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article imageArchaeologists unearth lost town from Aksumite Empire

By Karen Graham     Dec 11, 2019 in Science
Despite their prominent place in the ancient world, much of the story of the Aksumite civilization is still a mystery to archaeologists today. This partly explains why the discovery of the town of Beta Samati is so important.
Archaeologists excavating the ancient town of Beta Samati, in northern Ethiopia, made an incredible discovery - uncovering the oldest known Christian church in sub-Saharan Africa. The church dates to the fourth-century and contains both Christian and what may be pagan artifacts, according to Live Science.
The massive building is 60 feet long and 40 feet wide - resembling the ancient Roman style of a basilica. This style was adopted by many early Christians around the third century, however, it was not until Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in 313 CE that the church expanded widely across Europe and the Near East.
Michael Harrower and Cinzia Perlingieri mapping architecture at the Aksumite town of Beta Samati. (C...
Michael Harrower and Cinzia Perlingieri mapping architecture at the Aksumite town of Beta Samati. (Credit: Nicole Harrower) A Christian stone pendant and a gold and carnelian intaglio ring found in the basilica.
Ioana A. Dumitru (CC BY 4.0)
The archaeologists at the Aksumite excavation now feel more confident in dating the arrival of Christianity to Ethiopia within this time frame, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
“[This find] is to my knowledge the earliest physical evidence for a church in Ethiopia, [as well as all of sub-Saharan Africa,]” says Aaron Butts, a professor of Semitic and Egyptian languages at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the excavation.
Aksum is now a UNESCO site.
Aksum is now a UNESCO site.
Francesco Bandarin/UNESCO
More surprisingly, the find sheds light on one of the ancient world's little-known but influential kingdom's, according to the team of international scientists who detailed their findings in a paper published December 10, in Antiquity.
The Aksumite kingdom
"The Empire of Aksum was one of the world's most influential ancient civilizations, but it remains one of the least widely known," said Michael Harrower, associate professor of archeology at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the research, reports CTV News.
The temple in Yeha  Tigray region  is dated back ca. 8th century BC and believed to be one of the ol...
The temple in Yeha, Tigray region, is dated back ca. 8th century BC and believed to be one of the oldest structures in Ethiopia.
Jialiang Gao - (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Aksumite Empire existed from approximately 100 AD to 940 AD. The city of Aksum was its capital and exists today. It is the location of the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion - the legendary location of the Ark of the Covenant. The city is thought to be the home of the Queen of Sheba.
The kingdom grew in prominence, and by the 1st century AD. Aksum became a major player on the commercial route between the Roman Empire, China, and Ancient India. The Aksumites even minted their own currency. The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century.
The Empire of Aksum at its height at times extended across most of present-day Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
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