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.
- Spatial archaeology
- Water management