Paleoanthropology in Ethiopia


Ethiopia is one of the best places in the world for conducting the science of paleoanthropology.  This is, in part, due to the country’s unique geological history.  The Great Rift Valley is the most prominent feature of Ethiopian geology, and this feature has been present for millions of years.  Because of this, parts of the deep past have been preserved in the Main Ethiopian and Afar rifts.  The artifacts and fossils contained in the rift’s sediments from ancient lake beds and rivers are the ingredients that paleoanthropologists need to explore the ancient past.

Modern paleoanthropological research in Ethiopia is conducted by teams of archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists who work together in the field and in the laboratory.  This research is conducted under the auspices of the Authority for Conservation of the Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) of the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism.  The ‘headquarters’ for paleoanthropological research has traditionally been the National Museum of Ethiopia, located at Amist Kilo, in Addis Ababa.  Here, Ethiopia’s antiquities are studied, curated, and protected for posterity.  The paleoanthropological collections housed in Addis Ababa are unparalleled in their time depth and importance for human evolutionary studies, and these collections continue grow each year as several different research projects proceed.

The Paleoanthropology Laboratory at the National Museum was formerly the prime repository for Ethiopian fossils and paleolithic artifacts.  It was built in the 1980s with funding from the National Science Foundation of the U.S.  This laboratory has been the focal point for paleoanthropology in Ethiopia.  Study of the objects and data collected by field projects was conducted in this laboratory, and scientists from around the world visit there to conduct comparative studies.  However, due to the great success of many different projects, the laboratory was rapidly filled with antiquities and researchers.  Recognizing the need for improved and expanded storage and research space, the National Museum of Ethiopia, supported by the Ethiopian Government, is constructing a much larger, state-of-the-art facility to house her antiquities.  Another facility in which many of these prehistoric treasures will be displayed for the public is also being planned.