An estimated 10,000 stelae (obelisks) are scattered across the south of Ethiopia, extending in a rough belt form Tiya southeast to the vicinity of Negele Borena. Little is known about the origin of these stelae or the societies that erected them.
Local tradition attributes the stelae to the 15th-century Muslim leader Ahmed Gragn, but the formative findings of Professor Roger Joussaume, the only archaeologist to have worked the sites, indicates that they were erected centuries before Gragn was born, over a 400-500-year period starting in the 9th century.
Approximately 50 stele fields are known in Gedeo zone, and two broad styles of stele are recognized. The older of these, probably dating to the 9th century, are the phallic stele, which are typically cylindrical in shape, and rounded at the top, with incisions that leave little room for ambiguity about what they are meant to represent. The steles appear to have marked graves, and the bodies beneath them were buried in a fetal position. The two largest stele fields in Gedea are Tutu Fela and Tututi, both of which lie within 45 minutes’ drive of Dilla.
The Tututi field is made up almost exclusively of phallic stele, whereas anthropomorphic steles dominate at Tutu Fela. There are some parallels between the later stele found around Dilla and the anthropomorphic wooden grave markers of the Konso-who, interestingly, retain and oral tradition suggesting that they might have migrated to their present homeland from the eastern Rift Valley Escarpment.