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Daily life in the kingdom of Diamat –

LMU geophysicists locate the oldest known Ethio-Sabaean village

Munich, 05/25/2011

A research team led by LMU geophysicist Dr. Jörg Fassbinder and Dr. Pawel Wolf of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin has located in the highlands of Ethiopia what is probably the oldest known Ethio-Sabaean settlement yet discovered. The find was made with the aid of a portable magnetometer, which can detect and map minimal alterations in the Earth’s magnetic field with high resolution and sensitivity. In much the same way as medical imaging methods reveal the structure of internal organs, when plotted in two dimensions, the magnetic data allow one to visualize structures, including stone walls, graves, hearths and middens (waste dumps) that lie below the surface of the ground. In this case, the geographical location of the study area posed particular problems for the application of the magnetic mapping technique. The Ethiopian Highlands lie close to the geomagnetic equator, where the magnetic field lines are oriented parallel to the surface. This gives rise to complex magnetic anomalies that are difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, a set of measurements obtained by Fassbinder and his colleague Margarete Schlosser yielded an interpretable picture after being processed using a newly developed analytical method. “Our subsequent test digs were highly successful,” reports Wolf, who leads the excavations at the site. “The very first test excavations uncovered the remains of stone walls, traces of burials, scorched areas, and kitchen debris, including animal bones and potsherds from various periods. Among the pottery recovered were fragments that could be dated on stylistic grounds to the first millennium BC. During this period the area probably formed part of the Ethiopian kingdom of Diamat, about which little is yet known, although it undoubtedly had a decisive influence on the culture of the northern sector of the Horn of Africa. Several sites are known from this epoch, which are especially notable for their religious architecture and are currently under investigation by teams from the German Archaeological Institute and other bodies. The newly discovered site may represent a more typical sort of settlement, and the excavators hope that it will provide insights into the everyday life of its inhabitants. (suwe/PH)


Dr. Jörg Fassbinder
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, LMU Munich
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2114 - 330

Roland Linck
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, LMU Munich
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2114 - 240

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