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Chungará (Arica)

On-line version ISSN 0717-7356

Abstract

WOLDEKIROS, Helina S.. THE ROUTE MOST TRAVELED: THE AFAR SALT TRAIL, NORTH ETHIOPIA. Chungará (Arica) [online]. 2019, vol.51, n.1, pp.95-110. ISSN 0717-7356.  http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0717-73562019005000502.

In Africa and elsewhere, scholars have demonstrated that early social, political, and economic structures were shaped by salt production, distribution, and long-distance trade in areas where salt was a critical resource. However, despite salt's significant role in developing these structures, archaeological studies of the salt trade have focused almost exclusively on artifacts and historical text references. As a result, data on the diverse and complex routes through which this important commodity has traveled and the nature of its transportation are lacking. This paper examines evidence of ancient Aksumite (400 BC-900 AD) salt trade and exchange from the lowland Ethiopian deserts to the North Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands, drawing on recent ethnoarchaeological and archaeological fieldwork conducted in the Danakil Desert and Aksumite towns. The data reveal that the Afar salt trail passes through diverse regional ecozones, highland trader towns, and foothill towns, via several highland routes and one major lowland route. The study shows that caravaners followed the least costly path on the highland portion of the route, with ideal slopes for pack travel and plentiful water sources. The study also describes ancient caravan campsites dating to ca. 5th century CE and shows that participants differed in religion and identity.

Keywords : Salt caravan; Aksumite trade; Africa; ethnoarchaeology.

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