Eritrean History: Quest of Humanity.
Today’s Q&A will host Tsegai Medin, a paleontologist. He will receive his PhD in Vertebrate Paleontology in May from the Catalan Institute of Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain. He has presented several publications and he really is passionate about uncovering buried history. He left for Spain two nights ago, but here is our interview with Tsegai Medhin.
How is Spain?
Good. When I went to Spain to do my Masters and PhD, the first three months were a bit difficult because Spanish language was not in my area of expertise, but it didn’t take me long to learn; I managed well.
Let’s go back to your upbringing.
I was born in the late 70s, during which the village I was born in was a continuous victim of the atrocities committed by soldiers of the then colonizing Derg regime. Having survived all these brutal carnage and burning of our homes, my family and I, at a very young age, fled to seek shelter under the liberated territories of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and I was raised in the field. After independence, my family reunited in Asmara and we settled here afterwards. Regarding my educational background, I conducted my studies in Asmara and graduated in Archeology from the University of Asmara in 2002.
What is it that you are aspiring to do?
With my profession? Well, I am a paleontologist and a researcher. What I try to obtain is general understanding: understandings of where we come from, even though much has been discovered about the past, professionals like me are still convinced that there is much more to discover, like a mystery that needs to be revealed. We have so many questions for which we try to find answers, and then again the answers we obtain give a new direction and remain to be questions themselves. So it is kind of a cycle. We study where we come from, we study about our potential ancestors in addition to more features of the past and from there what possibly the future is holding for us. … The flow of evolution over millions of years is so clear to professionals. That’s what we deal with.
Are there findings here, which answered some big questions in your field?
Yes. Of course! Let me give you an example: The Buya Homo; one of the immense contribution of the discovery was that it served as a missing piece of a puzzle, a montage. Even though it is only of a million years ago, it sure did fill the gap between 1.4 and 0.65 million years ago. Professionals in the field of study couldn’t understand what happened exactly during that gap of time. In this specific fragment of time a very high fluctuation of climate had occurred leaving the route of evolution a bit unclear. Until when the skull of Buya, a hominid skull, came to light.
Consequently, it served as a feasible link between Homo erectus and Homo Herberghis, filling the gap between 1.4 and 0.65. So to answer your question; yes, some findings do function as conjoins to prior conclusions and future assumptions.
What can you tell us about the Buya project?
The national Museum of Eritrea takes vast projects annually in collaboration with many institutions and private researchers from within the country and
outside. In those times, we all work hand in hand to look for something new to update our informational data as well as our documents: many of them have been published.
Although I consider myself a novice addition to the group because I graduated in 2002, the research we conduct in the area is always rewarding. That is because the sedimentary record of the area is very high, it was clear from the very beginning that the possibility of discovering various fossils is by far inevitable. In fact, we did find numerous remains of wild life.
The historic archeological site of Buya is believed to be the home and origin of the earliest Homo sapiens. In 2003 experts from the National Museum of Eritrea, the University of Florence and the Pigorini Museum (Italy) discovered the remains of a lady, believed to be 18 to 22 years of age, which traces to one and half million years ago. Researches on the area revealed incredible findings of paleontological and archeological significance.
All in Buya?
Including the vicinity. Buya is a very important location, it is well recognized at a global level, especially by people who have inclination towards this area of work. Besides, it is well placed in the map of important archeological sites in Africa.
What are you doing at the moment?
I will attain my PhD in May this year. Currently, with my colleagues from Spain, I am conducting a research in Ingelila, my focus is concentrated in omnivorous species, you know, dietary scheme is one of the key ingredients of research people like me conduct. It gives an insight of the species dominance in nature, how they survived and so forward that is why I invest superior attention to it.
In 2014 we did find some fauna fossils of 3 – 5 million years, this shows that Ingelila is a significant site. It is amazing that Ingelila has some deposits as old as Buya’s and even much older. So we really are convinced that there is a high possibility of discovering human ancestor’s fossils.
I am working here at the Danakil Depression, and also in Orse, south Spain, in Tunisia and Georgia near Russia as well. I am working in the chronological order of evolution between of 1 – 2 million years ago.
I am following a route which starts here in Eritrea, from Buya to the Lavantin Corridor, to Israel, Georgia all the way to the Mediterranean, where there is an ancient paleontological site at the Orse site of Spain.
How is Eritrea’s Geological composition?
Geologically, Eritrea is found in the area of the great East African Rift Valley, which millions of years ago was home to the earliest human beings. So it is only natural that this coverage should be studied. When I was much younger, as a matter of fact, I decided to follow this path because I knew I would have easy access to this amazing territory in which human evolution finds its clearest appearance.
In the nearest future, along with various institutions, we have a lot of plans to conduct wide range and further surveys in the southern part of Eritrea. We will look for more.
You think there is more that could be found?
Yes, definitely. It is kind of already known.
Do you think the Eritrean youth are interested?
In a small number, but yes. The government and the people of Eritrea along with several other institutions have been working on what we call the ‘Capacity Building’, creating professionals of excellence is part and parcel of the Nation Building Process. An example could be the CASS, the College of Arts and Social Sciences in Adi-Keih. Even the locality of the school is strategic, so the students can learn in class and experience direct maneuvering on fields. The power of attraction is seeing and experiencing.
It is amazing to see how the number of college graduates joining the National Museum of Eritrea is growing by the year. They are very innovative, enthusiastic and open minded. I have big expectations, they’re just so great!
What do you want to do next?
I am a researcher, I will conduct more researches and share every small information I get my hands on and I genuinely want to work with younger colleagues here in Eritrea.
Every society feels the need of exhibiting their past, history and origins and so I will do my part and keep working to contribute in the process, because I’d like to have Eritrea recognized as one of the most important historical sites.
Above all, my profession is a quest of humanity, we human beings incessantly aspire to know our past as a way of getting a hold of the future, and me as a professional, I intend to play a part in the quest.