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Glanzman suspects that all religious ceremonies took place within the oval-shaped sanctuary, which he calls "the business end" of the complex. Exactly what those rituals involved remains a puzzle because the team has not yet formally excavated the area. The abundance of animal bones in the debris that was used as fill within the enclosure wall, however, as well as a partial inscription on the wall detailing the regulation of animals brought to the sanctuary, suggests that sacrifices were common. A radar sounding within the oval confirmed that it too is littered with architectural debris, and a preliminary dig turned up the remains of a collapsed structure with huge inscriptions. "The letters are half a meter high, so they could be read from the ground like a billboard," says Glanzman. "We also expect to find lots of platforms for altars and statues."
Many of the hundreds of inscriptions date from about the 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. Although the oldest ones were carved several centuries after the Queen's lifetime, they contain priceless information about her kingdom's political and social history, including a chronology of Sabaean kings (the first that researchers have found), as well as the names of other important visitors to Mahram Bilqis and their genealogies and tribal affiliations. Since some of the names are female, one of them could be that of the Queen of Sheba.
The team--which includes scientists from Canada, the U.S., Yemen, Britain, the West Bank, Germany and Australia, as well as local Bedouin tribesmen--recently completed another field season. But they estimate that it will take another 10 to 15 years just to uncover all the buildings at Mahram Bilqis and the surrounding pathways--and even then most of the site will remain unexplored.
Eventually, the Yemeni government plans to restore and reconstruct the sanctuary in hopes of transforming it into what Glanzman calls "an eighth wonder of the world"--a tourist attraction comparable to the Pyramids or the Acropolis. (Yemen's political instability, though, makes that scenario unlikely anytime soon.) It also intends to petition UNESCO to designate Mahram Bilqis as a World Heritage Site.
As for the goal of discovering the Queen's true identity, the task may well prove impossible. "In order to know who she was, we would need to find an inscription in Hebrew, and find it on an object that was unequivocally linked to the 10th century B.C.," Glanzman says. "That's like trying to find a needle in a haystack that's been buried under 10 meters of sand."