An international assemblage of scientists discovered the church 30 miles northeast of Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom, a trading empire that emerged in the first century A.D. and would go on to dominate much of eastern Africa and western Arabia. Through radiocarbon dating artifacts uncovered at the church, the researchers concluded that the structure was built in the fourth century A.D., about the same time when Roman Emperor Constantine I legalized Christianty in 313 CE and then converted on his deathbed in 337 CE. The team detailed their findings in a paper published today in Antiquity.
The discovery of the church and its contents confirm Ethiopian tradition that Christianity arrived at an early date in an area nearly 3,000 miles from Rome. The find suggests that the new religion spread quickly through long-distance trading networks that linked the Mediterranean via the Red Sea with Africa and South Asia, shedding fresh light on a significant era about which historians know little.
Read the full article titled, Church Unearthed in Ethiopia Rewrites the History of Christianity in Africa, on Smithsonian Magazine Online.
Andrew Lawler is author of The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke. He is also a contributing writer for Science magazine and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and other publications.