Medieval church walls found in Ethiopia

The remains of a medieval church have been discovered at the archaeological site of Debre Gergis in the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia.  Archaeologists from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw (PCMA UW) had begun to excavate the site last month when the fieldwork season was cut short after just eight days. Before the team was pulled out to beat coronavirus travel restrictions, the team deployed drones to record their discoveries for later analysis.

Visible above ground at Debre Gergis are ruins from the Aksumite Empire (100 A.D. – 940 A.D.), several sandstone pillars and a monumental obelisk 20 feet high. The obelisk, a uniquely Axumite architectural feature, is likely a grave marker, part of a vast ancient cemetery at the site.

The ruins of Debre Gergis have been visually surveyed and photographed, but the site had not been excavated. The goal of this first excavation of Debre Gergis was to thoroughly map and document the surface remains and to look for other potential spots of interest.  Locals report that there was a Christian church from the late Aksumite period, but there are no records of its precise age, design or layout. The team hoped to find remains from the church.

In two archaeological excavations, researchers noticed damaged walls probably constituting the outer part of a medieval 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.