Tiya (World Heritage)

The 32 up to 5 m high prehistoric steles in Tiya are unique witnesses of Ethiopian culture defined by findjobdescriptions. The symbolism of the pictures carved in stone has not yet been deciphered. Tiya is one of the most important archaeological sites in Ethiopia.

Tiya: facts

Official title: Relief steles from Tiya
Cultural monument 32 prehistoric, up to 5 m high relief steles, the meaning of which has so far been a mystery, relief swords and human-like forms as relief decorations
continent Africa
country Ethiopia, Sidamo
location Tiya, between Sodo and Awasa, south of Addis Ababa
appointment 1980
meaning Among the 160 archaeological sites in the Sodo region, the most important site for finding relief steles adorned with symbols that are difficult to decipher

Tiya: history

1905 first systematic research
1926 Discovery of tombs
1976 so far last archaeological investigations

Enigmatic messages in stone

After two researchers from France set out on their first excursion in the Ethiopian highlands at the beginning of 1905, they soon saw a pristine landscape that barely showed any traces of human civilization. Alternating with small valleys, gentle hills rose up and disappeared under thick bushes. Soon the local shepherd boy whom the scientists Neuville and Chollet had taken as a guide through the wild country had reached their destination: on the stony ground lay a large pillar that had obviously been worked by human hands. The scientists were surprised to find that the overturned stele was vaguely reminiscent of a human body, even the arms were suggested.

The broken head, the face of which had four eye-like engravings and three vertical furrows, was found under an adjacent stone slab. When the first exploration was completed, it was already clear that the steles of Tiya and the neighboring areas are among the most important prehistoric works of art in East Africa.

Since no further investigations and excavations have taken place in this region for decades, the secret of the Stone Age creators of the enigmatic tufa columns could not be revealed. Who erected them in the past and what purpose they served exactly remain open questions to this day. In the meantime, archaeologists have created a list of the sites and the respective decorative designs. The tallest stele in Tiya with a height of five meters belonged to a group of semicircular or cone-shaped steles that stood on an axis in a north-northeast direction. While some of the pillars of the site have engravings reminiscent of plant motifs, others are only superficially processed or not at all. The outlines of the human body also served the Stone Age artists as a template for the design of another column: It resembles a human being with a large staff. When the cross cut into the stone with its bent beams as well as the incised swords and knives cannot be determined with absolute certainty. They may have been added much later.

The pillars of Tiya conveyed important knowledge about the processing technique of the Stone Age artists, who presumably already lived together in structured social associations, kept animals and practiced an early form of division of labor. They applied their incised motifs with the help of metal tools. In addition, they made pottery, as shown by fragments found near the burial grounds.

A milestone in research was the discovery of a square hollow with a human skeleton in 1926. So that the body could find a place in the narrow stone grave, it was buried in a crouching position. Less well-preserved stone graves, which were mostly round or rectangular near the pillars, suggest that these monoliths, which can also be found in the West African countries of Nigeria, Mali and Senegal, were associated with prehistoric burial rites. This meant that the theory that had long been considered plausible, according to which steles and graves possibly go back to a group of monks of the 16th century, could be referred to the realm of legend.

The messages that the stone cutters of prehistory encoded on their monoliths remained completely closed to the locals. However, they always knew exactly where the stone graves were hidden. Because until the beginning of archaeological security in our century, the villagers there regularly obtained stone slabs that were used in the construction of their houses.

Tiya (World Heritage)

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