I did not want to make pots. I wanted to go to school:

an ethnoarchaeological journey in the reasons of misfortune

ARF Brown Bag: Cinzia Perlingieri, University of California, Berkeley

April 1st, 2015 12-1 p.m. |  2251 College Avenue Room 101 (Archaeological Research Facility, UC Berkeley)


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Meet Medhin Gebreselasie.

Medhin was born and raised in Bieta Giyorgis, a small village in Northern Tigray, in the heart of the Ethiopian highlands. She wanted to go to school. Instead she got married at an early age and became a potter, like her mother and her grandmother before her. Pottery making here is not rewarding, and not even sustainable. But it is Medhin’s only skill.

Medhin’s story is similar to many other stories I heard during my ethnoarchaeological research in Tigray. For me, she became both a symbol of the unfortunate condition of many women in Tigray and a beacon that guided my own journey into the culture and history of this region. As an archaeologist in Ethiopia, I wondered in which way these lands and the deep layers of their history, had contributed to, if not determined entirely, Medhin’s destiny.

The powerful empire of Aksum disintegrated in Tigray between 800-900 AD. With it, went dense urban and suburban networks, palaces, the demand for highly specialized skills, and the very glue that had maintained these lands within a powerful political and social framework. What happened to the people then? Archaeological surveys and excavations in the region tell us that soon after Aksum collapsed, the settlement pattern became what it is today, small rural communities clustered around the few remaining natural resources.

Together with settlement patterns, many other aspects of modern life in this region have direct connections with the archaeological past: farming techniques, architecture, technological skills, ethnicity, and religion.

This talk will intertwine personal experiences with the larger archaeological history of this region. I will demonstrate that much of the modern Tigrean culture is rooted into its ancient past and traditions, and that Medhin’s and the other potters’ condition might be one of the consequences of this long historical and cultural process.

Given these deep roots, is life for Medhin and her daughters destined to remain the same? Is this the end of the story? I think not…




Featured Speaker – Cinzia Perlingieri

Cinzia received her Ph.D. in Archaeology at the University of Naples “l’Orientale”, Italy. She participated in her first archaeological project in Sudan, Africa, in 1989 as archaeologist and ceramic analyst. Since then, she focussed her research in the archaeology of early states in northeast Africa, Egypt, Sudan, and Eritrea/Ethiopia, with a specialization in ceramic studies. During her travels in Africa and Near East she has experienced all aspects of archaeology and heritage, from excavation and survey of large cultural territories to the study and archiving of collections. Since 2003 she has been actively involved in numerous initiatives aimed at integrating digital technologies in the practice of Cultural Heritage. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the European initiative “EPOCH – The European Network of Excellence in Open Cultural Heritage”.

Cinzia's Website  Cinzia's Email  Read Cinzia’s Bio on Codifi.org

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