The Caravan Station of Qalcadda

Somaliland is a region of exceptional archaeology, but if there is a truly original site in all Somaliland that one is with all certainty Qalcadda. Qalcadda lies about 60 km to the south of Berbera, very close to the Jerato Pass, one of the most important passes that communicated the coast with the interior of the Somaliland. It is located at a strategic position for the caravans that came from the coast and which could find water, shelter and pasture after the desert coastal plains.

The site was known by the members of the Department of Archaeology of Somaliland, but it hadn’t been studied until 2016 when the Incipit Archaeological project mapped it and conducted a test pit. Although brief, that visit placed Qalcadda as one key site to understand the organization of trade routes, the material evidences of state control and the interactions of Somaliland with Arabia and the Middle East, all key topics for the StateHorn project.

The name of Qalcadda comes from the Arabic word Qalāt (fortified place), and refers to a  rectangular enclosure (55×90 m) with thick walls around 1 m high made of dressed stone and corners defended by round bastions.

Interestingly, the interior of the fort was devoid of any stone buildings and surface materials. Immediately to the south of the fort, a number of walls of dressed stone were identified.

Test pit excavated in Qalcadda in 2016. ©Incipit Archaeological Project in Somaliland.

After having studied the surface of the structure and conducted, in 2016, a test pit, the remains were seen to correspond to a large building formed of many rooms surrounding an open courtyard, thus matching the typical plan of a caravanserai, the standard way station in the Middle East and beyond.

Around these two main buildings large artefact scatterings were found wherefrom a significant number of imported materials were recovered, including pottery, porcelain, glass, cowry and soft stones. The site has been interpreted as a caravan station protected by a fort and an open area where exchanges and trade would take place. The test pit excavated close to the access of the caravanserai show evidences of a careful maintenance (up to four superimposed lime floors were found) and radiocarbon dating offered a chronology of 318 ± 28 BP (D-AMS-015989 (CAIS 24947); calibrating to cal. AD 1486–1646), situating the most likely use of the room at some point during the sixteenth century, thus coinciding with the heyday of the Sultanate of Adal. This chronology is reinforced by the materials collected throughout the site and during the excavation, the datation of which doesn’t go beyond the 17th century.

Qalcadda is exceptional for many reasons. Not only it is the only caravanserai with a plan similar to those from the Middle East having found so far in Subsaharan Africa, but it is also a clear example of the close cultural and economic relationships between Somaliland, Arabia and the Middle East during the Middle Ages. Its importance also derives from its symbolism as a state initiative. Although there are several villages and other settlements around Qalcadda, their small size and the isolation of the caravan station makes it unlikely that it was a private enterprise, as it often happened in the Middle East. Qalcadda thus probably represents one of the few material examples known so far of strategies used by the Sultanate of Adal to reassert its control upon the region, either directly or through proxies. The campaign planned by the StateHorn project will excavate a significant area of the caravanserai building and will conduct some test pits in the fort that will help to understand the different strategies undertaken in order to exert that control.

Photographs of the caravan station, the fort and the surroundings of Qalcadda. ©Incipit Archaeological Project in Somaliland. 

Referencing this article

Torres. Jorge de (2020). ‘The Caravan Station of Qalcadda’, StateHorn Project, 10 October. Available at: (Accessed: DD/MM/YYYY).