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June 19, 2021
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Church unearthed in Ethiopia rewrites the history of African Christianity – Smithsonian Magazine Online

This archaeological finding is significant for the continual and more conscious construction of the cultural identity of African Christianity. It gives substance to, what may be described as, the lure and challenge of “historic Ethiopia” towards overcoming forms of Christianity sustained in foreign trappings. African contributions to the shaping of earliest Christianity is mostly muted or at best nuanced in mainstream Christian historical documentations. For long, this has served to sustain the conviction that Christianity is totally foreign to Africa and is opposed to everything indigenous to Africa in its message.

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.

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