Helina Woldekiros

Assistant Professor of Archaeology
PhD, Washington University in St. Louis
research interests:
  • Old World Archaeology
  • Africa
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Ethnoarchaeology
  • State Formation and Power Relations
  • Pastoralism
  • Landscape History
  • Food Systems
  • Biodiversity
  • Agricultural Organization
  • Trade
  • Faunal Exchanges
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1114
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Helina Woldekiros' work focuses on human adaptations in the Horn of Africa during the beginnings of food production, agricultural diets, pastoralism, and mobile responses to climatic change in extreme ecological/environmental settings.

    As an Aksumite scholar and faunal expert my research focuses on distinctive political, economic and agricultural systems that developed in the Horn of Africa over the last 3000 years. Recent research examines links between Africa and Asia through Arabia, and ancient Aksumite trade routes. My studies of ancient chickens, cattle and other farm animals contextualize livestock biodiversity in ancient and modern agricultural systems through a better understanding of cycles of introduction and local care and animal breeding in the Horn of Africa. These themes bear on contemporary agricultural practice and resilience.

    I also have a particular interest in the role of local and regional trade in subsistence commodities such as salt in the economic organization of early states in the northern Horn of Africa from the pre-Aksumite (>800 BCE–CE 900) period to modern times. I am working to reconceptualize the roles of the state and of independent local actors in the socioeconomic and political organization of complex societies through research on the organization of the modern and Aksumite Salt Route from the Ethiopian highlands to the Danakil Depression. I focus on the role of caravans and ways that multiple economic strategies and a salt-oriented niche economy has been used to secure a stable livelihood in the Horn of Africa through changing natural and sociopolitical environments over the last 5000 years.

    I have a broad interest in human animal relations globally and have analyzed faunal material from the Sudan, Turkmenistan and St. Augustine, Florida. With experience in human osteology and human evolutionary questions, I have also worked on grief and mourning in contemporary Ethiopian societies.

    Selected Publications

    Woldekiros, H.S., D'Andrea, A.C., Thomas, R., Foster, A., Lebrasseur, O., Miller, H., Roberts, J. and Sykes, N. 2019 Archaeological and biometric perspectives on the development of chicken landraces in the Horn of Africa. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. https://doi.org/10.1002/oa.2773.

    Woldekiros, H.S. 2019 The Route Most Traveled: The Afar Salt Trail, North Ethiopia 1. Chungara, 51(1): 95-110. DOI:10.4067/S0717-73562019005000502.

    Harrower, M.J., I.A. Dumitru, C. Perlingieri, S. Nathan, Kifle Zerue, J.L. Lamont, A. Bausi, J.L. Swerida, J.L. Bongers, H.S. Woldekiros, L.A. Poolman, C.M. Pohl, S.A. Brandt, E.A. Peterson (in press). 2019 Discovery and Excavations of an Aksumite Town, Beta Samati (Ethiopia). Antiquity.

    B. Clarkson, P., Santoro, C., E. Levy, T., Núñez, L., Nielsen, A., Rosen, S., Forster, F., Capriles, J., Khazanov, A., Frachetti, M., Valenzuela, D., G. Standen, V., Cases, B., Pimentel, G., Lecoq, P., Medinacelli, X., Briones, L., Wink, A., Tripcevich, N., Woldekiros, H. 2017 A worldwide network for comparative studies on caravans: past, present and future. Journal of Chilean Anthropology 49(3): 297-307.

    Woldekiros, Helina S., and Catherine A. D’Andrea. 2016 Earliest evidence for domestic chickens (Gallus gallus) in Africa. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 27(3): 329-341.  https://doi.org/10.1002/oa.2540

    D’Andrea, Catherine A., Michael P. Richards, Laurence A. Pavlish, Shannon Wood, Andrea Manzo, and Helina S. Woldekiros. 2011 Stable Isotopic Analysis of Human and Animal Diets from Two Pre-Aksumite/Proto-Aksumite Archaeological Sites in Northern Ethiopia. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 367-374. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2010.09.015.


    Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, 2011  
    The Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, 2010
    National Science Foundation: Dissertation Improvement Grant, 2009

     The Boundaries of Ancient Trade  Kings, Commoners, and the Aksumite Salt Trade of Ethiopia

    The Boundaries of Ancient Trade Kings, Commoners, and the Aksumite Salt Trade of Ethiopia

    Drawing on rich ethnographic data as well as archaeological evidence, The Boundaries of Ancient Trade challenges long-standing conceptions of highly centralized sociopolitical and economic organization and trade along the Afar salt trail—one of the last economically significant caravan-basedtrade routes in the world.

    For thousands of years, farmers in the Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea have run caravans of nearly 250,000 people and pack animals annually along an eighty-mile route through both cold, high-altitude farmlands and some of the hottest volcanic desert terrain on earth. In her fieldwork, archaeologist Helina Solomon Woldekiros followed the route with her own donkey and camel caravan, observing and interviewing over 150 Arho (caravaners), salt miners, salt cutters, warehouse owners, brokers, shop owners, and salt village residents to model the political economy of the ancient Aksumite state. The first integrated ethnoarchaeological and archaeological research on this legendary route, this volume provides evidence that informal economies and local participation have played a critical role in regional trade and, ultimately, in maintaining the considerable power of the Aksumite state. Woldekiros also contributes new insights into the logistics of pack animal–based trade and variability in the central and regional organization of global ancient trade.

    Using a culturally informed framework for understanding the organization of the ancient salt route and its role in linking the Aksumite state to rural highland agricultural and lowland mobile pastoralist populations, The Boundaries of Ancient Trade makes a key contribution to theoretical discussions of hierarchy and more diffuse power structures in ancient states. This work generates new interest in the region as an area of global relevance in archaeological and anthropological debates on landscape, social interaction, and practice theories.