The monoliths in southern Ethiopia are 1000 years older than previously thought

Sakaro Sodo, pictured in 2014. Photo: Ashenafi Zena

The sometimes phallus-shaped more then 10,000 standing stones nevertheless do not date from the Stone Age but were erected in the first century A.D.

Rising as high as 6 m, ancient stone monoliths in southern Ethiopia are 1,000 years older than scientists previously thought, according to a new study in the Journal of African Archaeology. A Washington State University (WSU) research team used advanced radiocarbon dating to determine the often phallic-shaped stelae at the Sakaro Sodo archeological site in Ethiopia’s Gedeo zone were likely created sometime during the first century A.D.

The only other attempt to determine the age of the more than 10,000 monoliths located at various sites in the Gedeo zone had been conducted by French scientists in the 1990s. It provided a far more modest construction date of around 1100 A.D. for the monuments of Tuto Fela in the northern part of Gedeo.
Under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sakaro Sodo and other archeological sites in the Gedeo zone have the largest number and highest concentration of megalithic stele monuments in Africa. The standing stones range widely in size, function, and arrangement in the landscape.

While many have fallen and/or are undecorated, a few have intricately wrought faces and other anthropomorphic designs carved into the stone that can be seen today.

Despite the impressive nature of the archeological site, little is known about why or how the monoliths were built.

“This is one of the most understudied archaeological sites in the world, and we want to change that,” said Ashenafi Zena, lead author of the study and a former WSU doctoral researcher now at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Sakaro Sodo. Photo: Andrew Duff

Based on the new research, the scientists could also determine the places of origin of the raw stone.
While little is known about the pastoral and/or agricultural people who populated the Sakaro Sodo region of southern Ethiopia at the turn of the first millennium, the new construction dates of the stele appear to coincide with the arrival of domesticated animals in the region and the beginnings of more complex social and economic systems.

“One of the reasons why this research is important is because it has the potential to shed new light on what the earliest people in this area were doing for a living as well as what their cultural and social practices were,” Andrew Duff, a WSU professor of anthropology said.

Existing traditions in the region suggest that the oldest stele sites were likely created for two purposes: to commemorate the transfer of power from one generation to the next or to record and commemorate group achievement.

Source: Washington State University

(09.06.2022, USA: 06.09.2022)