PhD student Tegenu Gossa Aredo uses Ethiopia as the foundation for his study into the prehistory of human evolution. He hopes to rectify a long-held but distorted world view of Africa by digging into its dynamic past.
Tegenu is an archaeologist who completed his first degree in Ethiopian history at Haramya University, around 480 kilometers (300 miles) east of the capital Addis Ababa.
The 35-year-old undertook his masters in archaeology at Addis Ababa University and continues to specialize in the field at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Over the past four years, Tegenu has been working on his PhD in the prehistory of human evolution at the university in Israel.
He says he was inspired to shift his focus from history to archaeology by two supplementary courses he took in the field as an undergraduate. "Those two courses gave me a hint at the different narratives that were out there and they drew me towards archaeology like a magnetic force," Tegenu says.
"Coming from Ethiopia, a country with a vast wealth of archaeological findings is also a reason to study the field."
Foreign historians wrote African history from one particular perspective."During and after the period of colonization, Africa was known to the world as a dark and uncivilized continent," says Tegenu. But through archaelogical science it has since come to be seen as the foundation for human evolution and civilization.
Tegenu says there is not enough emphasis on prehistoric archaeology, where "the wealth of African history lies." More African archaeological researchers on the continent now seen as the "cradle of humankind" could change things, he says,
"Such endeavors are increasingly helping to rectify an age-old distorted world view towards Africa." He says he hopes that by highlighting his work and that of other researchers, he can inspire more Africans to enter his field of research.
Archeologist Melka Wakena at a site in Ethiopia where he is researching the prehistory of human evolution
Cradle of civilization
Ethiopia has so far been the home to a greater variety of archaeological finds and historical buildings than other sub-Saharan African countries. The Axum obelisk, Middle-Stone Age tools such as Tiya and the 3.2 million year old Lucy (also locally known as Dinknesh), found in the Awash Valley, are among them.
Archaeologists continue to hunt for human, animal and plant fossils in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, where Tegenu has also been carrying out field research.
"I have been conducting my research in the south-east of Ethiopia, particularly in the area known as Melka Wakena, where new archeological findings were discovered. I have also worked in an area called Gadab," Tegenu said.
"Besides these two places, archeological findings were discovered in the Afar Region, the Omo Valley and other places where the Rift Valley crosses over."
In this valley not only have scientists discovered human, animal and plant remains, according to Tegenu, but also tools once used by humans. Tegenu says the discoveries will lead to further investigation. "What is discovered is excavated carefully and taken to a laboratory to find out the age of the fossils. All this work in the field and the laboratory takes a long time."
Tegenu, who won a scholarship to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, often travels to Ethiopia for field research. Although he enjoys the cultural interaction in Israel, traveling back and forth between the two countries has been challenging for his studies. Aside from the personal challenges, there are those on a national and continental scale too.
Ethiopia, and Africa in general, have much to still tackle.
"What are the causes for our underdevelopment, for us being left behind? Most of the time the responses are a lack of democracy, not working together and utilizing natural resources," says Tegenu.
"But a challenge that should not be overlooked is that we have lost a lot of our cultural wealth, which is essential to our existence. Thus, we need further research in the archaeological field."
This report is part of the African Roots series, a project realized in cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.