Ranging between 50km and 90km south of Addis Ababa, flanking the road to the town of Butajira, is a trio of contrasting historic and archeological sites that make for a diverse and rewarding day-trip from the capital.
Melka Kunture Prehistoric Site
Some 50km south of Addis Ababa, Melka Kunture Prehistoric Site is the most important among a sequence of paleontological sites associated with sedimentary strata exposed by the Awash River. Spanning 1.7 million years of human habitation, these sites have thrown up some of the world’s oldest known human fossils, as well as the remains of extinct giant gelada and other mammal species. An informative site museum lies to the west of the Butajira road, about 300m past the village of Awash Melka after you cross a bridge over the river.
Adadi Maryam is the most southerly extant rock-hewn church in Ethiopia, and worth a visit for those who can’t make it to Lalibela or Tigrai. Said locally to have been excavated by Emperor Lalibela when he visited nearby Mount Zikwala, the moss-covered church is carved into a subterranean chamber and freestanding on three sides. It lies in the small village of Adadi, 13km west of the junction village of Mute, which straddles the Butajira road 5km south of Awash Melka.
Tiya Archological Site
On the east side of the Butajira road 40km south of Awash Melka, Tiya Archeological Site is the best known of the mysterious medieval stelae fields that stud southern Ethiopia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it comprises around 45 stone obelisks, erected perhaps 700 years ago, to mark the mass graves of what were evidently soldiers killed in combat. Most of the stelae stand about 2m high, and are engraved with a combination of circles, swords and leaf-like symbols. Local traditions associate the stones with the sixteenth-century Muslim leader Ahmed Gragn, which seems implausible given their greater antiquity and the non-Islamic nature of the engravings. However, the identity of the society that did erect them is completely unknown.