Our field area is situated in the lowlands of Ethiopia and is marked by a summer monsoon season when the rivers run bank-full, and a long dry season when the rivers dry up into a series of waterholes. We work in the area during the height of the dry season. Most people in the region are agriculturalists and pastoralists and raise a variety of plants for food and some cash crops, and keep cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, and sometimes camels.
Education is managed at the local level and for several years we have supported the local elementary school with supplies that we bring from the US. In future years, in deliberation with village elders, each group of students will select a community outreach project and spend one or two days engaged in this work. The project may involve makings improvements to the school, teaching English or other language lessons, or helping with math or geography lessons.
The area around and to the south of Gundawuha and all the way south to the Dinder (or Aime) River (south of Galagu) is a region that has witnessed remarkable agricultural development in the past 15 years. Much of this development has been facilitated by the construction of a new all-weather road that in turn permits transportation of farm products and goods into and out of the area. This regional development, like the Alatish National Park, has potentially serious consequences for the archaeological and paleontological sites in the region because more and more woodland is being burned or cut down for agricultural development. We have been working with the local landowners to educate them about the importance of preserving the heritage sites, and we intend to expand our efforts even more in the future. This sort of community stakeholder involvement is especially critical in the Shinfa area because development is already progressing at a rapid pace, and it is likely that many archaeological and paleontological sites have already been plowed under and destroyed in the course of agricultural development before we could even identify them by pedestrian survey. The pace of development is certain to increase with the completion of irrigation development schemes.
The establishment of community-based heritage site preservation is a theme that is becoming more and more popular in Ethiopia. In fact, In January 2010, Dr. Mulugeta Feseha, a member of our team and a professor at Addis Ababa University and an expert in tourism development, gave two well attended lectures, one in the village of Shinfa, and one at the field site location, on ecotourism development. We plan to continue these outreach efforts at the local and regional levels into the future.
In 2013 Mr. Churinet Tilahun (ARCCH Office, Addis Ababa) together with Mr. Lakka Andargie (ARCCH Office, Bahir Dar) undertook discussions with local officials from the surrounding villages and towns of Duramba, Tumet, Shinfa, and Gundawuha, along with the local landowners, and drew up an agreement that placed nearly 11 hectares of community lands under protection from active farming. The agreement maintains that traditional land uses including the firewood collection, animal grazing, and collecting natural foods are permitted. This agreement is the first of its kind for the region and should provide adequate protection for these cultural heritage sites. If Alatish National Park becomes a tourist destination, the Duramba Heritage Site could become a stopover point for tourists on their way to the Park.