Page last updated at 13:19 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Zimbabwe displays 'Ark of Covenant replica'

The "ngoma lungundu" wooden vessel
The wood object is thought to be oldest ever found in sub-Saharan Africa

A wooden object claimed to be a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant has gone on display at a Zimbabwe museum.

The "ngoma lungundu" belongs to the Lemba people - black Africans who claim Jewish ancestry.

They say the vessel was built almost 700 years ago from the remains of the original Ark, which the Bible says was used to store Moses' 10 Commandments.

For decades the ancient vessel was thought to be lost, until it was found in a storeroom in Harare recently.

Tudor Parfitt, who rediscovered the artefact three years ago, told the BBC he believed it was the oldest wooden object ever found in sub-Saharan Africa.

"On each corner there is the remnants of a wooden ring, and obviously at one point, it was carried by inserting poles through these two rings on either side," he said.

"Of course in the biblical account, that's precisely how the Ark of the Covenant was carried across the wilderness."

The BBC's Steve Vickers in Harare says the vessel was unveiled to great fanfare at the city's Museum of Human Science.

Lemba leaders from across Zimbabwe attended the ceremony, along with government ministers.

Colonial officials originally put the vessel on display at a museum in Bulawayo.

It was last photographed in 1949, but during the war of independence it was hurriedly taken to Harare with other artefacts for their protection.

It was forgotten about in the move and the Lemba people thought their sacred relic had been lost.

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