14th November – The Lands of the Queen of Sheba: Myths, History and Endemics.   Leave a comment

I often give slideshows on my travels to RSPB and other wildlife orientated groups, however the talk I gave to the East Dorset Antiquarian Society on 14th November was a completely new departure. Brian Maynard, a former colleague is a leading light in EDAS and I suggested to him that I might have enough material for a talk.

In November 2011, after my three-week bird tour of Ethiopia, I spent a further five days in the north of the country looking at the archeological wonders of Axsum and Lalibela. Their original suggestion for a title ‘Early Christian Churches in Ethiopia’ lacked impact so I suggested ‘the Lands of the Queen of Sheba, Myths, History and Endemics’, as this would allow me to dwell on the multiple ‘tall stories’ I was told on the tour, as well as showing a few pictures of endemic birds.


The EDAS meeting in Wimborne

I started by giving an overview of the stories pertaining to the Queen of Sheba and asked if there was any proof that she ever made the famous journey to Jerusalem to see Solomon or for that matter if she ever existed at all.

I then gave a brief overview of my travels around Ethiopia before starting to describe my visit to Axsum.


The stunning scenery of northern Ethiopia


An endemic mammal – the Gelada Baboon


Perhaps the most beautiful of all the endemics: Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco. It’s titled discoverer was killed by an elephant soon after the type specimen was taken and for decades the whereabouts of this species remained a mystery. Photo by Brian Field.



At Axsum I was shown some markets, ruins that were claimed to be the palace of the Queen of Sheba (although archeology dates them to 7th century AD not 1000 BC), the famous Stele Park and the church of St Mary of Zion that is supposed to contain the Ark of the Covenant, the actual box that holds the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, taken from the Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by Melanik, the supposed son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.


My guide in one of the royal tombs that date from the 5th century AD


The incredible stelae, 4thC AD monoliths. 120 remain but only two are this tall, at over 24m.


The largest stele, 33m high toppled soon after erection, perhaps not surprisingly as there was only one metre of foundations. When it fell it crushed a royal tomb, the entrance of which can still be seen to the left of the stele.


This chapel holds what Ethiopians believe is the Ark of the Covenant. Only one priest is allowed into the chapel and once there he never leaves until he dies.

After the break I showed pictures of the wonderful rock churches of Lalibela and told tales, both mythical and historical, of their construction and use.


St George’s Church, Lalibela. These remarkable rock churches are not built of rock, they are carved out of rock.


Estimated that it took 40,000 people 40 years to cut the 11 churches out of the rock although legend has it that the angels carved them in a small fraction of that time.


Most of the churches are collected by tunnels and walkways.

I then showed some shots I took in Yemen in 2009, another land that claims the Queen of Sheba as their own.


The Yemen highlands: ancient villages perched on the edge of precipitous cliffs.


The old parts of Sana’a look unchanged since Biblical times. With some archaeological remains dating to nearly 3000 years ago. Was this really the land of the Queen of Sheba?


Lucy, named after the Beatles number ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ which was playing at the time of discovery, is one of the most significant hominid fossils ever discovered.

The talk was concluded by returning to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia where I visited the National Museum to see the bones of ‘Lucy’, the 3.6 million year old Authralopithicus, one of humanities earliest known ancestors. I finished by saying that Lucy was no myth, was real history, well prehistory and was endemic to the Horn of Africa, thus bringing the three threads of this talk together at the end.

This talk had been quite a challenge, as I had never spoken to a historical society before. It had taken quite a bit of research but it had been good fun, both preparing and giving the talk and it seemed to be well received.

Posted November 20, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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