The land inhabited by the Somali people is situated in the Horn of Africa, sticking out into the India Ocean to form the Somali Peninsula. The Horn of the African region is believed to be one of the few areas in the world considered the cradle of humanity, as archaeological discoveries of 1967 in the Ethiopian Omo River had attested. At the bank of this river, the oldest known fossil of modern human skulls was discovered, dating back to approximately 195,000 years ago. The first team of archaeologists led by Richard Leaky unearthed modern human fossils consisting of two skulls and one partial skeleton in the Omo Basin in Ethiopia, which was estimated to date back to approximately 130,000 years ago. However, another team of scientists from the Australian National University revisited the site in 2005 and came across additional fragments of the fossilized skull, that matched those of the original skulls. The new findings were dated back as approximately 195,000 years old, using modern radiocarbon dating, making them the oldest modern human remains so far discovered. These human remains were deposited in Addis Ababa Museum as a witness that the Horn of African region is the cradle of mankind.
What did the early humans look like?
Acheulean technology (40,000 BC – 12,000 BC)
Furthermore, in the northeastern Horn of Africa, nowadays known as Somalia, the oldest indication of human inhabitation during the stone age was evidenced with the discovery of “Acheulean stone blades and flint tools discovered in the vicinity of Hargeisa and the caves along the Golis escarpment”, dating back to roughly 12,000-40,000 years. Moreover, Heyward Seton-Karr (1859–1938), a game hunter and adventure traveller associated with the British Royal Geographical Society, discovered stone hand axes at Jalelo on the slopes of a hill between the port of Berbera and Hargeisa in 1896, which dates back to 40,000 years. The Somalian prehistoric hand axes were placed in museums, including the British and the Australian Museums. The oldest Acheulean tools and art in the world were recovered from Kenya, Africa and date to 1.76 million years ago (mya).
Granite settlers (9500 – 3000 BC)
Buur Hebye/Buur Ayle (Buur=Granite hills, Hebye= Potter’s sand) and Gogoshiss Qabe (the furnished place) are located near the district of Bardale, 60km southwest of Baioda, in the southern Bay province of Somalia. In 1935, Grazioni found a middle and later stone age archaeological sequence here. Pre-historic archaeological sites have been discovered in the area in the form of cemeteries, rock paintings and remnants of prehistoric settlements from the middle and late stone age. Skeletal remains of 14 people have been found here, which constitute the earliest burials in the Horn of Africa having the earliest grave artefacts. These burial sites sit on top of the mountain’s peak and are a centre of annual pilgrimage. A channel is present near these holy places and is said to serve as a passage toward heaven. These burial sites were later made into Muslim holy sites in the subsequent Islamic period, including the tomb of Owol Qaasing (derived from the Arabic “Abdul Qaasim”) and Sheikh Abdulqadir al-Jilaani. Somaliland rock art, composed of the prehistoric paintings and engravings of domestic animals in caves, is one of the most impressive aspects of the archaeology of the Horn of Africa.
Old Hieroglyphics (Pre-3000 BC)
Thousands of years ago, humans from the Neolithic age decorated the walls of rock shelters with paintings of animals and humans at a site called Laas Geel complex in Somaliland, meaning ‘source of water for camels.’ It is a complex of rock shelters and caves located 55 kilometres (34 miles) northeast of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. The complex is located near a union of two dry rivers, which gives credibility to its name.
In this archaeological site, rock art of wild animals is estimated to date to 3500-2500BC. The Lass Geel cave paintings depict images of cows, local inhabitants dressed in ceremonial robes, and a few dogs, who also appear to be in ceremonial robes. The humans have their hands in the air in what is considered a worshipping posture. The cave walls are also covered in old hieroglyphic scripture. Somalis have known of the existence of the caves for centuries and have regarded them as historical sites, hence, the Somali name for the caves. The Western world only found out about these sites in 2003 when a French team of archaeologists was searching the caves in the area.
The complex contains approximately 20 shelters or rock caves made of naturally occurring rock formations of different size, the largest being ten meters long having a depth of about 5 meters. These shelters have multi-coloured painted panels that are one of the oldest known rock art in the Horn of Africa. It is estimated that there are approximately 350 animal and human representations, as well as frequent tribal marks among the rock art at Laas Geel. Some of the cave paintings are strikingly well preserved as they have been protected from the elements by the granite projections. Others have faded due to rock degradation and the effects of weathering and erosion.
Dhambalin (5,000-3,000 BC)
Dhambalin, a sandstone rock shelter, was discovered in autumn 2007. Dhambalin, meaning “half, vertically cut mountain” is an archaeological site in the northwestern Togdheer, a province in Somaliland. This unique site possesses some of the best polychrome paintings in Africa, including the first sheep paintings in Somali archaeology. These paintings are a testimony of one of the oldest pastoral societies in the world. Different animals have been shown in these paintings including bovines, goats, sheep, dogs, snake, turtle and at least eight types of giraffes which are extinct now. There is extraordinary originality in these painting, especially those of goats and sheep. There are unusual quality images and styles of humpless cows of which some are headless. The site also includes paintings of humans with bow and arrows, one seems to be riding a horse. Many animals and people have white belts. Paintings were made between 5000 BC and 3000 BC.
The site shares some similarities with the Neolithic or prehistoric Arabian-Ethiopian style in the horn of Africa. With its richness of fauna, including the unambiguous depiction of sheep and various styles of the depiction of bovine, the site of Dhambalin plays a major role in shedding light on pastoral cultures and pre-historic symbolism in the rock art of the horn of Africa.
Somaliland’s foremost natural attraction, the Daallo Frankincense Forest, lies at the base of the spectacular Calmadow Range, which is a tall limestone and gypsum cliff that rises dramatically from the low-lying coastal plain between Maydh and Bosaso. Biologically, the forests of Daallo represents the most reachable and largest semi-original relic of early civilisations of Somaliland, confined to the 300km-long ridge running inland from the northern Somali coast.
Daallo forest contains the richest and densest fauna of the Somali region. Here live several birds and reptiles which are not met anywhere else, such as Somali pigeon (Columba oliviae) and a finch, i.e., Warsangali linnet (Linaria johannis). It is a major place of interest to birdwatchers as it is not only a host of endemics but also other localized rare species, including Archer’s buzzard, Archer’s francolin, Somali thrush, Warsangli linnet, and Somali golden-winged grosbeak. Mammals include Hamadryas baboon, two species of hyrax and the endearing Speke’s pectinator. The “endemic Beira antelope” once, was resident in the region, but no recent sightings have been observed. The forest also supports a diverse selection of predators. Locals claim that leopard and spotted hyena are quite common.
Forest is not only rich in rare animals but also in unique plants as well. After rain and during the mist, one can feel the sweet, unusual fragrance in this forest. There is no other forest in the world with such fragrance because it is produced by trees which grow only here. Many plants create this fragrance, such as Pistacia aethiopica and others, but, by far, the best known fragrant tree in this area is the legendary Coptic Frankincense (Boswellia frereana). Locals sometimes call this tree – “king of all frankincense” and consider this to be the best frankincense in the world. Frankincense was given to baby Jesus as a gift and used in the rituals of Ancient Egypt.
Local people do not cut these trees. Trees have been divided among local clans and are harvested for their resin. Trees are passed down from fathers to sons as an inheritance. For centuries, locals have learned to harvest the tree resin for aroma without creating adverse effects on the tree, thus preserving the magnificent forests.
Bryan, H. (2018, July 3). Laas Geel Complex and The Magnificent Ancient Rock Art of Somalia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-africa/laas-geel-complex-and-magnificent-ancient-rock-art-somalia-003174
Brandt.A.S and Carder.N. (1987). Pastoral Rock Art in the Horn of Africa: Making Sense of Udder Chaos. World Archaeology, 19(2). 194-213
Daallo Frankincense Forest. (2016, January 23) retrieved from https://www.wondermondo.com/daallo-frankincense-forest/
Mire, S. (2008). The Discovery of Dhambalin Rock Art Site, Somaliland. The African Archaeological Review,25(3-4), 153-168.
Pastoral rock art in the Horn of Africa. (2009, March 5) retrieved from https://mathildasanthropologyblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/pastoral-rock-art-in-the-horn-of-afica-making-sense-of-udder-chaos/
 Philip Briggs, Somaliland with Addis Ababa with East Ethiopia. (Bradt Travel Guides, 2012), 4.
 Hillary Mayell, “Oldest Human Fossils Identified.” National Geographic News, February 16, 2005. Available from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/02/0216_050216_omo.html (accessed on December 22, 2016).
 Alice Roberts, The Incredible Human Journey. (Bloomsbury Paperbacks, 2010).
 Philip Briggs, 4.
 These hand axes were deposited in the British Museum and the Australian Museum. See brief report and pictures of the Australian Museum, available from https://australianmuseum.net.au/hand-axes-from-somalia-and-our-african-origin (accessed on December 2016).
 Ahmed Ali Ilmi, “The History of Social Movements in Somalia through the Eyes of Our Elders within a Diasporic Context.” A Ph.D. thesis submitted to Graduate Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Justice Education Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 2014, 24. References to Gutherz, X., Cros, J.-P., & Lesur, J. (2003). The discovery of new rock paintings in the Horn of Africa: The rock shelters of Las Geel, Republic of Somaliland. Journal of African Archaeology, 1(2), 227-236.