The exploration of the archaeology of the Eritrean-Sudanese lowlands wasstarted in 1980 bythe Italian Archaeological Mission of the Istituto Universitario Orientale, and the American-Sudanese Expedition of the Southern Methodist University of Dallas and University of Khartoum. More recently, the Italian Archaeological Expedition toSudan and Eritrea of the University of Naples“L’Orientale” and ISMEO – in collaboration with the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums of Sudan – resumed investigations in the area after a gap of 15 years.
Research activities haveoutlined the area’slong regional cultural sequence (6thmillenniumBC – 2ndmillennium AD). Moreover, it was shown that in the region the process of adoption of domestic cattle andcultivated plants started not later thanthe 4thmillennium BC, the progressive shift to a nomadic and pastoral lifestyle beganin the2ndmillennium BC, and hierarchicalsocieties were present by the late 3rd-early 2ndmillennium BC.
The abundantarchaeozoological and palaeobotanical record made possible to follow the emergence of a local dietin which domesticated sorghum was important. Indeed, the region hasyielded the earliest evidence of sorghumdomestication, perhaps starting in the 4thmillennium BC. This suggests that the region may have been part of the domestication area of this species. The zonewas also crucial for the Neolithisation of the Ethio-Eritrean highlands and for the spread of Sahelian crops to India via the Indian Ocean in the 3rdand 2ndmillennia BC.
Imported objectsshow that in the 3rdand 2ndmillennia BC the region was included in a broad network extending from Egypt to the Yemeni highlands, also involving Nubia, the Butana and the Eastern Desert. Together with its plentifulnatural resources, this evidence hasled to the suggestionthat the region may have been part of the fabled land of Punt, mentioned in Egyptian texts fromthe Fifth Dynasty, and from where African raw materialssuch as aromatic resins, ebony, ivory, animal skins and precious metals were imported to Egypt.
The recent investigations are also providing insights into the environmental history of the region, which apparently remained wetterthan the areas north and west of it up to c.2000 BC, and into its ancient landscapes. In particular, new excavationshaveshown that already in the 3rdmillennium BC Mahal Teglinos, the region’smajor archaeological site, was perhaps a kind of federal cemetery, of great importancein the ideological landscape. In recentyears work has focussed on the earliest and latest phases of the cultural sequence, with extensive excavations of some 6thand 5thmillennium BC together with1stmillennium AD sites between the Gash andAtbara rivers.
Lastly, the expedition is contributing to cultural heritage management, which is endangered bydemographic pressure andthe implementation of dams and agricultural schemes, as well as gold mining. To face these challenges, the expedition is conducting rescue excavations, training local authority personnel, and conducting a systematic programmeto increase heritage awareness oftheir cultural heritage.