Popularly described as a 13th-century medieval capital, Lalibela is famous for its rock-hewn churches (photo), which are ascribed to the reign of the Zagwe King Lalibela. Whilst this important site has been the subject of study by art and architectural historians, its archaeological context remains vague. The present study seeks to provide a landscape archaeology context for this important site.
Initial reconnaissance work was undertaken by Dr Niall Finneran (photo, with Ethiopian children) and Dr Phil Marter of the Archaeology Department in January 2008. A number of promising archaeological sites were identified, which may be contemporaneous with the actual churches. We are currently working on the hypothesis that Lalibela was an ecclesiastical centre and that short-term and peripatetic centres of secular, political power were located within the adjacent landscape, in areas of rich agricultural potential and plentiful water. In some cases these sites were located near monasteries which enjoyed royal patronage in the medieval and post-medieval periods.
Supported by the British Academy and the French Institute for Ethiopian Studies (CFEE Addis Ababa) and in collaboration with local and international scholars.