An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

DNA clues to Queen of Sheba tale

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BBC News – 21 June 2012 – Helen Briggs

Modern day Ethiopians show great cultural, linguistic and historical diversity

Clues to the origins of the Queen of Sheba legend are written in the DNA of some Africans, according to scientists.

Genetic research suggests Ethiopians mixed with Egyptian, Israeli or Syrian populations about 3,000 years ago.

This is the time the queen, mentioned in great religious works, is said to have ruled the kingdom of Sheba.

The research, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, also sheds light on human migration out of Africa 60,000 years ago.

According to fossil evidence, human history goes back longer in Ethiopia than anywhere else in the world. But little has been known until now about the human genetics of Ethiopians.

Professor Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, a researcher on the study, told BBC News: “Genetics can tell us about historical events.

“By analysing the genetics of Ethiopia and several other regions we can see that there was gene flow into Ethiopia, probably from the Levant, around 3,000 years ago, and this fits perfectly with the story of the Queen of Sheba.”

Lead researcher Luca Pagani of the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute added: “The genetic evidence is in support of the legend of the Queen of Sheba.”

More than 200 individuals from 10 Ethiopian and two neighbouring African populations were analysed in the largest genetic investigation of its kind on Ethiopian populations.

About a million genetic letters in each genome were studied. Previous Ethiopian genetic studies have focussed on smaller sections of the human genome and mitochondrial DNA, which passes along the maternal line.

Dr Sarah Tishcoff of the Department of Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, said Ethiopia would be an important region to study in the future.

Commenting on the study, she said: “Ethiopia is a very diverse region culturally and linguistically but, until now, we’ve known little about genetic diversity in the region.

“This paper sheds light on the very interesting recent and ancient population history of a region that played an important role in both recent and ancient human migration events.

“In particular, the inference of timing and location of admixture with populations from the Levant is very interesting and is a unique example of how genetic data can be integrated with historical data.”

The scientists acknowledge that there are uncertainties about dating, with a probable margin of error of a few hundred years either side of 3,000 years.

They plan to look at all three billion genetic letters of DNA in the genome of individual Ethiopians to learn more about human genetic diversity and evolution.

Written by Tseday

June 22, 2012 at 12:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. My wife and I have been associated with Ethiopia 46 years – the land of history, mystery and fantastic scenery. From a Biblical viewpoint and according to the chronicles and legends of the Orthodox Church, we always believed in this amazing connection with Israel, Egypt and the Middle East. The evidence is plain
    in their religion, culture and traditions! Now there is the confirmation of genetic research. I am sure that in the future new discoveries will be made concerning this ancient civilization. For my wife and I it is such a
    privilege and “Egzabher Mogus” to be involved with Ethiopia – the land and the people!

    Gerald Gotzen

    June 25, 2012 at 7:27 am

  2. I am at a loss to understand the point of the article. I suspect this is a species of an all too familiar fable which seeks to attribute Ethiopia’s heritage to non-African sources. The legend of the Queen of Sheba is just a legend, and it remains in the realm of “mysticism”. And we have a better idea of what the Queen represents in “mysticism,” and for that matter king Solomon too, who existed only in mysticism, not in history. You only have to look to the theology of Ancient Egypt for the origin of them both. (Unfortunately, this is not the place for a discussion of the mysticism.)

    If the proponents of the article are claiming that the Queen of Sheba came from the Levant, then they have to say so clearly. But then they would have to first establish that the Queen actually existed in the flesh, before they proceed to name a place of origin for her. There is a fallacy in this story. The genetics part of the story is simply a red herring or a Trojan horse. There is no doubt that there was gene-flow, both directions, with Egyptians and people of the Levant dating back to pre history, even the Natufian period (9th Millennium B.C.E.) That much we already know from recorded history; Pun-t’s point of origin for the ancient Egyptians; a Kushite army at Jebus (Melke Tsedeq [Melchisedek] et al.) as part of the Egyptian army that fought the Hitites in the 2nd millennium B.C.E; Tahraqa’s expedition to the Levant in the 7th Century B.C.E., etc.. We also know various accounts of the return of the warriors and the priesthood to Abyssinia. The mixing of populations is, therefore, hardly surprising.

    The article was not helpful in other respects. For one, it did not state what percentage of the Ethiopian population carries the mixed genes. (The scientific journal may have the numbers). I very much doubt it accounts for over 1 percent. (I sure would like to know the number.) I also want to know the size and types of the haplogroups in the Levant to which the Ethiopian genes correlate. That way we can see the whole picture. By the way, I did not think that Dr. Sarah Tishcoff was weighing in on the Sheba part of the story. Did you? She is much too smart to fall for that. My suspicion is the reporters clipped a small part of the genetic finding and blew it out of proportion for their own cause.

    N. Abraha

    July 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm

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