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Are Eritreans of mixed origins?

Because of Eritrean peoples' phenotype and language, many colonial period historians claimed they were of  mixed African and Yemeni (Sabaean) in origin. This outdated myth is still shaping perceptions, even though there isn't any evidence to support it.  

Top four biggest myths in the Horn of Africa

Since time immemorial, myths have held an important role in societies. Long before science and writing were invented, myths were passed down from generation to generation to help make sense of the unknown or to advance social standings among competing groups. Although most myths are now dismissed as fictional tales, some myths, however, continue to shape perceptions, identities and produce conflicts in the region.

In this post, we'll briefly highlight four of the biggest myths in the Horn of Africa.

Myth #1: Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians are of mixed origins 

For various reasons, many people; usually foreigners, claim the region's inhabitants are of African and South Arabian descent. They base this on the fact that many of the people in the Horn, particularly in Eritrea and Ethiopia, speak Semitic languages and use a writing script that derived from Ancient Yemeni kingdoms. They also point out that some of the ancient people of the Horn adopted South Arabian deities and customs, too.

But is that enough to claim the people of this region are mixed?

Not quite. Aside from a few Sabaean inscriptions and isolated religious artifacts worshiping South Arabian deities, there isn't much evidence to suggest a dominant Sabaean presence in the Horn region.

According to Peter Ridgway Schmidt, a leading archaeologist of the region, civilization in the Horn is independent of any foreign influences and is endogenous to the region.

In short, outside of a few "ceremonial sites" with religious artifacts and inscribed stone pillars, there is no convincing evidence for daily life and vital communities. Rather, isolated religious artifacts and other evidence seem to point to another phenomenon, perhaps a sphere of influence wherein the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea were within the religious and economic orbit of greater Saba and local people took up various aspects of material culture to signify their membership in this broader community (Curtis 2004). As historical archaeologists have begun to question the historical accuracy of a dominant Sabaean presence in the Horn, archaeology has contributed evidence that suggests that the origins of urbanism is likely independent of any foreign influence and is in fact endogenous development (Shmidt and Curtis 2001; Schmidt 2002).[1]

How did some people of the region adopt Semitic languages?

Due to proximity, trade and sharing the same deities, Epigraphic South Arabian (an earlier substratum of the Ge'ez alphabet) started to appear in a few isolated religious sites within Southern Eritrea some 2,500 years ago. By the 3rd century CE, this lead to the gradual evolution and creation of the modern Ge'ez script and language. After the extinction of Ge'ez language in the 9th century CE*, it was (over the course of a few centuries) replaced by its descendant languages of Tigrinya and Tigre which are collectively spoken by 85% of Eritreans today.

Keep in mind, people adopt different languages for a number of reasons; usually for economic and religious reasons. At one point in history, some of the elites in the ancient Eritean city of Adulis were fluent in Greek. In fact, nearly all the inscriptions until the 4th century CE were made in Greek.[2] This doesn't mean they mixed with the Greeks; it just means the Greeks were influential in the region and their language was the lingua franca of commerce in much of the same way English is today.

Why do Horners look the way they do?

The phenotype the people of this region possess is likely a result of genetic adaptations to the mountainous topography; their diet and climate. People of the Horn would still look the way they do even of they had no Euroasian contact whatsoever. We can say this with certainty because there are a number of ethnic groups in the region that historically had little to no contact with Euroasian populations and still look similar to their neighbors who did. Chief among them are the Oromo people, who migrated to the Ethiopian interior from Northern Kenya in the 16th century CE.[3] Despite recently migrating into the country, they look identical with their cousins of the Amhara. In fact, most Amharas who are from Shewa and Wollo regions (both Oromo names), are assimilated Amharic-speaking Oromos.

Similarly, Southern African groups like the Khoisan were once thought to be people of mixed African and Eurasian ancestry by white South Africans[4] because they possessed unusual fair skin for people who lived in one of the hottest places on Earth. However, archaeological and genetic studies revealed they are one of the most ancient African groups that have had the least contact with not only Eurasian populations but African groups, too. Thus, it is important to remind ourselves of Africa's great genetic diversity and for the need to continue challenging outdated colonial period myths of what an African is supposed to look like.

*Ge'ez is still spoken in liturgical services by Orthodox priests.

Myth #2: The Queen of Sheba

Very few queens have captured the imaginations of people the way the mythical Queen of Sheba (Makeda) has. Her legacy transcended continents, nation-states, and religious affiliation. Despite spawning hundreds of films, books, documentaries, and appearing frequent in oral traditions among several Arabian and African groups, there hasn't been any tangible evidence she existed.

So when did the Sheba myth enter the Horn region?

According to archaeologist Peter Schmidt, It was not until the 13th century that some Christian inhabitants of the Horn region first adopted the Sheba fable from Yemen. Ambitious political elites, led by Yekuno Amlak, took it even a step further and created the Solomonic dynasty myth.

"In the 13th century, the Christian highlanders even borrowed from Arabia and adapted the fable of the Queen of Sheba with which to further their own conquests and political tale. They developed what was to become known as the Solomonic myth.[5]"

The Solomon dynasty myth, which was written in a 13th century book called Kebra Nagast (the glory of the kings), asserts that Ethiopian civilization began with the Queen of Sheba some 3,000 years ago (10th century BCE). According to the book, after Sheba traveled to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon, she fell in love with him and gave birth to their son, Menelik-I, whom Yekuno Amlak (the founder of this myth) and all Ethiopian kings after him, trace their linage to.

But why did Yekuno Amlak, who was a 13th century warlord who inspired to be king, need to make this elaborate story up? According to the historian Harold Marcus, he was seeking to legitimize his rule over his rivals and needed the backing of the priests to do so. So he took Arabian fables of Sheba and added his self-serving twist to it.

"As a usurper, the new monarch [Yekuno Amlak] encountered considerable resistance, and, in order to win over Tigray with its many Axumite traditions, he and his supporters began to circulate a fable about his descent from King Solomon and Makeda, Queen of Shaba, and their son Emperor Menelik-I, a genealogy that, of course, gave him traditional legitimacy and provided him the continuity so honored in Ethiopian's subsequent national history."[6]

Myth #3: The  Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia

Christian Ethiopians claim the Ark of the Covenant is in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia. According to the Kebra Nagast, Menelik-I (Queen of Sheba's alleged son), went to visit his father King Solomon in Jerusalem. Upon his return, he stole the Ark from Solomon's temple and brought it to modern day Ethiopia.

If the story sounds fishy, it should. In order to begin to claim the Sheba story and its subsequent Ark myth, Ethiopia would have to have archaeological evidence unequivocally showing a settled-civilization taking place in their region around the time Sheba was supposedly to have existed. Unfortunately for Christian Ethiopians, the oldest settled civilization in the region was found in the outskirts of the Eritrean capital, Asmara. Dating back to 2,800 years ago (based on carbon dating), the Ancient ONA site of Asmara would still be 200 years after Sheba was alleged to have existed.

Despite the Queen of Sheba and Menlik-I undoubtedly being fictional entities, this hasn't stopped many ambitious Christian authors, historians and sadly, a few professionals from making claims of finding evidence to support this fable. In 2008, a German research team from the University of Hamburg claimed to have found Sheba's 3,000-year-old tomb in Northern Ethiopia. Not surprisingly, the leading archaeologists of the region were skeptical and quick to dismiss their claims. Five years later, the research team has yet to publish their findings, which I guess is their silent way of admitting an error, sorta.

Similarly, in 1992, a British researcher by the name of Grahm Hancok authored The Sign and the Seal, a book that claims the Ark is in Ethiopia. Curious to see if its claims were legitimate, the Los Angeles Times contacted Professor Edward Ullendroff, an authority on Ethiopian history, about the book's credibility. After declaring the book "a sad joke",[7] Ullendroff stated he had personally seen the object in Axum: "They have a wooden Box, but it's empty....Middle to late medieval construction, when these were fabricated ad hoc."[7] Ullendorff went on to explain that religious leaders and government officials perpetuate an aura of mystery around the object "mostly to maintain the idea that it's a venerated object."[7]

The "middle to late medieval construction" date Professor Ullendroff gives for the Ark in Ethiopia is the same time period when Yekuno Amlak borrowed the Queen of Sheba fable from Arabia for his own political ambitions. Yekuno probably didn't know it but his Sheba, Solomonic Dynasty and the Ark myths would have a profound impact on the region. His myth has spawned the Rastafarian religion; several expansionist wars by Ethiopia on its neighbors; and even has made Jewish Ethiopians (Falashas) believe they are not Ethiopians.

Myth #4: The Falashas (Beta Israel) are descendants of Israeli tribes

The Falashas (outsiders), who are also known as Beta Israel (House of Israel), are people who once predominantly lived in North and North-Western Ethiopia.After Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, decreed in 1973 that the Falashas are descendants of ancient Israeli tribes, tens of thousands of Ethiopians of the Jewish faith were flown into Israel as citizens in the subsequent decades. Today, these Ethiopian Jews make up 2.15% (130,000) of Israel's population[8] and have adopted the Israeli identity.

But are the Falashas the descendants of Isreali tribes?

There is no archaeological evidence to support any Israeli tribes migrating into Ethiopia. Although the Falashas claim they were the descendants of Israelis who accompanied Sheba on her journey from Jerusalem, the reality of events, however, seem to indicate the Falashas adopted the Jewish faith from being in frequent contact with Jewish merchants from Yemen. Recent DNA testing shows they are endogenous inhabitants of Ethiopia who simply converted to Judaism in much of the same way Christians and Muslims did in the region.

"DNA samples from Beta Israel/Falasha Jews and Ethiopians were studied with the Y-Chromosome-specific DNA probe p49a to screen for TapI restriction polymorphism and haplotypes. Two haplotypes (V and XI) are the most widespread in Beta Israel and Ethiopians, representing about 70% of the total number of haplotypes in Ethiopia. Because the Jewish Haplotypes VII and VIII are not represented in the Falasha population, we conclude that these people descended from ancient inhabitants of Ethiopia who converted to Judaism."[9]

[1]Historical Archaeology in Africa, by Peter R. Schmidt, Pg. 260.
[2] Eritrea: A pawn in World Politics, by Okbazghi Yohannes, p. 24
[3] Ethiopia and Eritrea, by Jean-bernard Carillet, Stuart Butler, Dean Starnes, p. 37
[4] The History of South Africa, by Rodger B. Beck, P. 11
[5] New discoveries in Africa change face of history, by Professor Peter Ridgway Schmidt 
[6] A History of Ethiopia, by Harold Marcus, P. 16
[7] Searching for the Ark of the Covenant, by Randall Price, P. 177
[8] Israeli Government Census, 2011 
[9] Dna & Tradition: the genetic link to the ancient Hebrews, by Yaakov Kleiman, p.83

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Are Eritreans of mixed origins? Reviewed by Admin on 6:58 AM Rating: 5


  1. I agree with everything in this post!The only thing I'd add on is the Europeans tried to claim we were mixed was mostly based out of racism. They didn't want to believe Africans were capable of building civilizations, so they undermined our forefathers achievements and said we were colonized by Sabaeans.

    We are Eritreans. We look the way we look because of our environment and our genes adapting to it. Nothing more, nothing less.

  2. The article is just a mere personal opinion than a researched study paper and one thing is clear in it; Eritreans have no different history from Ethiopians.
    The following are your mistakes: Shewa and Wello has as much Oromo background as Amhara. The Arch of the covenant is still there in Axum. King YukunoAmlak was the grand son the last Axumit king Dilnead after fleeing to Shewa due to Yodit's war. The Queen of Sheba (Negiste Azeb(south/Queen of the south as per the then jews)and her visit to King Solomon of Israel is in the bible; refer it and you will at least have a hint!

    Here is a list of Ethiopian emperors!

  3. If you didn’t have preconceived ideas, some of you material
    would have been constrictive. Your written material is shallow and amateurish
    mainly based on one or two reference.

    One simple example: How is that possible, people dispersed
    in a wide and vast region like: The Tigrigna, Amhara, Gurage and Harrari one
    day all waked up from all corner of the Horne heard an Arab geographer - who
    knows from where he came - and decided to re baptize themselves in unison as
    Habesha. Can you imagine this happening in 870 AD? Even today with all the
    communication paraphernalia we would be in tough luck Your problem, you want to
    prove something and with your kind anything goes with no reflection and
    thinking. This is a disgrace: you have a real poor regard for our intelligence.

    We are Habesha and we will remain Habesha most
    likely you are not.

  4. Great piece, madote! Very Informative!

  5. I agree. Another issue I have are with religious leaders and institutions in the region perpetuating this myth for religious prestige.

  6. Belew is obviously Ethiopian. Why are you using an Eritrean name, though? Belew is historically associated with Eritreans. Are you trying to pretend you're Eritrean? The so-called Ark is fake because real archaeologist and historians say it is. You may be in denial but the rest of us are not. Also, that long-winded list of so-called Ethiopian emperors is as real as Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs.

  7. So do we say Jesus is fake, king David never had a son called Solomon or David never fought Goliath. In that case all this was Myth, it seems you're making assumptions that everything was a made up for purpose of political or economical gain. I'm curious about your sources and findings, just as similar you point out the ulterior motives of these people I feel you have your own motive to distort history and discredit what has been passed on for generations.

  8. Jesus is not fake, he was an actual person. We have numerous independent sources attesting to this. His miracles, however, are faker than a Chinese made Louie Baton Handbags. If Jesus was alive today, he would be around 5'2" inches tall (which was the average height for Palestinian men back then), have dark Sicilian skin and have curly hair ---not exactly the image most people think of him.

    King David and his son, King Solomon were fake entities. They never existed. This is a historical fact. But for some religious people, science and facts do not mean a thing to them and that's fine.

    Religion was built to serve a purpose of making us feel better about our demise. The only thing that is promised to us in life is a certain death and that's a scary thought. So no amount of reason or facts will make you snap out of the religion you inherited from your parents.

  9. Hmmmm. Interesting. If Ethiopia had the Ark of the Covenant, wouldn't it want scientist to prove its authenticity? Think how big the tourism industry would be if it were real. Ethiopia would receive hundreds upon hundreds of million Christian pilgrimage each yer similar to the Muslim Haaj. But because it was proven to be a 13th century replica fake by archaeologist, the priests in Ethiopia continue to hide it so people wouldn't lose faith.

  10. of course what else do I expect to believe from your religion as an Agnostic, the believe in nothing. Its okay to have those believes, I guess these days religion if any has cause more harm, wars and misery to human kind. Such as for example the extend of the religion of Islam a practice taken more seriously and people follow to the core. despite some of its negative traits we often hear its also a religion I believe that keeps people in line with todays ills of society. To such strict following of that religion you have less Muslim hookers, less Muslim alcoholics or druggist, and low prevalence of STD.

  11. my point is whether u question the validity of certain fairy tales or mythical stories that may have been blended into religion . But u cant question its core and moral values that generally has a purpose to society from going mayhem. overall you cant question whether evil or good exists, what religion does is points out the weakness of human kind and keeps people inline not to straying to these evils of society in which most cases people do. and with that I believe all religion have this as the core values, for example the 10 commandments is not far off from the Buddhist ethics or Islam's sets of ethics. if any Buddhism probably do you good then the others mainly with the purpose of believes in non violence, karma, focus in ending ignorance, suffering, and desire. and to help you better focus.. the religion also offers yoga and meditation.

  12. Breaking the myths about the Horners and uncovering the truth behind centuries old fables such as that of "Queen Sheba", "the Ark of the Covenant" and the bogus origin of the "Felashas"; and bringing to light some very little known of archaeologically proven historical facts about ancient Asmara; this is a very well written article! A feed back from "the German research team from the University of Hamburg" would also be great.

  13. the title is very bad.
    too suggestive.... in the wrong direction !

  14. Oh my god, what's wrong with you! There is clear evidence stating the exact opposite of this whole article. Why are you misleading people? Are you too proud to be the product of a homogenous mixture?

    FWIW the semitic introduction was prior to the sabaean presence. Ge'ez, Tigrignya, Amharic, etc all came before the semitic period ~1000-500bc. It migrated around ~3000 kya.

    Why dont you read some published studies and new archaeological evidence:

    Fieldwork led by iwona gajda (ongoing, this report is from 2011)

    Genetic evidence

    Pagani et al 2012

    Pickrell et al 2013

    The average amount is around ~50-60% west asian for tigrayans but can vary probably between 0% (Most likely in nilo saharan ethnic groups like the kunama) and up to 75-80% (in some tigres and tigrignyas)

    Localized adaptation might play a role but considering the yemeni highlands and eritrean highlands are relatively similar in terms of geographic makeup, I doubt its limited to only horners.

    Also Ethiopian jews are probably descendants of locals but their origins probably involve influence from yemeni jews during the early axumite period when it was gaining popularity in south arabia.

  15. I just don't understand what we as Africans have to take the account of Western historians in order to validate our own claims. You basically stated that everything is a myth. But then again, the tone of your article implies that your purpose is not to debunk your claim as these things as myths but to undermine the history of Ethiopia and what Ethiopians claim......but if that's how you really feel good luck with your claims. And labeled Yekuno Amlak "a war lord", that's a travesty.

  16. So what' wrong with being mixed in the first place..??!! I'm not saying Eritreans would be, but the whole idea to prove they are not puzzles me; who cares if they are or aren't.

  17. I agree with you sweety! It is so odd. As a child in Eritrea I could see that some of my costudents had greek blood in them even. We are in the red sea, actually the place where we identify ourselves most with rather with the continent of Africa as a whole. We experience the countries of the red sea as our cousins and closer to us. So it is normal that people left from us be it to India, to other african countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, mali or marocco or to up to southern europe and middle east in general. And it is only natural that people have come from almost all corners of the world to Eritrea in the ancient. Some might even have chinese blood. I wouldn't be surprised! And by logic there should even be some with Indian and shri lankan blood in eritrea. People trade, fall in love, have sex. And move on. There are very few obriginals in this world, and we are no different than most people. I think this article boy is effected by how the wesern politics have effected his life due to Eritrea's position in the red sea. It's odd because normally we never had to question and protect our identity in such a way. It is just anger writing in this article of the guy.

  18. The Arc of the Convenant may be bogus. And no doubt there are a lot of lies going on south to ERitrea. But this article is also a bit bogus, it is below our belt level as Eritreans. Why do we need to explain ourselves. One shit head made me explaine my self when I went through a very operation and separation once, and I hated it. I felt I filthied the names of my forefathers by telling who they are in self defence. It was all true and rich, but I loathed the fact that I had to do that. I never wanted that. and I trust that most ERitreans have the same kind of proud. We do not need, and please do not push us to the edge of having to explain ourselves in angered pride?! If you know what I mean.

    But Lua, there is a huge chunck of jewish culture in our eritrean culture. There really is no doubt that there was judaism there, and that the contents of that culture is a part of how we identify ourselves without naming is jewish because we are christians and muslims and carelesses like me. So even if the Ark of Convenant is a bogus - in at least how it is portrayed - there is no doubt that we share blood with Israelites and Syrians. I worked with christian syrians, and I was chocked by how identical their culture almost is to ours!! It was crazy, and I understood their arabic much easier than any other arabic, because it is closer to aramaic. I see also so much similarity with old hebrew culture. In that way I almost 98% sertain that tigrigna is closer to syrian arabic and aramaic, old hebrew than to yemeni arabic. It is not sout semetic per se as understood today. And if you see the BBC article posted here somewhere from 2012 it make absolutely perfect sense to my personal experience!
    So I don't know what these guys are trying to do with this bogus article.

  19. When did Europeans had racist attitudes towards Eritreans and nothern Ethiopians???.....By contrary they were highly respected, loved and cherised for being historical and Christian people. I tried to find Eritrean history sometime in the late 90s, but there was nothing written, so I tried Ethiopian history. And there was so much to find in the libraries, and EVERYTHING AND I MEAN ALMOST EVERYTHING WAS SUPER POMPOSLY WRITTEN IN GREAT WORDS AND PRAISES FOR THE ETHIOPIANS BY THE EUROPEANS in 1700-1980?? I was disgusted by pompusness hence I ran from it. I tried to read yemeni history in order to have an idea and also litterally read what historians have written about Eritrea there. that made much more sense to me, because it was so very much less pompus. So I disagree that there was "racism" towards Eritreans by Europeans. Sure we got poor in the later developement of the world, but we were highly regarded for being ourselves and for the history of the area.

    Please don't push in other peoples issues into our eritreans. It's not good. You have to use discernment.

  20. In regards to the loction of Arch of the Covninent being in Axum Ethiopia, many Eritrean Orthodox Christians believe in this, both in Eritrea, and the dispora. However, I've come across many Eritreans that believe the complete contrary, and their belief in this does not come from a religious perspective, but political. Let's not forget, the exact location of the Arch has not been pin- pointed until this day. Other countries across the globe claim they have it in this present day, but again their lack of evidence historically, or through religon has proved the contrary. As for seeing the Arch, in the Bible it has been told it is strictly forbiden for man to lay his eyes on the Arch, both Ethiopian and Eritrean Christian Orthodox believers practice Christianity directly from the Bible. Or perhaps you may write an article to prove that the Bible is just another fairy tale book.

  21. Can you please shut up guys .dont believe science Just know that science makes life etheir thats it

  22. Thats what i bleive tewahdo

  23. Of course fascist Italy under Mussolini had a racist agenda when they mass murdered Ethiopian civilians with mustard gas in the 1930's. The Roman "Christian" Church in Italy enacted miscegenation laws discouraging "hybrid unions" between Italian soldiers and African (Ethiopian) women.

    The church went as far to say that such "hybrid unions" had to be forbidden because of "the wise, hygienic and socially moral reasons intended by the State": the "inconvenience of a marriage between a White and a Negro", plus the "increasing moral deficiencies in the character of the children". Wikepedia

    That was the same white supremacist mentality that was used in the West. How can a people come under such brutal colonization or be warred upon in such a way and say that their conquerors so loved, adored and respected them?

  24. I am sorry but this article paints Eritrea as a separate intity from Ethiopia, we are and were the same people, there is No Eritrea with out Ethiopia in ancient times... the name might be diffrent but the people were one. Geez is the language of Ethiopia and Eritrea. And you failed to mention Amharic as a derivative of Geez. And its funny that you said shewa and wollo are oromo people, this is basically flaud, If you know about Yodit Gudit and the escape of Dilnaod (who is part of the solomonic dynasty by the way) to Shewa, the people in Shewa protected him and fought of Yodit's army. Dilnaod firSt came to Menth in Shewa, this is in the 8th century AD, and at that time the oromo did not migrate....there are oromo's there and there is inter marriage but the semetic people in shewa and wollo are the same people in Gonder, Gojam, Tigrai, and Eritrea... by the way i love the oromos and we are also brothers but i am just stating the facts... we are all brothers divided by hate both inside Ethiopia and the broader Ethiopia and Eritrea. And i belive love will bring us together. We are currently being ruled by dictators who will eventually perish. Ethiopia And Eritrea will UNITE! And our country will prosper....

  25. Ofcrouse there was racism towards the Askaris. Remember, Ertirea was created for Italy for the Italians. The Italians were fully aware that economically, Eritrea was a useless piece of real estate. Their ambition was to gain control of Ethiopia proper once they carved out Eritrea from Ethiopia. But that ambition was thwarted on the battlefield at Adowa. Italians did not consider your sorry ass as equals. They built Asmara as a European city for Italians. The likes of you, meaning your anscestors were nothing but slaves to the Italians. They called you "Askaris" which means SERVANT. You lived segregated in settlements like Aba Shawel, where after dark you and your sorry lot were quarantined every night, to come out in the morning to work the fields and clean the houses and polish the shoes of your Italian masters. You are not equal to Italians or Ethiopians. You are a sub-human, genetically inferior, mentally retarded, and emotionally volatile people. You have been so brainwashed by your Italian masters that they made you believe your enslavement is something to be proud of. Something to create a unique identity for yourself. You have no idea with what disdain and disrespect Africans perceive you. You are a humiliated lost lot. Yet, 74 years after the Italians left Eritrea, you still look at your past masters to validate your existence. Take this to your therapist and request potent meds to help you manage your existence.

  26. 67% of Ethiopians' DNA is similar to that of Armenians, Ashkenazi Jews and Norwegians. Google it. The truth is there.

  27. "Informative and factual"? Seriously?? It is delusional, falsified to fit an agenda and has more dung in it than a public toilet.


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