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La Stampa / Adulis, Italian archaeological mission to bring to light the mysteries of the "African Pompeii"

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Adulis, Italian archaeological mission to bring to light the mysteries of the "African Pompeii"

The Eritrean authorities provide logistics and local labor for excavations. The Italian universities have made available scientific staff and some equipment

ANDREA CIONCI  / Published 27/02/2018  Last modified on 02/27/2018 at 11:34

An Italian archaeological mission, the discovery of a lost city and the opportunity of a "Cultural Marshall Plan" in Eritrea. This adventure bears the name of Adulis, also called the "African Pompeii" due to the sudden destruction of which the ancient city was the protagonist. It was a very rich port center of the great kingdom of Axum, which developed in Central-Eastern Africa from the fourth century BC to reach the apogee in the first seven centuries AD  
Thanks to its favorable position, Adulis was at the center of the trade between the Mediterranean, Africa, Arabia and the Indian Ocean and passed through goods such as ivory, turtle shells, spices, pearls, precious stones so that to manage these exchanges the Kingdom of Axum was the the first and only sub-Saharan Africa to coin money.  

1. The twin archaeologists  

The project was born about ten years ago when the Eritrean government asked the then seventy-year-old brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni - among the most famous Italian anthropologists-archaeologists - to launch a research project to enhance the cultural heritage of the country: the choice of the two scholars fell on this inconvenient site. The ancient city of Adulis was buried in the seventh century. AD from the floodworm, which probably occurred following a tsunami. Since then, nothing has been known about this important commercial crossroads, apart from some quotations in Renaissance cartographies. It was at the end of the 19th century that an expedition from the British Museum succeeded in bringing to light a large Christian basilica. Then came the excavations of the archaeologist Roberto Paribeni at the beginning of the 20th century. The site, abandoned to itself, was again covered by sand and silt. 

2. The discoveries  

Currently, our archaeologists have reached the "most recent" strata, ie those related to the 4th century BC. d. C. "What has emerged so far from the excavations - explains the director of the works, the archaeologist Serena Massa, Catholic University - is just 1% of a city covering about 40 hectares. We have brought to light three early Christian basilicas, among the oldest in the Horn of Africa, even more interesting because in Adulis we find ourselves beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. The basilica stood on a high pyramid-shaped pedestal in a particular synthesis between the Christian basilic architecture and the traditional indigenous architecture. Given the great passage of Jewish merchants, it is not surprising that the oldest Christian communities flourished here ".  
The Western Gate of the city was probably also found, where the Marble Throne of Adulis was found, an artifact of legendary beauty now lost. 
Because of the flood that buried the city in no time, several treasures, coins, gems, objects of everyday life, such as glass and pottery, remained imprisoned in the silt. After the discovery of three tombs, great hopes are placed in the necropolis, still to be identified.  

3. Loans  

The cost of the mission is covered in equal measure by the Research Center on the Eastern Desert (Ce.RDO), founded by the same brothers Castiglioni, and by Piccini Group of Perugia. The Eritrean authorities provide logistics and local labor for excavations, while the most important weight comes from Italian Universities (Polytechnic of Milan, Catholic University, Eastern University of Naples, Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology) that provide scientific staff and many equipment techniques. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contributes with its institutional funding. 
The excavation takes about a month, under rather uncomfortable conditions due to the scorching heat, followed by a year of work on the findings and findings. 

4. A great opportunity  

The excavations of Adulis would constitute a great opportunity not only for Eritrea, but also for Italy that could intervene with significant investments in the area by sending archaeologists, technicians, engineers for the realization of what is destined to become the first archaeological park of 'Sub-Saharan Africa.Adulis fits, in fact, in an ideal tourist route, between sea and culture, which connects other sites of great archaeological interest such as the Dalaq Islands, the white beaches and the site of Buia from where human fossils dating back to a million years ago . 
An Italian investment would create jobs, economic induced, tourism, training for the Eritrean population creating the conditions for the development of the entire area. Another scientifically fascinating aspect should not be overlooked: that of the study of the ancient technology of dew pits. In the area there is a site with 360 cisterns that collected water only thanks to nighttime humidity. It is easy to understand the importance of these investigations in the future where water supply, in Africa, will be increasingly more emergency. 

Fiat Tagliero di Asmara: Italian modernist architecture  
5. Prejudices  

Behind the "shyness" of our country to invest in Eritrea there is the probable persistence of a certain sense of guilt for our colonial past between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. "This prejudice should be denied in the most absolute - continues Dr. Massa - the Eritreans hold us in high esteem and would like never before the collaboration with Italy. The proof is that the Eritrean authorities have requested - and obtained, in 2017 - that UNESCO declare Asmara, with its Italian modernist architecture of the 20s-30s, a World Heritage Site, inserting it in the protected assets of the World Heritage list .Eritrea is a nation undergoing substantial change on many aspects.Farsightedness and trust are needed ". 

6. The most daring hypothesis  

Angelo Castiglioni, owner of the project, is very inclined to believe that the area where Adulis stands can be connected with the legendary Land of Punt, which in the Bible is remembered as the region inhabited by the descendants of Cam, son of Noah. The Land of Punt has often been mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphics, especially those placed on a wall of the Queen Hashepsut temple in Thebes. These sources hand down the story of the return of an expedition of Egyptian ships whose cargo consisted of incense plants, precious materials and exotic animals.  

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