Survey and explorations of caves in southeastern Ethiopia: Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age archaeology and Holocene rock art

Zelalem Assefa*, David Pleurdeau, Frederique Duquesnoy, Erella Hovers, Osbjorn Pearson, Asfawossen Asrat, Constantinos Tsion, Yin Man Lam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The horn of Africa provides the setting for the evolution of early modern humans and their dispersal out of Africa as well as for the entry, many thousands of years later, of pastoralists who brought Near Eastern and, later, South Asian livestock into Africa. However, significant gaps remain in our understanding of the late Upper Pleistocene archaeological record of the horn of Africa, mainly due to the paucity of well-stratified sites from the period. The discovery in southeastern Ethiopia of a number of caves with rich Upper Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological deposits, many of which also had rock art depicting domestic animals, offers an unprecedented opportunity for exploring the later prehistory of the region. In 2007, 2008 our survey documented twenty-one cave sites and shelters with evidence of cultural deposits, including Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) stone artifacts, faunal remains, and rock art. Active and fossil speleothems, important for paleoclimatic reconstructions and chronology, were found from two other caves in eastern and western Harerghe. Test excavations were conducted at three sites, with abundant archaeological material documented from stratified deposits at two of these sites - Gilbo Tate and Goda Buticha. The latter is a subject of another paper in this volume. Rock art was recorded at eighteen sites, three of which (in western Harerghe) had not previously been documented. At many of the sites, much of the art is faded and in a vulnerable state, and continued efforts to document and conserve this art are urgently needed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)136-147
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritages (ARCCH) for permission to explore the study area. This research was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society (grants # 8110-06 and # 8510-08 ). Fieldwork on this project was greatly aided by the efforts of Tilahun G/Selassie, Workalemahu Bekele, Hadis, Haptewold H/Michael, and many others. We would like to thank the French Center for Ethiopian Studies for providing technical support for the missions and funding a part of the laboratory work. We thank zonal and local Tourism and Culture Offices of the Eastern Harerghe, Western Harerghe, the Dire Dawa Administration, and Harari National Regional State for fieldwork administrative support and information on many sites.


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