The genomes of Ethiopian people hold echoes of the meeting between a legendary king and queen.
About 3000 years ago, the Queen of Sheba purportedly travelled from what is now Ethiopia to meet King Solomon in Israel. Ethiopian folklore even tells of a child between the pair. But that’s just a story, right?
Perhaps not entirely. Luca Pagani of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, examined samples of Ethiopian genomes and noticed that some individuals had components of both African and non-African lineages. Delving deeper, Pagani and his colleagues discovered that the non-African genetic components had much more in common with people living in Syria and around the eastern Mediterranean than in the nearer Arabian peninsula. What’s more, the gene flow probably took place around 3000 years ago.
The finding is backed by linguistic research, which shows that one of the four language families of Ethiopia migrated from the same region about 3000 years ago. “Middle Eastern language came to Ethiopia along with Middle Eastern genes,” Pagani says. “And that is when the Queen of Sheba legend is supposed to have happened.”
The meeting between the queen and Solomon remains a story, but the populations they came from did meet around that time, says Pagani.
Journal reference: The American Journal of Human Genetics, DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2012.05.015