Archeologists unearth lost town from little-known ancient East African empire

Archeologists found this stone pendant, inscribed with the word "venerable" in ancient Ethiopic or Ge'ez with a cross on the left. They said it was "clearly important in terms of ancient Christian iconography."

(CNN)Archeologists have unearthed the remains of a town from an influential but little-known ancient civilization in East Africa that sheds light on the origins of Christianity in Ethiopia.

The buried settlement, which contains one of the oldest churches in sub-Saharan Africa, was inhabited for some 1,400 years before vanishing into the dusty highlands of northern Ethiopia around AD 650.
Called Beta Samati, it was part of the Empire or Kingdom of Aksum, but prior to its discovery archeologists thought the area had been abandoned when the empire's ruling class set up its capital elsewhere.
    The international team of archeologists conducted excavations at the site in  2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016.
    The Kingdom of Aksum ruled over the region between 80 BC to AD 825 and was one of the ancient world's major powers -- conquering surrounding regions and trading with the Roman Empire, the researchers said. The kingdom converted to Christianity in the 4th century.
      It was only in 2009 when archeologists spoke to local residents in the area near the discovery, who suggested the researchers investigate a hill near the modern village of Edaga Rabu. It turned out to be a 25-meter high mound formed by waste and debris accumulated over generations of occupation.
      "It was part of the local oral tradition. They knew it was an important place but they didn't know why," said Michael Harrower, associate professor of archeology at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the research, which was published in the journal Antiquity on Wednesday.
      Radiocarbon dating suggests people first started living in the town around 750 BC, and it remained occupied throughout Aksumite times, capturing key moments in Ethiopian history.
        The buildings and artifacts uncovered, which include a basilica, gold ring, coins, inscript