Combining geomorphological–hydrological analyses and the location of settlement and raw material sites – a case study on understanding prehistoric human settlement activity in the southwestern Ethiopian Highlands

Hensel, Elena A.; Bödeker, Oliver; Bubenzer, Olaf; Vogelsang, Ralf

During this study, the recent relations between the hydrological systems and the distribution of archaeological sites and obsidian raw material outcrops within the catchment of the Bisare River, around Mt Damota, and around Mt Sodicho in the southwestern Ethiopian Highlands were investigated. To do so, we combined geomorphological–hydrological analyses with field surveys and GIS mapping. The aim was to try to transfer these recent interrelations into the past to better understand the factors that influenced prehistoric human settlement activity. The natural geomorphodynamics in landscapes such as the southwestern Ethiopian Highlands were and still are characterized by the interplay between endogenous processes (tectonics, volcanism) and climatic fluctuations and, during the recent past, also by human activity. In the considered region, protective and potentially habitable rock shelters are found at the volcanic slopes of Mt Damota and Mt Sodicho at high elevations. In addition, in some areas recent morphodynamic processes make obsidian raw material available near the surface. However, archaeological and terrestrial paleoenvironmental archives that allow an understanding of the interplay between prehistoric settlement activity and paleoenvironmental conditions are still rare. Therefore, the surroundings of formerly occupied rock shelters were investigated to illustrate the effect of the recent fluvial morphodynamics (erosion and accumulation) on surface visibility and preservation of archaeological obsidian raw material. This recent information can be used to make assumptions about the former hydrological system and to thereby get answers to research questions such as those about the past accessibility of obsidian raw material for prehistoric humans. The results suggest that the study area is currently affected by a highly dynamic hydrological system, which is indicated by phenomena such as the formation of swamps due to sedimentation in natural depressions. In addition, wide areaspage202 of the Bisare River catchment are affected by gully erosion, which leads to land degradation but also to the exposure of the above-mentioned lithic raw material outcrops. Human influence strongly increased during the Holocene until today, especially on the mountain flanks. This in turn increased soil loss and erosion of archaeological sites, which complicates the transfer of the current morphodynamics into the past. Although it cannot be finally confirmed that prehistoric hunters and gatherers systematically used fluvially exposed raw material, based on our results it can be assumed that humans frequented this area, due to the local availability of such kind of material.

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Hensel, Elena A. / Bödeker, Oliver / Bubenzer, Olaf / et al: Combining geomorphological–hydrological analyses and the location of settlement and raw material sites – a case study on understanding prehistoric human settlement activity in the southwestern Ethiopian Highlands. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Elena A. Hensel et al.

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