A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba of biblical legend derived her fabled treasures.
Almost 3,000 years ago, the ruler of Sheba, which spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen, arrived in Jerusalem with vast quantities of gold to give to King Solomon. Now an enormous ancient goldmine, together with the ruins of a temple and the site of a battlefield, have been discovered in her former territory.
Louise Schofield, an archaeologist and former British Museum curator, who headed the excavation on the high Gheralta plateau in northern Ethiopia, said: “One of the things I’ve always loved about archaeology is the way it can tie up with legends and myths. The fact that we might have the Queen of Sheba’s mines is extraordinary.”
An initial clue lay in a 20ft stone stele (or slab) carved with a sun and crescent moon, the “calling card of the land of Sheba”, Schofield said. “I crawled beneath the stone – wary of a 9ft cobra I was warned lives here – and came face to face with an inscription in Sabaean, the language that the Queen of Sheba would have spoken.”
On a mound nearby she found parts of columns and finely carved stone channels from a buried temple that appears to be dedicated to the moon god, the main deity of Sheba, an 8th century BC civilisation that lasted 1,000 years. It revealed a victory in a battle nearby, where Schofield excavated ancient bones.
Although local people still pan for gold in the river, they were unaware of the ancient mine. Its shaft is buried some 4ft down, in a hill above which vultures swoop. An ancient human skull is embedded in the entrance shaft, which bears Sabaean chiselling.
Sheba was a powerful incense-trading kingdom that prospered through trade with Jerusalem and the Roman empire. The queen is immortalised in Qur’an and the Bible, which describes her visit to Solomon “with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold and precious stones … Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices.”
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