The archaeological study of the Bisha area has underlined the fact that development programs can be compatible with conservation of heritage sites. In this respect, the government’s policy and initiative to safeguard heritage while running development projects seems to be going well. Batseba Tesfaye reports.
In Bisha, the areas that could be affected by mining related activities were initially surveyed in order to document archaeological sites. This way, potentially significant sites were studied and mitigating strategies were designed to save historical sites.
The study showed that some distance away form the main mining area, there were sites tentatively dating back to the 2nd millennium B.C. The constituents of the sites included magnificently decorated ceramics, stone tools made from various raw materials including obsidian, and ground and polished tools.
Furthermore, some of the sites have countless mounds that need deeper study. The Gash Group sites (dated to the 2nd millennium B.C) have affinities with some sites from Kerma (Sudan) and in various literature they are viewed as having been occupied by the earliest cattle herders in this region.
If the recent discoveries are proved to fit into the Gash Group, the Bisha sites would represent an important milestone in Eritrea’s ancient history as a whole and in particular with regard to the domestication of cattle in this region.
It has been suggested that the Land of Punt, a mysterious land that is mentioned in Egyptian texts as having had links with ancient Egypt, may have included the Western Lowlands of Eritrea. It is thought that the ancient Egyptians followed the Nile Valley to travel upstream in their search for aromatics and other exotic objects that the Land of Punt offered. In the ancient texts, the Land of Punt is seen as a trade point where goods with the Egyptians were exchanged.
The series of fieldworks conducted by the National Museum of Eritrea in Bisha have unveiled significant sites that need rigorous investigation in order to reconstruct the ancient history of the region. It is expected that the newly discovered site at Harenay and similar sites situated in the Bisha area will address significant historical questions.
In the 3rd and early 2nd millennium B.C, the Western Lowlands of Eritrea and the adjacent plains of Barka and Gash Deltas in Eastern Sudan had contacts with the Nile valley and Egypt (Fattovich 1984). This area was probably known to the Egyptians for its myrrh, frankincense, gold, spices, and other exotic raw materials.
It is known that the pharaohs of Egypt, particularly during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (1460 B.C), sent expeditions to the Land of Punt, a land that may have included the Western Lowlands of Eritrea.
In addition to this, contacts between the ancient communities of the Eritrean Highlands and the civilizations that flourished in what is now Sudan was made possible through the Western Lowlands. Indeed, the Western Lowlands of Eritrea can be seen as a bridge between two civilizations.
The ancient age of the Bisha sites is also seen in the kind of artifacts and the raw materials that were used there. Numerous obsidian microlithic tools have been collected in the fieldworks that have been conducted.
The origin of the obsidian is not fully known. However, the current assumption is that it could have been brought from the Eastern Lowlands of Eritrea and more specifically from the Danakil Depressions through trade. Experts have claimed that this area was a major source of obsidian beginning from the 7th to 4th millennia B.C and continued until 1st millennium B.C.
The prospect of finding numerous and significant archaeological sites in the Bisha area and in Eritrea as a whole is high and it becomes increasingly apparent considering the region’s historical background.
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