An Investigation of the Archaeobotanical Remains from the Site of Harlaa, Eastern Ethiopia (Mid-6th–15th Centuries AD)

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Addis ababa university


The archaeology of Islamic Ethiopia has been fundamentally understudied until recently, and the archaeobotany specifically has been largely neglected. This archaeobotanical investigation is part of a wider archaeological research project called “Becoming Muslim”, which began work at the site of Harlaa, since 2015. The archaeological evidence from Harlaa confirms the immense importance of the site, which was an important commercial, residential, and industrial quarters between the mid-6th and 15th centuries AD. A total of 230.04 liters of soil samples during the 2016 to 2020 field seasons were collected through excavation, which are the focus of this study, with the aim of looking: at the food economy of the inhabitants, diversity and distribution of floral resources, and the environmental history of the study area. More than 718 plant remains were identified, and were grouped as cereals, legumes, oil plants, weedy plants, woods and Poaceae based on their primary use and morphological character. The finding indicates that the historic Harlaa peoples had developed food-crops-based subsistence strategy from the mid-6th to early 15th centuries AD. Based on the data recovered, it is possible to see that most of the food crops recovered at Harlaa are Middle Eastern, and are similar with the food crops of the northern highlands. Secondary sources indicate that cash crops (such as khat and coffee) were amongst the widely cultivated plants introduced to the region at a later date, probably after Harlaa was abandoned in the 15th century. The archaeobotanical data, however, is devoid of remains related to khat and coffee.



An Investigation of the Archaeobotanical Remains from the Site of Harlaa, Eastern Ethiopia.