Grave diggers in Ethiopia discover dazzling 2,000-year-old treasures that reveal link to Ancient Rome

An “extraordinary” haul of ancient treasures from the Roman empire and Aksumite kingdom have been discovered by archeologists in northern Ethiopia.

The discoveries include everything from luxurious jewellery to bronze trinkets and ancient makeup. Louise Schofield had been heading a major six-week excavation of the ancient city of Aksum, whose kingdom ruled swathes of north-east Africa for several centuries before 940AD, when her team uncovered 11 graves that contained the unprecedented collection of artefacts.

The discoveries provide evidence that the Romans were trading in Africa three hundred years earlier than previously thought.

Schofield told the Observer: “Every day we had shed-loads of treasure coming out of all the graves. I was blown away: I’d been confident we’d find something, but not on this scale.”

The archaeologist is especially excited by the grave of one woman who she has named ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Schofield claims that the positioning of Sleeping Beauty’s corpse and its surrounding grave goods suggest that the Aksumite woman had been very attractive and much-loved by her peers.

Schofield said: “She was curled up on her side, with her chin resting on her hand, wearing a beautiful bronze ring. She was buried gazing into an extraordinary Roman bronze mirror. She had next to her a beautiful and incredibly ornate bronze cosmetics spoon with a lump of kohl eyeliner.”

Sleeping Beauty was most likely a woman of high status, with the quality of the jewellery discovered on her person suggesting that she was able to afford the most highly sought after luxurious goods of the time. As well as a necklace adorned with thousands of tiny beads, Schofield’s team also discovered two perfectly preserved Roman glass vessels and a flask that had been placed in Sleeping Beauty’s grave to “catch the tears of the dead.”

Archeologists found buried warriors in the area too, each of their skeletons unwieldily decorated with large iron bangles. Other finds include a striking glass perfume flask and another female skeleton wearing a necklace of 1,065 coloured glass beads.

Aksum, capital of the Aksumite kingdom, was a major trading force from the first to seventh centuries, linking the Roman Empire and India but little is known about the so-called “lost” civilisation.

“Ethiopia is a mysterious place steeped in legend, but nobody knows very much about it,” said Schofield.

“We know from the later Aksumite period – the fourth and fifth centuries, when they adopted Christianity – that they were trading very intensely with Rome. But our finds are from much earlier. So it shows that extraordinarily precious things were travelling from the Roman Empire through this region centuries before.”

Image via Sarah Tzinieris / cc

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