Tiya: Ethiopia’s Enigmatic Stelae
It is known that Ethiopia is full of varied historical, cultural and natural attractions; it is the possessor of nine world heritage sites and many fossils attesting that it is the cradle of humankind, and their cultures diversified a combination which makes it suitable for tourism development. Considering the vast array of attractions and historical sites, the country has a huge potential for anthropological and archaeological tourism, photo and hunting safaris, bird watching, desert mountain hiking, camping, and general ecotourism. Furthermore, the increasing number of international organizations working out of the capital Addis Ababa has created new venture and great potential in trade and conference tourism all over the country.
Tiya Megalithic site is located 80 km south of the capital, Addis Ababa in the small town of Tiya. It is a World Heritage Site registered by UNESCO in 1972. It is very accessible to any visitor destined for or passing by it, as it is a few hundred meters off the road from the main paved road of Addis Ababa – Butajira. The Core conservation zone is properly fenced with wooden post and wire mesh enclosing and demarcating the entire archaeological and megalithic /monolithic monumental of the site.
The site can be accessed from the main highway through gravel access road about 0.5 km leading to the Main gate. Tiya Megalithic site is among the most important of the roughly 160 stelaes archaeological sites discovered so far in the Soddo region, south of Addis Ababa. The site contains 36 monuments, including 32 carved stelaes covered with symbols of different types, most of which are difficult to decipher. They are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture whose age has not yet been precisely determined.
The 46 large decorated Tiya megaliths construction is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia, the Tiya stones are fairly ‘recent’, dating to sometime between the 10th and 15th centuries. Remarkably little is known about the Tiya stelae, beyond descriptions of their physical appearance. These large monuments likely had some cultural significance when erected, but their meaning remains unclear and very few efforts have been made towards understanding these magnificent monoliths.
The pillar sites contain large stelae (monuments) of three types – anthropomorphic, phallic, and non-anthropomorphic/non-phallic. Anthropomorphic stelae are those which are given a human form. Phallic stelae are tall, thin shafts. The final stelae are flat monuments that take on neither an anthropomorphic nor phallic form, yet still, take on the same basic form as the other megaliths. Each of these types of stelae is prominent within the nine sites of the Gurage Zone. Additionally, most of the stelae in the Gurage Zone contain elaborate decorations, including symbols that resemble plants, swords, and human figures, standing “akimbo,” with their hands on their hips and elbows turned out.
The monoliths at Tiya are taller than the stelae found elsewhere in the zone, with the tallest reaching over 16 feet (5 meters) high. Thirty-two of the Tiya stelae bear decorative symbols. In April 1935, one of the Tiya stones, engraved with a sword symbol, was discovered by the outside world was during a German expedition. Local residents refer to the stelae as Yegran Dingay, or Gran’s Stone. This is in reference to the ruler of the Adal Sultanate, Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi.
The most common carvings on the stelae are swords, each of which may indicate the number of people buried at the site or the number of people killed by the warrior buried there. Some carvings appear to be schematic representations of humans. Carved circles are thought to represent female breasts; other carvings are thought to be human body parts or tools. One of the most common motifs is the so-called “false banana tree” or “fountain-like” shape, which recalls the semicircular forms found topping the stelae at Axum.
In addition to the stelae at Tiya, there have been other finds of archaeological significance. Excavations by French and Ethiopian archaeologists have unearthed tools form the Middle Stone Age, stone artifacts as well as skeletons of humans who likely were between 18 and 30 years in age when they died. Carbon testing has dated the remains to the 12th to 14th centuries. Who created the stelae and what their purpose might have been, aside from marking graves, is still unknown.T he stelae appear to mark mass graves that may be those of warriors. This may be fitting, as some say that the Tiya stones appear to be laid out like a row of headstones. There has been speculation that these are, perhaps, the site of a mass burial for those killed in battle.
Although the country possesses vast potential in varied historical, cultural and natural attractions, this has not been adequately protected, developed and used as a tourist attraction. There is a serious shortage in number and type of tourist facilities at existing and potential tourist destinations and vicinity; moreover, the quality of service is poor and unsatisfactory to tourists. Therefore, the Megalithic World heritage site seeks modern tourist related infrastructures to widen its permanent collections such as natural, archaeological and cultural heritage.
Ethiopia Travel Photography “Stele’s at archeological site” Tiya.526 by Hans Hendriksen by Hans Hendriksen Travel Photography