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Medieval landscapes in the Horn of Africa. State, territory and materiality of the Adal Sultanate (15th-16th centuries AD).

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MEDLAND_HORN.AFRICA (Medieval landscapes in the Horn of Africa. State, territory and materiality of the Adal Sultanate (15th-16th centuries AD).)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2018-09-01 al 2020-08-31

The project “MEDLANDS: Medieval landscapes in the Horn of Africa. State, territory and materiality of the Adal Sultanate (15th-16th centuries AD)” investigates the cultural landscape of the Sultanate of Adal, a state which during the 15th-16th centuries controlled much of what is now Somaliland and southern Ethiopia and played an important role in some of the most important events in the history of the Red Sea. Focused on the region of western Somaliland and using a combination of disciplines and methodologies, the project explores the relationships between the different communities (nomads, urban dwellers, international traders) that lived in the region and how they built a shared landscape integrated into international economic systems.

Raising from previous experience in Somaliland, the project challenges preconceived ideas such as the dichotomies between urban dwellers and nomads or the assumed irreversibility of urbanization processes. It also approaches current challenges in the region: religious conversion, environmental stress and climatic change, perceptions of space and territory, and the relationships between rural and urban populations. Many of these issues were as present during the period of the Adal Sultanate as they are nowadays, and the research conducted by MEDLANDS can shed light on some of the problems affecting the region, leading to better ways of understanding and managing its natural and cultural resources. The Project will also contribute to build a more accurate, historicised discourse on Somalia, a region whose deeper past is poorly known.

The objectives of the project are manifold, but can be summarized in three: 1) the acquisition and processing of environmental, archaeological and historical data about the sultanate of Adal 2) the development of methodologies to integrate these data and 3) the development of an interpretative framework for the Sultanate archaeological remains. Aditionally, a parallel goal of the MSCA Individual Fellowship is to foster the development of the individual researcher.
The MEDLANDS Project has been organized about three Work Packages (WP) that represent consecutive steps in the development of the research, and a series of parallel actions directed to the training of the of the individual researcher, the acquisition of specific skills and sets of data needed for the project and the scientific and social dissemination of our work. WP1 was focused on the acquisition of geographical information about the region, including historical cartography, satellite images and current topographical and environmental data. These data have been led to the development of a Geographic Information System database (GIS). WP2 has processed the archaeological information for the region, including available archaeological materials and sites, the study new sets of archaeological data, a comprehensive analysis of the existing bibliography and the gathering of information through new technologies such as satellite survey. A third WP has consisted in the use of the previously processed information to develop analyses combining GIS tools and other archaeological and historical data. This information has been processed into a comprehensive interpretative framework which summarizes the data and conclusions of the project. So far, the academic outputs of this work plan have been five published articles with three more forthcoming, the development of a comprehensive GIS database and the compilation of data that will be published and presented in academic forums in the following years.

In addition to the research Work Packages, the Fellow has received an extensive training in technical skills – GIS management, photogrammetry and other related software- and has participated in two fieldwork campaigns in Somaliland under the umbrella of the Host Institution and directed by his supervisor. These two campaigns have provided first-hand knowledge on the environment and the materiality of the Sultanate of Adal, as well as an useful network of partners in Somaliland, essential for future projects in the area. In addition, they have trained the Fellow in project management skills that have been fundamental for the Fellow’s future career. The results of these campaigns are being incorporated to those gathered through the Work Packages and will be published in forthcoming papers. The individual researcher has also developed a fruitful collaboration with the Department of Northeast African Archaeology and Cultural Studies of the Humboldt University of Berlin, from which he has received an Honorary Fellowship. As a part of his development as a researcher, the Fellow has also started the supervision of masters and PhD dissertations related to his research. Finally, the participation of the Fellow in academic meetings has helped to enhance the visibility of the project and the importance of the Somaliland medieval heritage.
The project has achieved all the academic and training objectives planned in the proposal. It has generated a database which gathers the geographical, archaeological and historical information for the area of study, which will be used in future projects and will be shared with the Somaliland authorities to enhance their control on their archaeological Heritage. The amount of information processed during the action –plans, drawings of archaeological materials, photographs, maps and historical data- represent the most comprehensive set of information ever collected in the history of archaeology of Somaliland. This set of information will allow incorporate the medieval archaeology of Somaliland in broader interpretative frameworks, merging it with ongoing projects in Ethiopia and other parts of the Horn of Africa.

From a social perspective, the work conducted during these two years has had an important impact in how the Somaliland public –both in Somaliland and abroad- have come to known their archaeological heritage. The development of an active presence in social media has led to widespread interest on the Somaliland archaeology, both at general and institutional levels, and are helping to raise awareness in the protection of the As a result of the activities conducted by the researcher in Somaliland, partnerships have been established with Somaliland authorities regarding the future Somaliland National Museum, the support for the Somaliland Department of Archaeology and the European embassy in Somaliland. These collaborations set the bases for a sustained archaeological research in one of the worst known areas of Africa and will help to implement a direly needed institutional and legal framework to protect the Somaliland heritage.

The most direct evidence of the success of the MEDLANDS project is the award of an ERC Starting Grant to the Fellow to continue his archaeological research in Somaliland. This new project is funded with 1.5 million euros from European research Council, with additional support by the Galician Innovation Agency (GAIN). The StateHorn project grows from the previous MEDLANDS action and will incorporate all the data and experience generated during the Marie Curie Fellowship into a more ambitious 5-years project. Many of the MEDLANDS results will be adapted and expanded for the new project, which will also guarantee that the information generated by this MSCA will continue to be published and disseminated in academic and social forums.
Medieval site of Fardowsa, one of the sites studied in the MEDLANDS project