I have thinking for a while about the moment when a project like StateHorn was born. A project as complex and multifaceted as this one doesn’t appear from the air, but it grows slowly through the years, built on fieldwork campaigns, conversations, experiences, readings and thoughts on one of the most exciting regions of Africa. But if there is a moment when everything started, I guess it was in 2015, when Alfredo, Muros and me crossed the border between Ethiopia and Somaliland at Togochale, with very (VERY) little funding and a Brandt guide in our hands. During these six years, our understanding of the complexity of the Somali archaeology has grown parallel to the feeling that we are just starting to scratch the surface of an astonishing world of traders, nomads and towns. The Incipit Archaeological Project in Somaliland –an umbrella term which gathers the different initiatives and projects run by the Institute of Heritage Sciences under the direction of Alfredo González-Ruibal and myself- has expanded and evolved during these years, documenting numerous archaeological sites and consolidating several research threads centred around the Trade in Antiquity and the medieval period of the Horn of Africa. It has also set an excellent and collaboration with the Somaliland authorities, which from the very beginning supported our work and which has become increasingly professional during these years, including with the creation of a Department of Archaeology in 2018.
Left: our arrival to Somaliland in 2015: at the back of a crowded van. Right: hard beginnings: we never thought water could be a problem in Somaliland. ©Incipit Archaeological Project in Somaliland.
A project as complex and multifaceted as this one grows slowly through the years, built on fieldwork campaigns, conversations, experiences, readings and thoughts on one of the most exciting regions of Africa.
In 2018 I decided to apply for one of the prestigious Starting Gants of the European Research Council. At that moment I was holding a Marie Curie fellowship to explore the relationships between nomads and urban dwellers in western Somaliland, a topic I had been interested in since the beginning of our work in the region. However, I had the feeling that this theme –important as it was– did not summarize the complexity of the historical dynamics that took place in the Horn of Africa during the Medieval period. For quite a while I struggled with ideas, concepts, themes and terms, and then one day, after locking myself into my study a word popped into my mind: “statehood”. And within that concept word everything else seemed to fit together in a coherent and harmonious framework: territory, urbanism, history, material culture, religion and toponymy.
A first brainstorming draft outline of the StateHorn project, which was going to be called “PATHSTA” (Luckily, Felipe Criado suggested the infinitely better acronym StateHorn). ©Jorge de Torres.
The ERC Starting grant application and selection process was at the same time extremely demanding and deeply satisfying. It required a lot of thinking and tones of work, until a moment arrived when a couple of hours could be spent in a discussion about the use of a specific term, and I started to feel satisfied – at some stages, proud- with my proposal. This long path also required huge doses of humility, as during the whole process the proposal and oral presentation outlines were corrected, amended and reviewed by a large group of colleagues and friends that put their creativity, experience and intelligence in criticizing and improving my application. That enormous collective effort, especially in the preparation of the interview, has been one of the most enriching moments of my career as a researcher. In many aspects it has defined the way I want to manage StateHorn: A project that incorporates talent and intelligence in a wide collaborative network, to face a complex archaeological and historical challenge.
The first slide of my presentation in Brussels. A beautiful photograph taken in Berbera in 2015 to talk about past and current states in the Horn of Africa. Design by ©Juan Pablo Venditti.
The list of people I would like to thank is endless, as it extends many years into the past when I started working in Africa in 2006 and later in Somaliland. Just to cite some, I would like to thank Alfredo González Ruibal for starting what looked like a crazily underfunded project in Somaliland six years ago, Felipe Criado for giving me the time and free hand I needed to prepare the proposal and the interview, and all my colleagues at the Incipit and other research institutions that put time and effort into my proposal. And I would like to thank all the people in Somaliland that have made possible our work, especially Ahmed Dualeh Jama, Mohammed Abdi Ali and Khader Ahmed Aideed. Their commitment to preserve Somaliland’s archaeological and historical heritage is one of the main reasons why we can conduct our work there.
Mohammed Abdi (left) and Khader Ahmed (centre) at the end of the 2016 field season. ©Incipit Archaeological Project in Somaliland.
StateHorn has just started. Staff joins the project, the website you are looking at is launched, the research threads that are the backbone of the project are set. These months have been full of long discussions about a myriad aspects of what is a complex project, from the design of the database to the structuring of the databases or the dissemination plans. COVID19 in the horizon, disrupting fieldwork campaigns and making us rearrange schedules and strategies. We will work a lot during these years, and we will share that work with you, through this website, our Twitter accounts, our scientific papers and many other means. And in the process I hope we will have a lot of fun, as it has always happened with my work in Somaliland all these past years ago. Welcome to StateHorn!