Since 2009 the SolZag Project has been investigating medieval sites in the northern highlands of Ethiopia. We are trying to understand the material conditions in which an Amharic-speaking prince, Yǝkunno Amlak, took power from the incumbent Agäw-speaking Zagwe (or Lasta) dynasty in the late 13th century, and established what came to be known as the Solomonic dynasty.
The wall paintings in the church of Gännätä Maryam, 11 km SE of Lalibela, include a remarkable representation of Yǝkunno Amlak – Ethiopia’s earliest known donor portrait of a king. Paintings in a similar style are also found in other churches in the area, but not in Lalibela itself, the Zagwe power base. This contrast was what prompted us to search for the archaeological signature of the encounter between the two dynasties by comparing rock-hewn and cave church sites associated with each one.
The project is multi-disciplinary, involving various aspects of archaeology (field archaeology, ceramic studies, landscape archaeology, bioarchaeology, etc.) and art history, as well as conservation and heritage. We also try to bring added-value to the local communities through outreach activities.