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Mégalithisme dans le Chercher en Éthiopie

Roger Joussaume


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1In Ethiopia, three main regions have known, or still know, among some peoples of the south, the use of megalithic monuments: standing stones, dolmenic cists and/or mounds. They are the kindom of Axum in the north, the Chercher (Harar) at the East, and the région that spread from the Mänz, in the center, to the Sidamo in the South. The kindom of Axum, with its stelae, belongs to Antiquity; in the Chercher, there are prehistoric dolmenic cists from the Ilnd millenium BC, and protohistoric mounds from VIIIth-XIIIth centuries A.D., while from the center to the south of Ethiopia, a big lot of stelae dating from the Xth to the XIVth centuries according the regions have been stood up. They form specific groupings by the shape and the decoration of the standing stones.

2After a skimming over the different ethiopian megaliths weʹll treat here of the Chercher where we have made four missions at the very beginning of the seventies.

• Dolmenic cists or ʺdaga kofiyaʺ of Chercher

3Dolmenic cists (ʺdaga kofiyaʺ) in Chercher, are megalithic monuments, made of a small funerary chamber, which have contained only one body in a flexed position, laid on the side. Itʹs limitated by standing slabs, the ones of the long lateral sides support a two or three meters long limestone capstone. They were built on a slope and covered with a small cairn (mound of stones). Generally, they make up more or less closed up groupings, two important centers of them have been studied: Chaffe and Sourre. Most of them have been emptied of their contents a long time ago. Small stelae are sometimes associated, they are the only remains founded in those chambers where the current populations still now stand on ceremonies. The ʺdolmensʺ as they were called by F. Azaïs who discovered them (Azaïs and Chambard 1931) might be compared with some similar monuments from the other side of the Red Sea, in Yemen, where they are approximatively dated of the same era.

• The mounds or ʺdaga tuliʺ in Chercher

4Big cairns (ʺdaga tuliʺ), sometimes 6 m high, several of them can be grouped on a limited space, while others, smaller and often alone in the country, exist everywhere in Chercher mountains. Some of them, of different type, that, most of the time, have been sacked by ancient excavations made by the local populations, have been studied during these four missions.

5The monuments, with a circular chamber, about 4 m diameter, and a side-cell, were built in elevation, or the set chamber-cell was partly dug in the soil. The chamber, limited with standing slabs and drystone low walls, has been later put compartments in with other upright slabs. Sometimes a passage permitted to get in the funeral chamber through the mound. Each compartment was topped with a removable stone slab making possible to deposit several bodies successively in the long term. With these corpes, we found an extensive furniture made of different ceramics, iron weapons, metallic bracelets and a lot of small beads in glass, cornaline, metal and shells.

6One of these chambers contained at the same time some bones and ceramics filled with cenders and small burned bones, remains of human cremations.

7Other mounds covered some deposits put on the bare ground that first might be protected with a small wooden structure. These deposits consisted of human bones and varied ceramics.

8A cairn covered an individualʹs skeleton, laid down in a small depression of the limestone soil, surrounded with 14 potteries. Here also, a cover in perishable material may be envisaged.

9The obtained datings place the use of those monuments by same people between the VIIIth and XIIIth centuries A.D., in a range like the one of the tumulus in the nearby Mänz with which they are compared (culture Shay) (Fauvelle and Poissonnier 2012).

• Hypogees and shaft tombs

10Hypogees and other shaft tombs are numerous in Ethiopia at the Axumite era in the North and also among different Oromo populations in South Ethiopia, some of them are current (Arsi and Konso). They are also found in Chercher, still not studied nowdays. In Arsi region, several of them have been destroyed by a quarry in Ijabole. Some ceramic remains, gathered on the occasion of their destruction, show a cultural belonging identical to the Chercher tumulusʹone, particularly with a four legged flat base pottery that may have been a perfume-burner. This last one is found again in the mounds until the Kenya border in the South and in Djibouti at the North-East, showing an important movement at this time.

• Sites surrounded with walls in Chercher

11Perched in the mountains, the sites surrounded with walls in the Chercher mounts have not given rise to specific researches, except a bone heap and a sherd another one in keeping with Hassan-Abdi occupation site. Several of them have been visited and permitted to collect some ceramic and lithic remains. They lead to think that several of them are contemporary with the circular chamber and lateral cell mounds and also with other types of mounds, which would require much more detailed studies.

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 2014

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