Landscape Formation Processes and Archaeological Preservation in the Ethiopian Highlands: A Case Study from the Lalibela Region
McIntosh, Susan K
Doctor of Philosophy
This thesis describes two field seasons of research around the historic church of Gännäta Maryam, in the western highlands of Ethiopia, and the subsequent analysis of the landscape and material recovered there. Gännäta Maryam Church was an important royal church from the 13th century onward. Though the archaeological landscape around the church likely possessed a wealth of information on the role of royal churches in medieval Ethiopian society, natural and anthropogenic landscape formation processes have greatly disturbed the archaeological integrity of the region, leaving few archaeological contexts intact. This thesis examines the Gännäta Maryam study area as a palimpsest landscape where centuries of activities and events have successively and cumulatively left their signatures on the landscape. Using principals and methods from behavioral archaeology and geoarchaeology, this thesis investigates and describes the past and ongoing history and landscape formation processes at Gännäta Maryam in order to understand how the archaeological record came to its present state, and it interprets as best as possible the history and archaeological contents of the landscape. This thesis concludes that human activities have changed or greatly exacerbates the natural effects of erosion on the landscape, as well as more directly affecting archaeological contexts through activities like plowing. The result is a heavily disturbed and degraded archaeological landscape. What material remains are likely evidence for more recent agrarian peasant communities rather than evidence of church-related medieval activities.