Archaeologists worked from 2011 to 2016 at a site called Beta Samati in Ethiopia. They uncovered a Christian church, a basilica to be exact, from the fourth century CE, which is when Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. That makes it the oldest Christian church in sub-Saharan Africa. The site is only 30 miles from the ancient city of Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom, which controlled trade between most of Africa and the rest of the world.
The excavators’ biggest discovery was a massive building 60 feet long and 40 feet wide resembling the ancient Roman style of a basilica. Developed by the Romans for administrative purposes, the basilica was adopted by Christians at the time of Constantine for their places of worship. Within and near the Aksumite ruins, the archaeologists also found a diverse array of goods, from a delicate gold and carnelian ring with the image of a bull’s head to nearly 50 cattle figurines—clearly evidence of pre-Christian beliefs.
They also uncovered a stone pendant carved with a cross and incised with the ancient Ethiopic word “venerable,” as well as incense burners. Near the eastern basilica wall, the team came across an inscription asking “for Christ [to be] favorable to us.”
Read more about the dig and what has been discovered there at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: Ioana Dumitru)