contribution toward nation building, the Eritrean government has been making huge and continuous efforts aimed at safeguarding the irreplaceable heritage resources of the country.
For more than two decades, the National Museum of Eritrea (NME) has been the sole responsible government body with the mandate to preserve, document and research the tangible Cultural Heritage across the country. However, a couple of years ago, the Eritrean Government established a new Commission (The Commission of Culture and Sport) with the aim of harmonizing and assembling different institutions that were actively working on Culture and Sport-related activities.
The Commission of Culture and Sport started assembling different institutions and assigned representatives to the six regions of the country. Furthermore, it strengthened the human resource capacity of the six regions by assigning young graduates (archaeologists and anthropologists) from the College of Arts and Social Sciences in Adi-kieh. As an extension program, the Commission conducted intensive training programs mainly for the appointees of the six regions. In general, whilst the assembling process is continuing the results of promoting our valuable Cultural Heritage through extensive training and awareness campaigns is advancing. For example, as part of these campaigns, the Ministry of information (MOI) is extending its readiness to exert this vital and propitious program.
The MOI in collaboration with the Commission of Culture and Sport, the National Museum of Eritrea and other government stake-holders is instigating media awareness campaign. Awareness giving research papers related to the ancient history of Eritrea will be periodically published on the state newspapers (Eritrean Profile, Haddas Ertra, Eritrea Alhaditha and Eritrea Haddas). Moreover, the MOI will broadcast similar programs on Radio and TV, probably in several languages. Furthermore, short video documentaries will produced by concerned institutions to be broadcast to deliver the righteous heritage of the nation.