The oldest rests of a human presence on the islands are probably the shards of obsidian imported from the danakil coast, which are found on the soil of many islands. Obsidian was used in Eritrea for at least one hundred and twenty thousand years until the early centuries a.C., and to date it is not quite immediate. The archaeologist Blanc in 1955 studied the obsidian shards of Dahlak Kebir and dated these artifacts to the Mesolithic, to the wiltonian culture. Microlithic industries are known from other areas of Eritrea in the VIII and VII millennium b.C., in a period when sea level was perhaps still so low that was possible to go walking to the
Dahlak. A more recent interpretation by a group of Canadian researchers suggests instead a Neolithic origin. In their opinion, during the late third millennium b. C., in response to a climate that was drying up, the populations of the african coast get moving: some settled at the Dahlak, others reached the costs of Yemen where there are obsidian of similar technology. The ancient Egyptians began to descend the Red Sea in the third millennium b.C in search of valuable goods, especially of myrrh, which is crucial in the embalming processes. The region they visited was called Punt, which is nowadays identified by many scientists with
northern Eritrea, it's not out of the question that the Egyptians can be reached even the Dahlak. Besides few interruptions, due to internal crises, the Egyptian trade continued until 1000 b.C., when they were replaced by Jews and Phoenicians trade. During the same period, mainly concentrated between the VII to the V century b.C., there was the beginning of a semites people migration from the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, which eventually gave rise to the Aksumite civilization, that ruled for long time the Eritrean coast and the islands. With the conquest of Egypt by the Persians in 525 b.C. the Greeks were allowed to start their
businesses in the Red Sea, and these were further boost with the arrival in Egypt of the Greeks of Alexander the Great in 305 b.C. initially and later also with the arrival of the Romans in 30 b.C. At the time of Augustus as many as 120 ships a year left Egypt to go along the northeastern african coast and in India to trade spices that in Rome were paid in gold. A greek merchant, probably lived in the first century a.C., wrote the "Periplus of the Eritrean Sea", a nautical instructions handbook, that allowed the navigator to go to the Bab el-Mandeb, Socotra and also in India. The text describes, among other things, the port of Adulis on the coast
facing the Dahlak, and he mention: "before the port, offshore to the right, there is a large group of small islands of sand named of Alalaeo, which produce shells of turtles, which are brought to market by the eaters-of-fish”. And this is the first certain appearance of the Dahlak and its inhabitants in history. But at least one ship does not come back, judging from the findings of the cargo of amphorae of a ship of the IV-VII sec. a.C. in the shallow waters of Assarca.


With the decline of the Roman Empire the control of trade passing through the southern Red Sea was taken by Axumite, which dominated the ethiopian highlands. The Dahlak were placed in front of their main port, Adulis, and therefore fell within their sphere of influence. Some rests of aksumite buildings are located in two villages placed in the largest island: Dahlak Kebir. Very famous are the many water-supply cisterns dug into the rock reefs around the villages of Dahlak Kebir and Adal. They collected the water that flowed to the surface through appropriate channels and provided water to a population far greater than the one that there is at the present time,
constituted certainly also by African slaves who travel through for a millennium on the Dahlak wait for a ultimate destination. Local tradition has it that the water-supply cisterns are constructed, like all ancient remains that you do not know the origin, by the Furs, the persians, but no one knows for sure about their sources. Some of these water-supply cisterns are still in use. In 702 the Aksumite came up to Jeddah, the port of Mecca, and provoked a historic reply. The Arabs conquered the coast of Eritrea and settled even at the Dahlak, which since then became Muslim. Initially, the Arabs did not give much importance to the islands which were used
primarily as a place of punishment for the opponents of the ruling Arab dynasty. Yet, however, their importance grew because they were essential to secure the routes of pilgrims to the holy city. Full control of the Red Sea by the Arabs allowed, for centuries, secure business and the Dahlak gradually get rich by trafficking in slaves, with the spice trade and the collection of pearls, which was probably taught by fishermen of Oman or Persian Gulf. Also Dahlak Kebir was a stopover for ships in transit, that supplies water from its many wells and cisterns. For long time the islands were forced to pay tribute to the lords of the Arabian Peninsula, in the form
of slaves, amber and panther skins, but the rulers of Dahlak Kebir frees themself increasingly from the Yemeni control and gave rise to an independent sultanate, which lasted from end of XI until early XVI century. Of this period is the necropolis of Dahlak Kebir, where hundreds of funerary stelae give us a glimpse of the rich history of the island. The island was also politically important because it was a bridgehead for the penetration of Islam in Africa, situated at the border of the Islamic world as it was in contact with the lands placed under the dominion of the Christian of the Ethiopian highlands. In the fifteenth century the Ethiopian
power resources and twice the village of Dahlak Kebir was sacked.


The end of the golden age of the islands took the form of the portuguese caravels that appeared in the Red Sea at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Portuguese in fact, having discovered how to circumnavigate Africa, prepared a well equipped fleet, with the aim of snatching, from the hands of the Arabs and Venetians traders, the spice market between the Mediterranean and India. The Portuguese began to destroy all the Arabian ships met and to bomb, if not to sack, the ports of the Arabian region. Even the village of Dahlak Kebir, the main town of the Sultanate, was bombarded in 1526. The task was successful and the Portuguese spice
trade took a different route. The Red Sea fell slowly from the hands of the Arabs to those of the Turks who arrived at Dahlak in 1557. The Turks preferred the sudanese port of Suakin to that of Dahlak Kebir, which then fell into oblivion, although this did not end the slave trade and pearls. When the turkish empire went into crisis, Egypt began expanding its domain and in 1846 took possession of the coast of Eritrea and Dahlak. In 1885 the Italians landed at Massawa, they wanted at any costs to participate in the race in the hope to join the partition of Africa, speeded by the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869. Italians gave impetus to fisheries,
built a prison in Nocra, well known for the harsh conditions which the prisoners were subjected to and used the rocks of the islands to rebuild Massawa, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1921. The Second World War involved the Dahlak only marginally with some actions of the navy for coastal defense by Italians against English ships. In 1941 the Italians in order to protect Massawa against a possible enemy attack by sea, they installed artillery positions on many islands. It was totally useless because the British conquered Eritrea through land. Two ships, now coveted wrecks by divers, were sunk to not be left in the hands of the
British. Afterwards it is recent history: the islands remained under British control until 1950, then they became part of an Eritrea confederate of Ethiopia, till, since 1959, they pass under Ethiopia that rule the country with iron hand control. The Ethiopian took advantage of the Italian construction at Nocra, transforming them into a military naval base, which was given also in use to the Russian their allies against Eritrean rebels . The Dahlak saw a little 'war of liberation’, with Eritrean partisans of EPLF, that with fast speed boats were strikes to hit with mortars Ethiopian positions on the various islands, including the base of
Nocra. With the liberation of Massawa in 1990, the naval base was abandoned by the Ethiopians in a hurry, but before that the pier was destroyed, tanks and katyusha rocket launchers were subemerged, all the ships that could not leave were sunken. Since 1993, the Dahlak are officially part of the newly Eritrea.

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