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Catherine D’Andrea’s recent research has focused on early agricultural peoples and the rise of complex societies in the Horn of Africa. She has been involved in several ongoing archaeological projects as palaeoethnobotanist, ethnoarchaeologist, and initiated surveys and excavations in northern Ethiopia. Currently she is director of the Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP), an interdisciplinary group which includes participants from Canada, Ethiopia, Italy, USA, Egypt, and Turkey. The team is examining the dynamics of early state formation in northern Ethiopia, concentrating on the pre-Aksumite period (>800-400 BC), and investigating questions of indigenous (East African) vs. imported (Sabaean) cultural influences in both rural and urban settings. Their research group is also consulting with rural farming communities in formulating plans to use local archaeological and cultural resources to support tourism. This initiative will assist rural populations in achieving goals of sustainable economic development, education, poverty reduction, and food security.
Her palaeo-ethnobotanical work has drawn attention to marginalized and poorly understood crops cultivation and plant management in Africa, including pearl millet, t’ef, fonio, cowpea, emmer wheat, and oil palm. For t’ef and fonio she has proposed an alternate domestication cereal syndrome that differs from the accepted scheme based on Near Eastern cereals. This research has been informed by several years of ethnoarchaeological field studies of crop processing methods practiced by traditional (non-mechanised) farmers of northern Ethiopia, which has enabled her to blend scientific and traditional knowledge in elucidating the domestication history of African cereals. In addition to Ethiopian fieldwork, she is collaborating as a palaeoethnobotanist on research projects based in Ghana, Eritrea, and Turkey.