Accessibility statement

Richard Lee

Research project

Landscape Archaeology in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia

Supervisor: Daryl Stump



The aim of this thesis is to examine the impact and influence of South Arabian culture on the first millennium pre-Aksumite culture of Ethiopian Tigray. Archaeological evidence suggests that the burgeoning exchange in obsidian from Ethiopian, and highly sought in the South Arabian Tihama, was responsible for the development of social complexity in Tigray ca 800 BC. Recent archaeological research suggests however that this regional exchange began earlier than has so far been recognised with new data suggesting that the pre-Aksumite culture may in fact have originated in the mid second millennium. This also raises the question of further exogenous activity during the same period. My hypothesis is that trade in obsidian, and the influx of South Arabian material culture, did in fact shape the pre-Aksumite culture during the mid-second millennium. The exchange process indicates that there was significant movement of people across long distances and challenging topography linking the Tigray highlands across the Red Sea to the Yemen Tihamah.

The focus of the thesis is in two primary areas, the Tigray highlands of Ethiopia and the Yemen Tihamah coastal plain. Midway between these locations is the Nabro volcano, the source of obsidian and the regional economic driver ca. 800 BC. It is argued that greater trade was undertaken across the Red Sea than was hitherto understood, and that this movement of people and resources traversed mountains, sea, and desert in some of the region’s most challenging landscapes. This part of the research will apply principles of landscape theory to interpret how people used and perceived these landscapes. The impact of the South Arabian exchange had a significant influence on shaping early-pre-Aksumite culture in the Tigray region without which the area would not have prospered culturally and economically and indicates greater movement of people regionally than previously supposed.


I completed my MRES Research Methods for the Humanities, at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London in 1998, following on from my BA(Hons) Egyptian Archaeology also at UCL (1997). 

Since 1995 I have worked extensively on archaeological projects in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Ethiopia, Benin, UAE and Qatar. I also spent ten years in UK commercial archaeology in London, Birmingham and Lancaster and have worked in most English counties. I was a Project Officer at the Council for British Archaeology as part of their Engaging with the Historic Environment project (2008-10).

DJ with the York Tropica collective.

Publications, Papers and Awards

  • Lee, R. 2022. Crossing the Red Sea: A Yemen and Ethiopian Interchange Circuit, Journal of the British Yemeni Society. p.18-26. London
  • Lee, R. 2018.  Birnin Lafiya (S8), Birnin Lafiya (S11), In Anne Haour (ed) ‘Two Thousand Years in Dendi, Northern Benin: Archaeology, History and Memory’, p.460- 466, 498-518. Brill.
  • Lee, R. 2010. Where in the world? Qatar, Young Archaeologists magazine, British Archaeology 
  • 2009, Heldal, T., Storemyr, P., Bloxam, E., Shaw I., Lee, R. and Salem A. 2009. ‘GPS and GIS Methodology in the Mapping of Chephren’s Quarry, Upper Egypt: A Significant Tool for Documentation and Interpretation of the Site’ Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity, Thasos, Greece, September 15-20, 2003, ed. Y. Maniatis. Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, Athens, Supplément 51 (Athens, 2009), pp.227-41.
  • Lee, R. 2009. Continuing Education: Discontinued? British Archaeology 108, Sept 2009 
  • Lee R, Longcroft A. 2009. Time out of Mind, Adults Learning, Vol 21/1, Sept 2009. 
  • Shaw I, Bloxam E, Bunbury J, Lee R, Graham A, Darnell D. 2001. Survey and excavation at the Gebel el-Asr gneiss and quartz quarries in Lower Nubia (1997-2000), Antiquity 75 33-34 
  • Shaw I, Bloxham E, Lee R. 2001. Rescuing the Chephren quarries in Wadi Tushka, Egypt, Egyptian Archaeology 23, EES
  • 2001- 2008 numerous grey literature reports of excavation and survey across England. Too many to mention !


Teaching and Impact

  • University of York, Dept of Archaeology: Graduate Teaching Advisor Sept 2020-2022 – Field
    Archaeology; 2022- Themes for Historical Archaeology (Medieval Africa).
  • University of York, Dept of Archaeology: Graduate Teaching Advisor Sept 2020 – Field Archaeology 
  • Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of York: 2009- 2011, 2003 – 2004. Designing and teaching curriculum for part-time Egyptian & Middle Eastern Archaeology course; creating curriculum & audio/visual components of VLE distance learning course Online Archaeology using Blackboard; Board of Studies non-accredited tutor representative (2008-10). 
  • University of Leeds, Centre for Lifelong Learning: Designing curriculum and teaching accredited Egyptian Archaeology course (2004/5).

Profile Picture PGR student Lee

Contact details

Richard Lee
Department of Archaeology (Office K/G65)
University of York
The King's Manor

Tel: (44) 1904 433931