Beer and Feasts in the Gamo Highlands of Southern Ethiopia

An Ethnoarchaeological and Archaeological Perspective


  • John W. Arthur University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus



Beer, Ritual, Feasts, Ethiopia, Gamo, Ethnoarchaeology


Feasting and the drinking of beer by the Gamo Boreda, who live in the highlands of southern Ethiopia, represent status and seniority and have a long tradition of connecting the living with their ancestors. This paper focuses on the archaeological site of Ochollo Mulato (AD 1270–1950), incorporating oral traditions in association with ceramic ethnoarchaeological and archaeological research documenting the importance of beer and feasting to the Gamo Boreda. Elders recount, from their oral tradition, that Ochollo Mulato is the oldest and most senior of the nine original settlements encompassing the Gamo highlands. Oral tradition and archaeological and ethnoarchaeological ceramic analyses suggest that large-scale ritual feasting of beer and other foods were part of the activities that occurred at Ochollo Mulato over the last eight centuries.

Author Biography

John W. Arthur, University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus

Dr. John W. Arthur is Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Dr. Arthur has recently been awarded the USF St. Petersburg Frank E. Duckwall Florida Studies Professorship (2020–2022) and was named a fellow in the illustrious Explorers Club. Dr. Arthur is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. He has worked in Ethiopia since 1995, conducting ceramic ethnoarchaeological and Holocene archaeological research. Recently, he was part of a NSF sponsored research project that discovered a human burial dating to 4,500 years ago and led to the extraction of ancient DNA, sequencing for the first time an African ancient genome. This discovery was published in the premier journal Science (2015), with subsequent publications in the journals PNAS (2021) and Nature (2022). Dr. Arthur also has worked with the Gamo community in southern Ethiopia, understanding the importance of beer in their daily and ritual lives. His new book, Beer – A Global Journey Through the Past and Present (2022) has been published by Oxford University Press. In addition to his Ethiopian research, Dr. Arthur has been excavating the shell mound at the Weeden Island site in Pinellas County, Florida. Dr. Arthur also serves as the President of the non-profit organization Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education.


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How to Cite

Arthur, J. W. (2023). Beer and Feasts in the Gamo Highlands of Southern Ethiopia: An Ethnoarchaeological and Archaeological Perspective. Archaeology of Food and Foodways, 1(2), 199–217.