Friday, 24 April 2009

The Long and Winding Road to the Discovery of Cleopatra’s Tomb?

by Kathryn Hadley

Cleopatra’s tomb has never been found and its location remains uncertain.
22 bronze coins inscribed with Cleopatra’s name... An alabaster mask with a cleft chin resembling Mark Antony’s face... Shafts and tunnels beneath the temple of Taposiris Magna in Alexandria... The discovery, last week, of a nearby cemetery containing ten gilded mummies indicating the burial sites of members of the nobility…

A team of archaeologists from Egypt and the Dominican Republic believe that they may, at last, be on the path to the discovery of the tomb of Cleopatra and her lover Mark Antony. Evidence of their latest discoveries was presented, last Sunday, by Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who claimed that:
‘This could be the most important discovery of the 21st century […] This is the
perfect place for them to be hidden.’

Previous archaeological research had focused on a site in Alexandria which had been submerged by the sea in an earthquake in the 8th century. Kathleen Martinez, a Dominican Republic scholar, initiated research at the current site, situated in Burg Al Arab, 30 miles (50km) west of Alexandria. The temple, devoted to the goddess Osiris, the god of the afterlife, was built by Ptolemy II (282-246 BC). Martinez has studied the life of Cleopatra for the past 12 years and has been working on the site with her team for three years. Following a series of radar surveys in March, archaeologists discovered three chambers buried almost 20 metres underneath the rock and Martinez believes that Antony and Cleopatra may be buried together in one of the chambers.

She was quoted in an article published by Reuters at the beginning of the week:
‘[Cleopatra] needed a place to be protected in the afterlife […] If she had used
the other burial site, she would have disappeared forever.’
Martinez explained that the couple would have been buried in a temple rather than in a public burial in order to protect them from the Romans and told The Associated Press that she believed them to be buried at Taposiris Magna
‘because it was the most sacred temple of its time.’

Cleopatra allegedly committed suicide by means of an asp bite on August 12th in 30 BC, aged 39, following her and Mark Antony’s defeat against Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian. The main source for her death and burial is provided by the posthumous account of Plutarch who wrote 130 years after the event and claimed that the two loves were buried together.

Archaeologists plan to start digging as soon as possible. At the beginning of the week, however, there were fears that digs would have to be postponed until the autumn for security reasons because the site overlooks the summer residence of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak!

For further information on our perceptions of Cleopatra, read our articles Cleopatra’s Make-over and Cleopatra: From History to Myth.

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