PhD Dissertations: Clement Apaak, 2008

The socio-economic role of salt in Northern Highland Ethiopia

Salt is a known cross-cultural item of early trade with documented socio-political consequences.  Written records on the Ethiopian salt industry go back at least 2,000 years.  This dissertation is an ethnoarchaeological investigation of the socio-economic role of the salt trade in northern Ethiopia.  Ethnoarchaeological methods are used to explore all aspects of the salt trade in an attempt to provide a basis to understand the role of salt, as an economic item, in socio-cultural developments as well as aid the interpretation of the archaeological record.  Conducted in the Tigrai and Afar regions of northern Ethiopia, this study identifies groups involved in the salt industry and confirms that the salt trade is vibrant.  Aspects of the technology used to extract, transport, and process salt remain unchanged from what was described by earlier visitors to Ethiopia.  While some archaeological correlates of the salt trade such as ropes, skins and plant material may not preserve, stones used to sharpen axes, and metal axes used to extract and shape salt would likely preserve.  The remains of pack animals used to transport salt may also preserve.  Overall, the salt trade would leave a thin footprint in the archaeological record.  Socially, the results of this study suggest that participation in the salt trade confers wealth, which may be used to gain and maintain social status today, a benefit that could have been the same in the past.