(By Tsegai Medhin) Eritrea bears numerous paleontological and archaeological sites. So far the, oldest site can be traced as far as a million years back, the time-frame at which the Hominid cranium was discovered.
However there are almost no serious excavations yet to be carried out despite the richness and abundance of the archaeological sites.
The only serious excavations carried out so far are the Danakil Horst and Adjoining Regions project in 995 concentrating on the paleontological sites of the Danakil depression, and the French funded exccavation under the supervision of F.Anfray, between 1959-1972 concentrating on the Metera site and to a lesser extent, Adulis. Tsegai Medin reports
Qohaito is beautifully situated on a higher flat and strategic area, which is surrounded by very big gorges, gullies and seasonal rivers. On the southeastern side of the site is Mount Embasoira, the highest mountain of the country, with an elevation of 3,200meters.
Qohaito an urban garden city surrounded by many towns and hamlets is not one site, but a cluster of sites encompassing about 750 various types of sites, such as dams, tombs, necropolis, watch towers, cisterns, kilns, rock paintings and engravings as well as elite and non-elite residential houses.
As a garden city it had a proper town plan and striking landscape design. Having these tangible potential clearly indicates how important this unique and ancient city was.
An evidence of rock paintings and Sabean inscriptions testify to human settlement approximately around the 5th century BC and maybe slightly earlier. Various rock paintings and engravings of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and geometric are found on the inaccessible caves of the Qohaito area. Among the famous rock art sites are Adi-Alewti, Iyago, Karibosa, Saro, Hidmo and others.
Some of the archaeological findings in the area include artifacts like litchis (mainly from the raw material of obsidian and chert), ceramics, daub, grinding stones (upper and lower) game pieces and figurines. Apart from this bone, cowry shells, glass and metal objects are evident.
As you move to the center of the plateau called Safira, the density of cluster of mounds and cultural features is tremendous on the rocky landscape. According to the local people ‘Qo Qhi’ means rocky, hence the name Qohaito is derived and modified from this term. Due to the rocky environs, ancient inhabitants of Qohaito constructed a remarkable dam at Safira that dates back to the 5th century BC and still serves as a source of water to the local population.
The ancient city of Qohaito is one of the biggest and complex sites in Africa, south of Sahara. Though there are other historical sites like Adulis, Metera, Dahlak-Kebir, Tokonda’e as well as Axum in Ethiopia, Qohaito represents a confluence of all these historical places.
It lays half way between the crossroads of Adulis and Axum. Local manufacturing and agricultural production are features of its history that beg to be better understood in terms of indigenous economic system that underlay the prosperity associated with trade.
As is indicated in various historical accounts, the ancient city of Coloe (ivory-market) could have been Qohaito, which could signify the ivory market on the Qohaito area. Moreover, Dekanamo, according to the local people, is said to mean the dead body of an elephant. Thus, these evidences could signify that Qohaito could have been a market place for ivory, and other precious materials.
In 1995, the site was nominated for an inclusion in the World Heritage List managed by UNESCO. Between1996-1997 all scientific archaeological survey and fencing was conducted by the National Museum of Eritrea and the local people in collaboration with the German archaeological mission (Humboldt University).
As a continuation to this, between late 2006 to early 2007, another project aimed at the management plan of the whole site was conducted by the NME in collaboration with the Cultural Assets, Rehabilitation Project (CARP), Zoba Debub, Department of land, Ministry of Tourism and Sub zone of Adi-keih. This project was conducted under the direct supervision of the National Museum of Eritrea and the Danish expert Dr. Flemming Aalund.
The National Museum is constantly investigating the condition of the site by hiring permanent guards from among the local people. Likewise, a regional officer is hired and stationed in a nearby town to closely monitor the entire site, as well as to discus current issues with both the local people and the National Museum of Eritrea.
Most importantly however, short training courses are also conducted to enrich and broaden the consciousness of the local people of their heritage. Public awareness is very crucial to preserving local and national heritage where archeological sites go.
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