Water, geography, and Aksumite civilization: The Southern Red Sea Archaeological Histories (SRSAH) project survey (2009–2016)

Michael Harrower, Smiti Nathan, Joseph Mazzariello, Kifle Zerue, Ioana Dumitru, Yemane Meresa, Jacob Bongers, Gidey Gebreegziabher, Benjamin Zaitchik, Martha Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


For at least four decades, archaeologists have identified irrigation as playing a potentially major role in the rise of Aksumite civilization. Based on a systematic survey covering the area between Aksum and Yeha (Ethiopia), Joseph Michels proposed that large-scale irrigation systems introduced from Southwest Arabia contributed to the rise of Yeha as a major center of Pre-Aksumite civilization. To evaluate spatial patterning of archaeological sites with respect to water availability, this paper reports on results from archaeological survey of a 100 km2 region surrounding Yeha conducted by the Southern Red Sea Archaeological Histories (SRSAH) Project from 2009 to 2016. The SRSAH Project recorded 84 sites dating from the Pre-Aksumite to the Post-Aksumite periods (c.800 BCE to 900 CE). No ancient irrigation systems were identified and results do not show a correlation between archaeological sites and water resources. This suggests that irrigation was less important than Michels contended and that rainfed agriculture, terraces, and small-scale irrigation comparable with practices evident in the region today were sufficient to sustain ancient populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-67
Number of pages17
JournalAfrican Archaeological Review
Issue number1
Early online date15 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Aksum
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Irrigation
  • Spatial archaeology
  • Water management

Cite this