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Early and later history of Ethiopia

Pilgrim reading in Lalibela churches

Many places in Africa lay claim to being the ‘cradle of mankind’, but only in recent times has there been just one species of the genus homo. So theoretically they could all be correct. Ethiopia is certainly one country which lays a strong claim. It is the home and birthplace of ‘Lucy’. Her 3.2 million year old bones were found in the paleontological treasure trove of Awash in the eastern Afar region. ‘Lucy’ can be seen in replica in the very interesting (if slightly old-fashioned) Addis Ababa museum.

But, unlike places like Olduvai Gorge in Kenya or the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa, in Ethiopia you can also see and visit a wide variety of sites. Here historic sites from the last 3,000 years have an earthiness and accessibility that is a very refreshing change from Europe or elsewhere.

The ancient Egyptians may have come from Ethiopia in about 3000 BC from a legendary land called Punt, according to early Greek historians. The next milestone in the story is the Queen of Sheba (or Sabea). She may have lived here around 1000 BC – and the Ethiopians very much believe that. Her son, Menelik, was the first of the 237 monarchs of the Solomonic dynasty. This dynasty ruled the country until the overthrow of the Emperor Haile Selassie on 1976.

Later History of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is often said to be the home of the legendary figure of Prester John. This Christian King was said to be a descendant of one of the Three Magi. Indeed the Ark of the Covenant is strongly believed to be in an ancient  church in Aksum, guarded by a chosen monk who never leaves its side until his death. Around Ethiopia there are estimated to be 1,500 monasteries and about 48,000 churches. This legacy of Early Christianity in Africa is abundant and yet almost modest. These incredibly old churches – all significant historical sites – have unassuming entrances. They lure you in with shabby promise rather than strident marketing. But what historical riches are found within.

Unlike most of Africa, Ethiopia was never really colonised which accounts for its fierce independence. (The Italians tried to take it in the 1930’s but were rebuffed.)

If you’re looking for an Ethiopia tour focusing on the historical highlights of Ethiopia but you are short on time, check out our Ethiopia’s Historic Highlights fly-in tour?

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Ginny Russell

Co-founder & Director

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Check out more on our Ethiopia Tours here…

“Early History of Ethiopia” was written by Cedarberg Africa

Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa. We focus on upmarket tailormade safaris for discerning and inquiring people. Several of us have visited Rwanda and so we can chat to you about a possible trip from personal experience, weighing up the different options, to plan a trip that is just right for you.

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