Excavation of anicient ceramics at the Adulis archaeological site in Eritrea

Trove of Ancient Ceramics Unearthed from Buried Eritrean City


Thousands of years ago, the eastern coast of Eritrea was home to one of the world’s most important port cities.

Adulis was originally a small village, and folklore says that its name means “free people” because slaves would settle in the city after escaping Egypt, according to the Eritrea Ministry of Information. Eventually, the city became a trade center along the Red Sea, facilitating imports and exports with Egypt, and the Greek and Roman empires.

Today, the port city is buried — but that hasn’t stopped archaeologists from attempting to uncover the secrets of the ancient hub. Since 2011, experts have been working to excavate the city.

In their latest find, they unearthed a trove of ceramics, according to a Feb. 29 news release from the ministry.

The newly discovered ceramics date to between 1500 B.C. and 500 B.C., officials said.

The ceramics are significant because they bridge previous historical periods and findings at the site, Dr. Tsegay Medin, the project’s coordinator, said in the ministry’s release. The discovery has the “potential to significantly enrich the history of the country and the region with thorough research and study.”

excavation program at the Adulis archaeological site
Photos show researchers sorting their finds at the site.

During the peak of the powerful Aksum empire in northern Ethiopia — between about the third and sixth centuries A.D. — Adulis connected the empire to other ancient civilizations, the ministry said. Between 220 A.D. and 589 A.D., Adulis even established trade relations with China.

The city was invaded by Arabs around 640 A.D., and by the time the Aksum empire fell in the seventh century A.D., the city was destroyed, according to officials.

Eritrea is on the northeastern coast of Africa. It borders Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. [BY MOIRA RITTER]

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Discovery of Ceramics Signifying Ancient Historical Periods

Adulis, the once thriving ancient port city, lies buried beneath layers of time. However, ongoing archaeological excavations continue to unearth relics and remnants, transforming the area into a potential tourist destination and archaeological site.

During the excavation program at the Adulis archaeological site, ceramics indicating historical stages between 1500 to 500 BC have been unearthed.

Archaeologists at the site emphasized the significance of this discovery in bridging previous historical periods spanning from the 1st to the 7th decades with this new finding.

Dr. Tsegay Medin, coordinator of the project, highlighted the various ceramic artifacts unearthed since the inception of the Adulis Archaeological project, spanning different historical epochs. He stressed the importance of this new discovery in terms of its content and antiquity, foreseeing its potential to significantly enrich the history of the country and the region with thorough research and study.

excavation program at the Adulis archaeological site
The buried city of Adulis is one of the ancient places in Eritrea that are believed to exist thousands years ago.

Prof. Serena Massa, an Italian archaeologist and project member, underscored Adulis as the sole ancient town in Sub-Saharan Africa constructed with stones, thus holding substantial international historical significance.

She further suggested that the ancient manuscripts and monuments could serve as crucial links between the Adulis civilization and that of Punt Land, potentially catalyzing a new phase of excavation.

Archaeologist Dr. Abraham Zere added that this discovery will contribute to a deeper understanding of ancient civilizations in the Horn of Africa and the Southern Red Sea region.

The Adulis project commenced in 2011 through collaboration between Eritrean and Italian experts, facilitating the exchange of experiences and expertise. [SHABAIT]