Littmann in Axum 1906: A Focal Point and Start for the Archaeological-Historical Research on an Ancient Capital
Helmut Ziegert 2008

This article was pre-released online in 2008 and was supposed to be published in: Steffen Wenig and Wolbert Smidt (ed.): In kaiserlichem Auftrag: Die Deutsche Aksum-Expedition 1906 unter Enno Littmann. Band 2: Die wissenschaftlichen Unternehmungen der DAE in Aksum und Umgebung (Forschungen zur Archäologie Außereuropäischer Kulturen Band 3.2). Aichwald 2009 Since it was not included in that publication in the end (for the reasons see 7 Post scriptum, p. 11), it is now an individual online publication.
http: // www1. uni-hamburg. de/ helmut-ziegert/ → Publications

Last modified: July 14th , 2009.

1 Preface
E. Littmann’s mission to Axum 1906 was the first survey-documentation of visible antiquities, as remains reflecting the importance of this city in history 100 years later a conference remembering this occurrence was held in Mekele. For the main paper on the Littmann-mission R. Fattovich was invited by the organizer S. Uhlig; unfortunately he could not participate, and the colleague St. Wenig presented a


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

shorter paper on this event. As the editor of the conference-papers St. Wenig asked the author to publish a paper on “E. Littmann and the following”; the author could not participate in the conference because of lectures in the Hamburg-University and activities for the fieldwork in Axum, but the paper is presented here.

2 Introduction
Axum: a focus of research for political, social and religion history; of worldwide general and individual interests; of importance for general knowledge and a problem for different subjects.

2.1 The topics
The topics of this paper are to explain the background of the historical research in and about Axum for better understanding and to increase the interest; to explain the background of the different missions in orientation and methodology; to attract new missions for problemorientated archaeological-historical investigations in Axum.

2.2 The limits
The following paper shall present a general overview and description of the previous orientation and standard of research, not a presentation of results; the latter will be presented in a paper by M. Wendowski and H .Ziegert [http://www1.uni-hamburg.de/ helmut-ziegert, forthcoming].

2.3 The research history
The research history shall not be an isolated description but shall explain the development of the activities in investigations. In Axum we can identify three phases: 1. The E. Littmann-mission 1906, causing the international interest in Axum; 2. many missions of traditional archaeology with “site-excavations”, directed mainly by political interests of colonial states; 3. the problemorientated archaeological-historical investigations of the “Hamburg Archaeological Mission to Axum” (HAMA) 1999–2008, orientated by the historical interests in specific political and religious problems.


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

2.4 The source material and its criticism
Sources of our knowledge are – beside the own results – the publications on the work of the foreign missions. These publications have a background influenced by the political interests, the orientation of the missions, the methodological standard, and the accuracy of the work. We must know about these interests for a better understanding of the publications to check the real facts, and to know how we can use these mostly reduced results for historical reconstructions .

3 The “German Aksum Expedition” (DAE) 1906
To remember the “German Aksum Expedition” after 100 years there was held a conference in Mekele. During an official visit of Emperor Menelik II. in Berlin he asked Emperor Wilhelm II. to send an archaeological Mission to Aksum, according to the historical traditions the origin and base of the Ethiopian state. This fact is based on mentioning in the Bible and in detailed oral traditions documented in the “Archive” of the monks in Axum till today. The example for such a mission were the German archaeological missions and excavations in the Near East. The Aksum Mission was carried out from January 13 to April 6, 1906.

3.1 The members
The members of the German Mission were Enno Littman, linguist and as the Head; Daniel Krencker, the architect; Theodor von Lüpke, architect and photographer; and Erich Kaschke as a medical doctor. As we know now no archaeologist was integrated in the team.

3.2 The inscriptions
According to the qualification of the team the documentation and translation of the inscriptions by E. Littmann was one of the main topics and results [published 1913] and a source for the history of Aksum till today.

3.3 Surveys and excavations
Before the German Mission 1906 there were only some photos from the Italian colonial era, no investigations with excavations. The German Mission brought first informations along the route from Asmara to Aksum: Debaroa, Adi Ugri, Adi Quala, Mareb, Daro Tacle, Mai Camaul, Adua; and on the way back along the route from Aksum to Massaua:


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

Adua, Jeha, Debra Damo, Senafe’, Matara, Kaskase, Adi Caie’, Tokonda, Cohaito, Asmara, (Massaua). The topics for Aksum were the description, mapping, drawings and photos of the visible historical monuments; and cleaning (not archaeological evcavations) of some building remains as e. g. the grave-monuments for the King Kaleb and his son Gebre Masqal on the hill Terer, without identifying the king’s graves themselves.

3.4 The standard of research and results
The interests of the German mission to Axum focused on inscriptions and the visible objects, ruins or structures as churches, houses, palaces, tombs, columns and stele, the water basin – the interests of a linguist and of architects. There was no regard to “assemblages” (associations, closed finds), known in their basic importance for archaeology since O. Montelius 1885 and 1903; the context of findings was ignored which results in a loss of information and impossibility of reconstruction. Only the plans of buildings and ruins are of a good standard, but not sources for complex questions: even “outstanding” finds as a king’s tomb without context are isolated; we can imagine by remembering the value of single finds after one year. The result of the Littman-mission to Axum can be summarized: A collection of inscriptions and their translations; a map of the surrounding of Axum; the city-plan with the Church-Center and some sites, including the first Ezana three language stone, the stele-fields and six palace-ruins in the ‘Old City’, the upper parts visible on the slope deposits; and by the publication 1913: the start of an international interest and later scientific missions.

4 Archaeological investigations at Axum since 1906
Following the E. Littman-Mission (DAE 1906) many missions contributed “archaeological excavations” in Axum and published their documentations.

4.1 The missions (selection)
1. 1958 Henri de Contenson in the Axum Church-Center before the building of the Cathedral 2. 1972 Francis Anfray at Axum-“Dungur” 3. 1972–74 Neville Chittick [published by S. C. Munro-Hay 1989] at different sites 4. 1974, 1993–97 David Phillipson (BIEA) at different sites 5. 1993–2007 Rodolfo Fattovich and Kathryn A. Bard at the plateau of Beta Giyorgis


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

4.2 The methodological background
According to the development of “Archaeology” to an object-orientated subject closely related to mediterranean “History of Arts” all missions to foreign countries in the Near East and the same to Axum concentrated on objects (cf. D. Krencker), listing structures from buildings and assemblages from tombs, chamber tombs and cemeteries, but ignoring the context. Even recent excavations show a concentration on “sites” and ruins.

4.3 The results
According to the methodological background the results and contribution to the history of Axum of the Foreign Archaeological Missions were limited to plans and descriptions of structures and object-collections. This gives light to the importance of Axum in the history, but no historical knowledge.

5 The “Hamburg Archaeological Mission to Axum” (HAMA) since 1999
The interest of the author in Ethiopian history started with lectures in “Äthiopistik” by E. Hammerschmidt, studied as a minor subject, and continued for information beside other research activities in North Africa. A start for archaeological fieldwork in Ethiopia were two visits in Addis Ababa 1971 for the “International Conference on African Archaeology” with Excursions to OmoRiver and Awash-River, and in Addis Ababa 1994 in the University, a workshop on “Ethio-German and Ethio-European Cultural and Scientific Contact and Cooperation: History and Perspectives”, with a paper “The Joint Ethio-German Aksum-Expedition of 1906”, and with a visit in Axum as a first survey .

5.1 The topics
The main interest, in Ethiopian history in Ethiopia and abroad concentrate on the beginning of the Ethiopian State and of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, both questions concentrated in Axum. Therefore we choose these questions as our main topics and the historic time of the 3rd and 4th century as the base for our archaeological-historical research in the “Hamburg Archaeological Mission to Axum” (HAMA) [Marlies Wendowski and Helmut Ziegert] from 1999 to 2008. Specific aims of HAMA-research are: • Axum as a ‘central place’ in its surrounding; • man and environment;


E. Littmann in Axum 1906 • chronological sequence BC and AD; • beginning of the capital Axum in the 10th century BC; • the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ and the Jewish religion in Ethiopia; • the coming of Christianity;

Helmut Ziegert

• adaptation of belief and behaviour – church and culture to previous belief; • settlement continuity, cultural changes and immigration.

5.2 The methodological background of HAMA
Differences in the methological background lead to misunderstandings: object-orientation versus problem-orientation; antiquities sampling and description in the traditional “Archaeology” versus problemorientated historical research, archaeology as a historical discipline. It starts with the differences in the topics – ancient objects and “arts ” versus historical knowledge. In Axum especially we can see the difference, cf. the dominance in previous missions using single finds as e. g. pottery and its ‘seriation’ according to Fl. Petrie’s ‘sequence dates’ and “periodization” to “Axumite I–IV” [R. Wilding, 1989] versus “associations” in the findings, with related methods for dating. These differences started in the kind of fieldwork: Claim-limited cleaning – so called “excavation” – of ancient objects as building-remains, gravegoods, etc. versus topic-directed fieldwork to solve open questions in the steps: • general topic/classification for detailed questions/development of • models of previous behaviour and events/selection of useful sources/ • topic-directed “excavations”/possible enlargements/documentation • with description (protocol), photo, drawing, sampling, analysis/ • identification by actual comparison/check by experiments/historical • conclusions/check of agreement with models and topics/if • disagreement: start again. Unfortunately the object-orientated and claim-limited “excavation” destroys the findings, and results in the reduction of information for later problemorientated investigation.


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

The methodological development of archaeology during the last 50 years is characterized by the integration of methods of natural sciences, cf. microstratigraphy; 14 Cmeasurement and -dating (but for volcanic areas as Axum we must consider fossil 12 Ccontamination, the samples are measured 375–585 years too old [H. Z., publicaton forthcoming]; and the integration of the term ‘association’ (‘closed find’, ‘Geschlossener Fund’ after Oscar Montelius, 1885 and 1903) for assemblages and the relative dating method of ‘combination statistics’ instead of ‘typology’ and ‘seriation’. Archaeology must be problem-orientated as every scientific discipline, not limited to object-collecting and typological descriptions. We can find more artifacts, more tombs, a dozen of columns or one more building: but possibly without an increase of the historical knowledge. Archaeology as history: focusing on historical questions, archaeological fieldwork as a tool to solve historical problems, for a better cooperation with historians and interdisciplinary with other subjects, in time-saving investigations: measured not by square meters of excavation but by the new knowledge on history.

5.3 The historical results
The contribution of HAMA to the knowledge of history of Axum can be summarized as follows: • The development of methods and corrections, and reasons for a reliable chronology; • contributions to the environmental history, especially the part of ’slope deposits’ for agriculture and conservation of cultural remains; • the check and use of oral traditions for historical investigations; • the identification of the palace of the ‘Queen of Sheba’ and of her son Menelik at ‘Dungur’ from the 10th century BC; • the history of the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ from Jerusalem to Axum; • the settlement history of pre-Christian palaces outside the city with the kings graves – the “Stele Field” – in the centre; • copper-ore mining and metal-production in connection with pre-Christian palaces; • the palaces of king Ezana and his father, and the grave of the father at ‘Berik Audi’ North of the Terer Hill, his move to the ‘Church Centre’, the baptism on his way in a baptisterium on Terer hill, the ritual burial of his former palace at ‘Berik Audi’;


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

• the palace of the first Christian king Ezana in the Church Centre [acc. H. de Contenson, 1963], his building of the first Christian Church on the place of the first temple for the ‘Ark of the Covenant’, and the building of the second temple for the ‘Ark’, entrance from West, with a room from East for the Church Treasury; • the explanation of the history of the Church Centre with a lake in the rainy season, the correct oral traditions, the crash of the dam of the water basin “Mai Shum” and the cover of the Church Centre with 4 m mud; • new buildings in the Church Centre, and move of the third king after Ezana to his new palace high on the slope of Beta Giyorgis-hill in the “Old City”; • sequence of 13 palaces of the Christian time in the “Old City”, in a line down to ‘Taka Maryam’; • the last Christian palace in ‘Dungur’ again 600 AD [F. Anfray, 2008] on the walls of the palace of king Menelik; • orientation of all ritual buildings to the star “Sirus”: – 10th century BC: E 18 S (altar for the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ at ‘Dungur’ and the palace of king Menelik around); – c. 300 AD: E 16 S (first church ‘St. Maryam; 2nd temple for the ‘Ark’; baptisterium on Terer-hill; grave of Ezana’s father at ‘Berik Audi’); • the tradition of the Osiris-cult from ancient Egypt beside the Jewish religion, in Axum till c. 640 AD in Christian time: – Ritual killing of calf and cow with pottery in ‘Dungur’; – the sign of the “Plejades” on the grave-pit of Ezana’s father at ‘Berik Audi’ and on both sides of the top of the grave-stela no. 3 in the kings-cemetery “Stele-Field”.

6 Perspectives of future archaeological-historical investigations at Axum
For the future priority could be given for higher information on specific questions, but not as destruction of the findings by “cleaning” in traditional “excavations” but only as problemorientated archaeological-historical investigations: we only can find what we are asking for.


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

6.1 The topics
Some topics for the future could be: • More information on the palace of the ‘Queen of Sheba’ at ‘Dungur’ by spaceexcavation in the centre; • more information on the ‘Osiris-cult’ till Christian time by investigations of more of the six offerings in the upper palace of ‘Dungur’; • more detailed information on the Christian time by complete excavations of e. g. 3 palaces in the “Old City” of Axum; • information on life and death of Christian kings by identification and investigation of the graves the kings Kaleb and Gebre Masqual. Beside the important place for the Axumite history, ‘Berik Audi’, the first palace of king Ezana and the grave of his father, could be presented as an open air museum. The excavations were carried out 2000–02 by Marlies Wendowski and the author; the direction and plan to leave this place open was stopped after quarrels in the Ministry by the activities of Yonas Beyene as a member of a “Committee”.

6.2 The “Archive” in Axum as a source for historical investigations
The numerous documents in the “Archives” of the Monastery in Axum – oral traditions written down, documents and texts – should be used for historical research, as one paper [2006] on the earliest history of the ‘Ark of the Covenent’ in Axum shows with new information on keeping this holy shrine in a tent before building a temple. Historical questions could be listed – as the author did – and presented for the priests and monks to search in the scriptures.

7 Conclusions
From the Enno Littmann documentation of Axumite antiquities 1906 and many followers with “site-excavations” at different spots in and around Axum-City till recent archaeological-historical investigations: we must conside • the development of archaeology as a scientific discipline; • the development of and critics on special methods; • the different orientation of archaeology from objectorientated description and typology of finds, to problemorientated archaeological-historical investigations including the findings in the fieldwork for opening up the remains as sources.


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

The aim of our work is historical knowledge, and modern archaeology can contribute a wide range of methods in the investigation to solve historical questions for the History of Axum as a historical sample for Jewish religion and independent state far away from the centre around Jerusalem, and as a sample of development of an early Christian Church independent from Rome.

1. Anfray, F.: “L’archeologie d’Axoum en 1972”, in: Paideuma 18, 1972, 60–78 2. Contenson, H. de: “Les fouilles à Axoum en 1958”, in: Annales d’Ethiopie 5, 1963, 1–16 3. Fattovich, R. et al.: The Archaeological Area of Aksum: a Preliminary Assessment, Napoli 2000 4. Littmann, E.: Vorbericht der deutschen Aksumexpedition, Berlin 1906 5. Littmann, E. (ed.): Deutsche Aksum-Expedition, 4 vols., Berlin 1913 6. Munro-Hay, S. C.: Excavations at Aksum, London 1989 (publ. of the documentation of N. Chittick 1972–74) 7. Phillipson, D. W.: Archaeology at Aksum, Ethiopia, 1993–7, 2 vols., London 2000 8. Wendowski, M. and Ziegert, H.: “The Queen of Sheba and the History of Axum”, in: http: // www1. uni-hamburg. de/ helmut-ziegert (→ Publications) forthcoming 9. Wilding, R.: “The Pottery”, cf. S. C. Munro-Hay, London 1989, 235–316 10. Ziegert, H.: “Objektorientierte und problemorientierte Forschungsansatze in der Archäologie”, in: Hephaistos 2, 1980, 53–65 11. Ziegert, H.: “Der Aktualistische Vergleich als Grundlage archäologisch-historischer Interpretation”, in: Ethnographisch-Archäologische Zeitschrift 35, 1995, 177–198 12. Ziegert, H. : “The Joint Ethio-German Aksum-Expedition of 1906” (Paper for the workshop on Ethio-German and Ethio-European Cultural and Scientific Contact and Cooperation: History and Perspectives at Addis Abeba University, January 14, 1994) 13. Ziegert, H.: Archaeology as History, Hamburg 2002 (Books on Demand) 14. Ziegert, H.: “Hangfußablagerungen. Ein geomorphologisches Phänomen in der archäologischen Forschung”, in: Hephaistos 23, 2006, 7–40


E. Littmann in Axum 1906

Helmut Ziegert

Post scriptum
For the “Conference 100 years E. Littmann (DAE, 2006)” in Mekele I myself did not get an original invitation, probably because of my lecture 1994 in Addis Ababa on the archaeological background and results of that mission, consisting of one linguist, two architects, and one doctor. S. Uhlig as the organizer of that conference invited R. Fattovich for the main paper on the “DAE”, but he suddenly canceled his paper. For him the colleague St. Wenig helped out, but did not want to publish his paper in the Conference-Papers. In March 2008 he visited me during fieldwork in Axum-‘Dungur’ and asked me to write this paper as a contribution to the Conference-Volume. I agreed, handed over in August 2008, and publication projected for end of April 2009. At the same time I published this paper – as all my publications with new ideas and results – in my Internet-address, in order to be independent of incompetent or in political dependence – e. g. of the “German Archaeological Institute (DAI)” – being editors. As the author I am myself responsible for my publications and must reject any falsification or “adjustment to the mainstream” by anonymous editors. In June 2009 the editor St. Wenig informed me that the series-editor of the “KAAK” of DAI in Bonn, B. Vogt, rejected my paper in principle; later B. Vogt wrote: Grund für diese Entscheidung sind gravierende sachliche, methodische und sprachliche Mängel Ihres Manuskripts, deren Behebung über den Rahmen üblicher redaktioneller Eingriffe weit hinausgehen würde. Darüberhinaus publizieren wir grundsätzlich keine Beiträge, die bereits an anderer Stelle veröffentlicht wurden. [25. Juni 2009] Reason for this decision are serious objective, methodical and linguistic deficiencies of your manuscript, whose correction would by far exceed the common editorial interventions. Furthermore, we generally do not publish papers that have already been published elsewhere. [June 25th , 2009] I recommend the critical reader to compare the personal publications of the DAI-editor and to check by which results he could be qualified for such a “general” judgement.


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