Signs of halal butchery indicates halal diet of early African Muslims

Africa 19 Apr 2021 Contributor
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halal butchery
Ethiopia, Gondar, ancient buildings in the Imperial quarter. Photo : Dreamstime

Archaeologists have identified Ethiopia as the major center of import and export during the eighth/ninth century and vibrant communities got developed around the Red Sea and to Egypt, India, and the Arabian Peninsula through business. According to the archaeologists, at that time Islam spread through Ethiopia to those countries and then to the rest of the world. It is also supposed that major Muslim burial sites and Mosques were started building in the 12th century. A team of archaeologists from the University of Exeter and the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage have uncovered three sites where around 50,000 animal bones have been found. Those bones carry signs of halal butchery and those dates back 400 years early before Islamic religious and other buildings were built. This discovery got published last year in the Journal of African Archaeology.

History of the spread of Islam in Africa through this study

The study was conducted at Harlaa, Harar, and Ganda Harlaa in Ethiopia and found the first evidence in support of ancient halal butchery in Africa. Harlaa was supposed to be established during the 6-7th centuries before Islam arrived in Ethiopia. It was abandoned in the 15th century probably due to plague or environmental change. Harar and Ganda Harlaa were established later. In this period the Muslims residing there may have used smaller Mosques and larger buildings for worship came into the picture when the community grew. The animal bones uncovered there were supposed to be before the large Mosque era in Ethiopia i.e., Africa.

What has been found in this study of halal butchery?

The team astonishingly found remains of pigs in Harlaa and Ganda Harlaa which was unexpected as pigs are haram in the Islamic halal diet. This suggests that the area was cosmopolitan with visitors from different parts of the countries and of various religions. No pig remains found at Harar but the remains found there also carry the signs of the same halal butchery technique as found at the previous two sites. Professor Timothy Insoll from the University of Exeter told, “The bones were so well preserved that we can clearly see both cuts and evidence of wear.”

At Harlaa, the team also found evidence of marine fish in the dried or salted form to preserve them which were supposed to be imported from the 120 km far the Red Sea. No local freshwater fish remains were found and this suggests that the people eating fish were used to a sophisticated diet. The analysis of the bones also suggests that the animals survived beyond the age of three while domesticated showing they were kept for milk or work. People of that time also used to ate warthog, bushpig, aardvark, porcupine, hare, mongoose, and even leopard.

This new study also gives insight not only on the diets but also religious conversion, trade, animal domestication, and work purposes in Islamic societies in Africa.