The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Aksum - World Heritage Site

Author - John Mellors


Excavation of Foundations for New Church Museum, Aksum
Excavations for the new Church Museum in Aksum started in December 2010. The old Cathedral, built on Aksumite foundations, can be seen in the top left of the picture. The small treasury building that houses the Ark of the Covenant is next door. To the right of this building, just behind the stone wall in the centre of the picture, are old archaeological excavations that exposed the foundations of Aksumite buildings.
Photo - © John Mellors

Some excitement in Aksum as the building work for the new Church Museum started in December 2010. This new museum is being constructed close to the New Cathedral in an area which used to be home to some old prefabricated buildings. These were being used as church offices but, many years ago, were where the old church museum was located. These buildings had prevented any archaeological excavations taking place in this area. Sadly the opportunity to carry out even the most limited archaeological survey was lost as the basement area for the new museum was quickly dug out using a very large loader. The excavated soil and stones are scattered far and wide as each truck driver was apparently responsible for selling his load wherever he could.

Digger used in Excavations, Aksum
The new excavations were made using a huge Caterpillar 980F wheel loader with a 4.5 cubic metre bucket. Each lorry carried away two bucket loads of soil.
Photo - © John Mellors

More building work is being carried out just north of the Basen tomb site in what appears to be another prime archaeological site. Here an Aksumite theme park with a large restaurant, holiday lodges and hall are being built in an "authentic Aksumite style". This first stage of the building work is nearly complete and the owner hopes to open the site later this year. In the second stage he plans to construct a 40 metre by 50 metre replica palace... All this in a World Heritage Site.

The two basket sellers who used to be located in the grounds of the new Archaeological Museum have been moved out. Because of this I felt that it might not be prudent to collect basket work to display at the museum next year and instead chose to collect embroidered dresses. This is a surprisingly big industry in Aksum, especially as most of the output is sold to locals and the price of the dresses can be up to £150 (over one year's salary for many workers). Most of the embroidery is carried out by men, as is the weaving of the cotton cloth. There is a great choice of different embroidery designs that can be purchased.

Tilfi Shop, Aksum
A typical Cultural Clothes Shop in Aksum during December. By February most of the dresses had been sold.
Photo - © John Mellors

The three most popular while I was there were called Obama (although now also called Abyssinia), Sheraton and Kisanet. I have collected over seventy sample pieces of different designs together with a number of complete dresses. Some of these will be on show at the Society Summer Fair in September 2011.

First Published in News File Spring 2011

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