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Queen of Sheba left genetic legacy to Ethiopians, study finds

Ethiopians's long-ago genetic mixing with populations from Israel and Egypt is a legacy of the Queen of Sheba and her companions, say researchers. 

By Stephanie PappasLiveScience / June 21, 2012

A depiction of the Queen of Sheba meeting King Solomon of Israel from the Florence Baptistry in Italy.

Richardfabi, distributed under a Creative Commons license by Wikimedia.

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The Queen of Sheba's genetic legacy may live on in Ethiopia, according to new research that finds evidence of long-ago genetic mixing between Ethiopian populations and Syrian and Israeli people.

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The Queen of Sheba, known in Ethiopia as Makeda, is mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran. The Bible discusses diplomatic relations between this monarch and King Solomon of Israel, but Ethiopian tradition holds that their relationship went deeper: Makeda's son, Menelik I, the first emperor of Ethiopia, is said to be Solomon's offspring.

Whether this tale is true or not, new evidence reveals close links between Ethiopia and groups outside of Africa. Some Ethiopians have 40-50 percent of their genomes that match more closely with populations outside of Africa than those within, while the rest of the genomes more closely match African populations, said study researcher Toomas Kivisild of the University of Cambridge. [History's Most Overlooked Mysteries]

"We calculated genetic distances and found that these non-African regions of the genome are closest to the populations in Egypt, Israel and Syria," Kivislid said in a statement.

From its perch on the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is the site of early hominin discoveries such as "Lucy," a fossilizedAustralopithecus afarensis and an early human ancestor. Ethiopia is also a gateway between Africa and Asia, according to Kivislid and his colleagues. But few genetic studies have delved specifically into the Ethiopian genome.

Both agriculture and linguistics show a link between Ethiopia and lands outside of Africa. For example, archaeologists have uncovered wheat and barley farming in Ethiopia, agriculture that first arose in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Linguistically, Ethio-Semitic, a language spoken both in Ethiopia and nearby Eritrea, has been traced to a Middle Eastern origin. 

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