A journalist and travel writer in the employ of the Ethiopian government in the early 1980's hears mention that the great lost treasure of the Jewish race - the ark of the covenant in which Moses placed the ten commandments - is reputed to be held in a church somewhere in Ethiopia ...
The same man later sees the Hollywood blockbuster 'Raiders of the lost Ark', and an idea begins to find shape in his mind which will take some years to come to fruition ...
In 1989 at Chartres Cathedral, France, he is drawn to a small, seemingly insignificant carving which mysteriously hints that the tale he heard in Ethiopia may be true - that that may, in fact, be the last resting place of the Ark ...
The man is Graham Hancock - and the story of his quest to discover the truth behind the legends is the breathtaking real life adventure of The Sign and The Seal. the book that launched Graham into the bestseller lists worldwide.
Following obscure clues found within ancient stories and Biblical tales, through the occult knowledge gleaned from the coded Grail epic of Wolfram Von Eschenbach, and the obscure and secretive workings of the enigmatic Knights Templar, Graham traces the Ark from its source in ancient Egypt, to Jerusalem, and from there to its final resting place in Africa.
This is a tale worthy of Indiana Jones himself! A real modern day quest set against the lost knowledge of the ancient world and the political intrigues of the contemporary one.
Here is the first inkling that the technology of ancient Egypt, that produced the Ark, was something mysterious and powerful - a legacy, perhaps of something older and forgotten - here is the seeds that would flower in Fingerprints of the Gods. Was Moses an initiate of the lost Egyptian wisdom - the lost wisdom of the survivors of a cataclysmic flood?
The Sign and the Seal, Sample chapter: Chapter 1 (cont.)
By Graham Hancock
PALACES, CATACOMBS AND OBELISKS
Our work began the
moment that we arrived. Waiting to greet us as we stepped down from
the plane was an elderly Abyssinian gentleman wearing a slightly
threadbare three-piece suit and a most splendid patriarchal beard. In
quaint but excellent English, he introduced himself as Berhane Meskel
Zelelew and explained that he had been contacted by radio from Addis
Ababa and ordered to guide us and act as our interpreter. He was
employed, he said, by the Ministry of Culture 'to keep an eye on the
antiquities of Axum'. In this capacity he had helped the
archaeologists from the British Institute in Eastern Africa whose
excavations of some of the city's most interesting ruins had been
interrupted by the revolution of 1974.(14) 'It's so nice to see other
British people here after such a long time,' he exclaimed as we
We climbed into a
vintage Land Rover with a lime-green paint job and two neat bullet
holes in the front windscreen. 'Fortunately no one was killed,'
Zelelew reassured us when we asked him about these. Laughing
nervously as we drove away from the airfield, I then explained what
we had come to do, listed the historic sites that we wanted to visit,
and told him that I was particularly intrigued by Axum's claim to be
the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
'Do you believe that
the Ark is here?' I asked.
'And where is it
'It is deposited in a
chapel near the centre of the city.’
‘Is this chapel
'No. Its construction
was ordered by our late Emperor . . . in 1965 I think. Before that
the relic had rested for many hundreds of years within the Holy of
Holies of the nearby church of Saint Mary of Zion . . Zelelew paused,
then added: 'Haile Selassie had a special interest in this matter, by
the way . . . He was the two hundred and twenty-fifth direct-line
descendant of Menelik, son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. It
was Menelik who brought the Ark of the Covenant to our country . .
I was all for visiting
the chapel at once, but Zelelew persuaded me that there was little
point in hurrying: 'you will not be allowed anywhere near the Ark.
Where it rests is holy ground. The monks and the citizens of Axum
protect it and they would not hesitate to kill anyone who tried to
break in. Just one man is allowed to enter and he is the monk
responsible for guarding the Ark. We will try to meet him later
today, but first let us go and see the Queen of Sheba's palace.'
After we had assented
to this attractive proposition we turned on to a bumpy, potholed road
that — had we been able to follow it all the way — would
eventually have led us hundreds of miles south-west, through the
gigantic peaks and valleys of the Simien mountains, to the city of
Gondar near Lake Tana. In open country barely a mile from the centre
of Axum, however, we stopped within sight of an extensively fortified
military post which, Zelelew explained, marked the limit of the
government-controlled sector. He waved expressively at the nearby
hills: 'Everything else TPLF, so we cannot go. It's a pity. There are
so many interesting things to see . . . There, just around that
corner in the road, are the granite quarries where all the stelae
were cut. One still remains partially unexcavated from the rock. And
there is a beautiful carving of a lioness. It is very ancient. It was
put there before the coming of Christianity. But unfortunately we
cannot reach it.'
'How far is it
exactly?' I asked, tantalized.
'Very close, less than
three kilometres. But the military will not let us past the
checkpoint and if they did we would certainly be taken by the
guerillas. Even here we should not stand around for too long. Your
foreign faces will be noticed by the TPLF snipers. They might think
you are Russians and decide to shoot at you . . .' He laughed: 'That
would be highly undesirable, would it not? Come, follow me.'
He led the way into
fields to the north of the road and we quickly began to stumble
across the remains of what must, once, have been an imposing
building. 'This was the Queen of Sheba's palace,' Zelelew announced
proudly. 'According to our traditions her name was Makeda and Axum
was her capital. I know that foreigners do not accept that she was an
Ethiopian at all. Nevertheless no other country has a stronger claim
I asked whether any
archaeology had ever been done on the site to test the legends.
'Yes, in the late
1960s the Ethiopian Institute of Archaeology conducted some
excavations here . . . I helped on the dig.'
‘And what was
Zelelew made a
mournful face. 'The opinion was that the palace was not sufficiently
old to have been the residence of the Queen of Sheba.'
archaeologists had unearthed, and what we now spent some time
exploring, were the ruins of a great and well built edifice with
finely mortared stone walls, deep foundations and an impressive
drainage system. We saw a still-intact flagstone floor — which
Zelelew claimed was a large throne room — and a number of
stair-wells which hinted at the existence of at least one upper
storey. There were also private bathing areas of sophisticated design
and a well-preserved kitchen dominated by two brick ovens.
Across the road, in a
field facing the palace, we then inspected a number of rough-hewn
granite stelae, some standing more than fifteen feet high, some
fallen and broken. Most were undecorated but one, the largest, was
carved with four horizontal bands, each band topped by a row of
circles in relief — like protruding beam ends in a building
made of wood and stone. This crude obelisk, Zelelew told us, was
thought by the townspeople to mark the grave of the Queen of Sheba.
No excavation work had been carried out beneath it, however, and the
field was now entirely given over to farmers who grew crops for the
Axum garrison. Even as we talked we saw two peasant boys approach
with an ox, which they harnessed to a wooden plough. Oblivious to the
history that lay all around them, and apparently indifferent to our
presence as well, they began to till the soil.
After we had finished
taking pictures and notes we drove back into the centre of the city
and then out again to the north-east to another palace complex, this
one on a hill-top with commanding views of the whole area. Square in
plan, the structure measured about two hundred feet on each side. The
walls, which had long since crumbled, showed signs of having
originally been projected at the corners to form four towers —
possibly the very towers which, in the sixth century, the monk Cosmas
had described as being adorned with brass unicorns.
Beneath the fortress
Zelelew then led us down steep stone stairways into a number of
underground galleries and chambers which were roofed and walled with
massive dressed granite blocks that fitted precisely against one
another without any mortar in the joints. Local tradition, he said,
identified this cool dark warren as the treasury used by Emperor
Kaleb (AD 514 — 542) and also by his son Gebre-Maskal. With the
aid of a flashlight we saw the empty stone coffers which lay within —
coffers believed to have once contained great riches in gold and
pearls.(15) Further rooms, as yet unexcavated, extended into the
hillside from there, blocked off behind thick granite walls.
Eventually we left the
hill-top fortress and made our way down into the centre of Axum on a
gravel road. Near the bottom of the gradient, to our left, we paused
to photograph a large, open deep-water reservoir dug down into the
red granite of the hillside and approached by means of rough-hewn
stairways. Known as the Mai Shum, it seemed to us very old — an
impression that Zelelew confirmed when he remarked that it was
originally the Queen of Sheba's pleasure bath: 'At least so our
people believe. Since the beginning of Christian times it has been
used for baptismal ceremonies to celebrate the Holy Epiphany, which
we call Timkat. And of course the peasants still come here every day
to draw their water.' As though to confirm this last observation he
pointed to a group of women carefully descending the time-worn steps
bearing gourds on their heads.
By now, without any of
us really noticing how the time had passed, it was already well past
the middle of the afternoon. Zelelew urged us to hurry, pointing out
that we were scheduled to fly back to Asmara at first light the next
day and that we still had much to see.
Our next destination
was close by, the so-called 'Park of the Stelae' — certainly
the focal point of Axum's archaeological interest. Here we examined
and photographed a remarkable series of giant obelisks carved from
slabs of solid granite. The most massive of these, a tumbled
fractured ruin, was believed to have fallen to the ground more than a
thousand years previously. In its heyday, though, it had stood one
hundred and ten feet tall and must have dominated the entire area. I
remembered from the reading I had done on the flight that its weight
was estimated to exceed five hundred tons. It was thought to be the
largest single piece of stone ever successfully quarried and erected
in the ancient world.
This fallen stele was
painstakingly hewn to mimic a high, slender building of thirteen
storeys — each storey complete with elaborate representations
of windows and other details, and demarcated from the next by a row
of symbolic beam-ends. At the base could be discerned a false door
complete with a knocker and lock, all perfectly carved in stone.
Another fallen —
but much smaller and unbroken — obelisk, Zelelew told us, had
been stolen during the Italian occupation of 1935-41, transported
with enormous difficulty to Rome by Mussolini, and re-erected near
the Arch of Constantine. Since it, too, was elaborately carved —
and therefore of great artistic value — the Ethiopian
government was campaigning for its return. In the meantime, however,
it was fortunate that a third decorated monolith still remained in
situ in the stelae park.
With a flourish our
guide now pointed to this towering stone needle, more than seventy
feet high and topped with a curved headpiece shaped like a half moon.
We strolled over to examine it properly and found that, like its huge
neighbour, it had been carved to resemble a conventional built-up
structure — in this case a nine-storey building in the fashion
of a tower-house. Once again, the main decoration on the front
elevation was provided by the semblance of windows and of beams of
timber supposedly inserted horizontally into the walls. The intervals
between each of the floors were defined by rows of symbolic log-ends,
and the house-like appearance was further enhanced by the presence of
a false door.
Several other stelae
of varying sizes were ranged around this refined monument — all
of them clearly the products of an advanced, well organized and
prosperous culture. Nowhere else in sub-Saharan Africa had anything
even remotely similar been built and, for this reason, Axum was a
mystery — its antecedents unknown, the sources of its