Contemplating Ethiopia from Nubia

In the previous entry, we made a reference to a critic addressed to the recent publication by Bill and Nettie Adams on the Early Medieval Period at Qasr Ibrim by the Emeritus Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, David W. Phillipson. His critic concerned the way research is conducted and presented in the field of Nubian Studies, as if there is nothing outside Nubia itself, a critic that has also been expressed by members of the Nubian Society.

In fact, Ethiopia, the main focus of Phillipson’s career, is a very good example of this problematic state, in the sense that very few studies address adequately the parameters of contact and exchange between the Ethiopian highlands and the Middle Nile Valley. It is very interesting that last year came out a very important contribution to the Christian cultures of Ethiopia precisely by David Phillipson: “The Ancient Churches of Ethiopia”, a superb edition with full description of the monuments, deep analysis of their historical, religious, and cultural context, rich photographic documentation, architectural plans and maps, a glossary and indexes.

If now we turn to what is included in the publication about the contacts and influences between the Nubian and the Ethiopian Christian states of the Middle Ages, the contribution can fit in one paragraph, or a third of a page out the 230 in total, plus eight references in that paragraph, and a couple of more from the rest of the book, out of thirteen pages of bibliography in total.

Is this a fault of Phillipson’s work? Certainly not!

It is a fault of generations after generations of scholars who do not discuss the issue of the contacts between Ethiopia and Sudan in the ancient and medieval eras. The representatives of wider African perspectives may well say that Nubiologists work in vacuo. Nubiologists will contradict them by blaming the poor archaeological record collected in the countries neighboring the Middle Nile Valley, obliging research to focus too much on the links with Pharaonic, Greaco-Roman, Byzantine, Coptic, and Islamic Egypt. And some more theoretically oriented colleagues will argue that it is perhaps all a fault of the bias to read the archaeological record based on the monumental remains forgetting the details that can recreate an image of the everyday life on the ground. And so on…

Instead of pursuing this ‘conflict’, and since we have arrived at the state of enjoying finally so enriching publications like those of the Adams’ and the Phillipsons’; or important University figures like professor Randi Haaland in Bergen and professor Michael Zach in Vienna turning their research agendas to the issues of the links between Ethiopia and Nubia in various periods; or seeing archaeologists, like Jackie Phillips and Pawel Wolf, working in both countries; or learning about renewed research in the Kassala region; or meeting new researchers being interested into these fascinating topics, like Robin Seignobos; yes, with all this fertile ground some fresh fruit of academic and fieldwork labor should come out!

The GNM is also contemplating the combination of such activities, and contacts with Ph.D. candidate at Bergen University, Gedef Abawa, might bring us soon to fieldwork in the Highlands. In the meantime, we can celebrate the links between the two lands by hosting in the calendar of the Medieval Sai Project Internet Space an image from Easter 2008 in Lalibela…

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2 Responses to Contemplating Ethiopia from Nubia

  1. chirine nour says:

    where can i find this wonderful calendar that smels months and seasons?

  2. ergamenis says:

    This year GNM did not print a calendar, but instead we decided to present a digital version that you can see at the special page of the blog. Glad to read that there is some ‘demand’ for the GNM products :-)

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