Item Details

First Footsteps in the Archaeology of Harar, Ethiopia

Issue: Vol 4 No. 2 (2017)

Journal: Journal of Islamic Archaeology

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/jia.35273


The Islamic archaeology of Ethiopia has been little investigated which is an omission of consequence, for this archaeology is both rich and varied, and historical records indicate that contacts were maintained between the earliest Muslim communities and Ethiopia. A key centre of Islam and Islamization was the walled city of Harar in the eastern highlands which was also a hub for trade networks connecting the Ethiopian interior with the Red Sea coast. The origins of the city are unclear and the results of the first archaeological test excavations completed in four areas of the city, Hamburti, the Amir Nur Shrine, Shagnila Toya, and the Amir’s Palace, are described. Conflicting traditions place the beginnings of Harar between the late 7th and 16th centuries AD. Two radiocarbon dates obtained from the excavations appear to indicate that Harar was a late, possibly 16th century foundation. The results from Harar are contextualized within their wider region with particular reference to the site of Harlaa, 35km northwest of Harar, where occupation has been dated to the 12th-13th centuries AD. Although earlier, the locally made ceramics assemblage from Harlaa shares some generic similarities with the pottery from Harar suggesting, potentially, that the Harari are the descendants of the legendary Harla, the occupants of Harlaa and other sites in the region.

Author: Timothy Insoll

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