Dispatches from Ethiopia: Salt Miners of the Danakil Depression

Apr 20, 2014

We recently traveled to Ethiopia is East Africa and would like to share some amazing images we captured there. We hope you enjoy!

The Danakil Depression in the northern part of the Afar triangle (formed by a triple junction of 3 tectonic plates) and is often called the cruelest place on earth. I prefer to think of it as just ‘hell on earth’. At 440 feet below sea level and dropping more every year, the temperatures regularly are in the mid 120’s F — and that’s on a nice day.

The wind blows, the sun scorches and the lack of humidity sucks all moisture from the body. Yet this hostile and brutal land provides some of the most unique photography to be found. It is home to the semi-nomadic Afar people who have mined salt here (remnants of when this area was part of the Red Sea) for thousands of years. Over the millennia their techniques and tools have not changed. As you see here they use the same hand carved wooden poles as their ancestors to pry loose blocks of salt from the surface of the saltpan.                                   





After separating the salt block from the pan, they then use hand-hewed axes to cut the blocks into uniform sizes. Each block is exactly the same, and this is all done without the use of any measuring instruments. The instincts of hundreds of generations assure the uniformity. The only concession to the modern era – the Nike socks. This series was made late in the afternoon. The air was still and the temperature was 125 F. The surface temperature was even warmer. These hardy people work in these conditions from 7:30-4:30 on only 1 liter of water, unlike the photographer, who was easily consuming 10-12 liters a day.

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