Archaeologists have discovered that some of Ethiopia’s 20-feet-tall phallic monoliths, or ‘Stelae’, were built about 2,070 years ago, 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Researchers from the Washington State University dated charcoal samples from the bases of the stones at three sites: Chelba Tututi, Sakaro Sodo and Soditi.
All three sites are located within Ethiopia’s Gedo region, which has the highest concentration of megalithic obelisks in Africa, with some 10,000 monuments in more than 60 sites.
The team found that the relics at the Sakaro Sodo site were probably laid around 50 BC.
The only previously dated Stelae are at Toto Villa, 30 miles north of Sakaro Sudo. These Stelae were established in AD 1100, making them significantly younger.
Although the amazing structures are widespread, they have not been well studied to some extent, and the exact reason why they were created remains uncertain.
Experts believe that some of the stones were used as burial marks, while others suggest that they may have been a celebration of the transfer of leadership to a new generation.
The study was led by archaeologist Ashenafi Zena, formerly at Washington State University and now at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and colleagues.
According to Dr. Ashenafi, Sakaro Sodo is “one of the most understudied archaeological sites in the world, and we wanted to change that.”
“It was shocking to see so many monuments in such a small area,” he explained. “Considering the stones, many of which fell to the ground and some were broken, I decided to focus my work there rather than investigating cave sites in southern Ethiopia.”
Little is known about the people who inhabited the Sakaro-Sōdo area in the early 2000s.
However, according to archaeologists, the new history of the oldest obelisks appears to coincide with the arrival of domestic animals in southern Ethiopia, and the development of more complex social and economic systems.
Professor Andrew Duff, who supervises Ashnavi’s research, said: “One of the reasons this research is important is that it can shed new light on what early people in this area did for a living as well as their cultural and social practices.”
In addition to the date of the construction of this monument, the researchers were also able to determine the place from which the builders extracted the raw stone.
Partially completed obelisks were found at quarry sites both in the Gedo region of Ethiopia and further afield in the Sidama region.
The team was also able to trace the sources of various small obsidian, discovered at memorial sites across Gedo, and found, unexpectedly, that most of them originated in northern Kenya, some 186 miles away.
This explains that the people who built the ancient ruins likely obtained obsidian through some form of long-distance trade.
Using a mixture of archaeological and ethnographic methods, including studies of living rock stele traditions in the area, scholars have concluded that the stones were used for various purposes, including celebrating the passing of power from one generation to the next, as well as commemorating the group’s accomplishments.
Professor Duff commented: “The diversity of functions of the obelisks in Ethiopia is truly remarkable. Developing a better understanding of the function of these stones and how they are structured is very beneficial in terms of obtaining a UNESCO World Heritage designation.”
Notably, Shilpa Tototi and Sakaro Sudo have been nominated as World Heritage Sites.