ISSN 1993-8616

2008 - Number 8

A Prehistoric Tale Told in Pictures

Not far from Addis Ababa, in the Soddo Region, is a field that contains stelae found nowhere else in the world. A cemetery was uncovered, with bodies buried in the position of prayer. We are in the very mysterious archeological site of Tiya, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980.


© UNESCO/Jasmina Šopova

“Therer are 40 stelae in this cemetery. Bodies of people aged 18 to 30 were found,” explains Senai Eshete, the custodian in charge of the World Heritage site. “It is likely they were warriors, because the sword is the most predominant image on the stelae.”

The largest stele, situated at the entrance of the site, was five metres high but is now broken in two. The top part can be found in the courtyard of the social sciences department at the university in Addis Ababa. “There are no fewer than 13 swords engraved on it, which means this warrior killed 13 enemies,” the custodian continues.


© UNESCO/Jasmina Šopova

Another prevalent symbol is an African stool. “In fact it’s probably a head-rest – a wooden pillow, if you like – used by Africans. It symbolizes repose,” explains Eshete. He draws my attention to the symbol, “Σ”, telling me that it could represent hills, or otherwise represent a woman.


© UNESCO/Jasmina Šopova

If these were indeed warriors, there were obviously women in their midst. Two “Ethiopian Amazons” are there to prove it. All the feminine attributes are represented on these stelae.

No one has been to determine with any certainty the age of the stelae, but the analysis of human remains suggests that they are from the period between the 10th and 15th centuries. The bones and jewels discovered in the tombs have been deposited in the Ethiopian National Museum, while the small improvised museum on the site keeps an unsorted collection of ethnographic objects.

Jasmina Šopova

Back to the summary