22.04.2020 change 30.04.2020
Szymon Zdziebłowski
Szymon Zdziebłowski

Polish-Ethiopian team excavate a c. 700 AD church in Tigray (Ethiopia)

The walls of church date probably between c. 700-1000 AD have been discovered in northern region of Ethiopia by archaeologists from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw &  Institute of Paleoenvironment & Heritage Conservation, Mekelle University.

After being forced to abandon their excavation in March after just eight days because of coronavirus, the team led by the Centre’s Dr. Michela Gaudiello decided to use a drone to help with their research.

Today, only large, several-meter stone pillars on the top of the hill towering over the surrounding area remain on the surface after the medieval church in Debre Gergis (Georgios Monastry). Close to these ruins are standing a 6m high stele. Those remains were recently reported by Wolbert Smidt during his ethnohistorical research in the village in 2005-6, while the very first mention of the site and other “undiscovered” Aksumite graves was provided by the Italian Antonio Mordini in 1940s, who satisfied the interest of Carlo Conti Rossini based on the previous short note of Paolo Biagi.  

Dr. Gaudiello said: “The locals know that there were once the Aksumite tombs and other stela in the area, but due to the poor condition it is not known exactly where they were, in which period they can be dated and what their typology was.

“We are the first archaeological research team to obtained, thanks to the indispensable help of ARCCH (Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage), the official permission by the Ethiopian INSA (Information Network Security Agency) to use the drone in Tigray for the needs of archaeological documentation”.

In two archaeological excavations researchers noticed damaged walls probably constituting the outer part of a Late Aksumite church. One of them still contained wooden piles. In addition, a fragment of the apse was discovered, in the form of stone floor blocks with a semicircular layout.

The researchers also noticed a block with engraved inscription in Ethiopic. A preliminary analysis of its age based on the fragments of ceramic vessels discovered next to the block suggests that it dates back to 700-1100 AD. Works on translation are underway.

Debre Gergis was an important point on trade routes leading from Africa inland to Axum, the capital of a Christian state that existed in the first centuries AD. As part of their latest project, researchers also did reconnaissance around Debra Gergis, because the region is poorly recognized in terms of archaeology and little is known about its ancient history.

Dr. Gaudiello who is from Italy has extensive experience in conducting excavations in Ethiopia. She was appointed project leader in an international competition announced by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology UW.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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