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Archaeologists Believe they have Located the Tomb of Cleopatra

Ian Harvey
Could this be the tomb of Cleopatra?
Could this be the tomb of Cleopatra?

Cleopatra VII was the last ruler of the Ptolemic Dynasty of Ancient Egypt and now her tomb may have been discovered. She was born in 69 BC and famously (and allegedly) died from the bite of a poisonous asp snake in 30 BC after ruling the land for 30 years. Even these two thousand years later, she remains a figure of mystery and fascination who has been the subject of many books and films. She was a well-educated woman, and was known for her intelligence. She is also famous for her affairs with two equally-famous Romans, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, the latter of whom she was still involved with at the time of her death.

Cleopatra

A steel engraving depicting Caesar Augustus’ now lost painting of Cleopatra VII in encaustic, which was discovered at Emperor Hadrian’s Villa (near Tivoli, Italy) in 1818.

Her rule and her life came to end after Octavian, later to be Augustus Caesar, laid siege to the city of Alexandria. During the attack on Alexandria, Marc Antony heard that Cleopatra had taken her own life. It didn’t take long before more news came, saying the rumor of her death was false, but Antony had already fallen on his own sword. Cleopatra buried him and met with the victorious Octavian, then closed herself in a room with several attendants and died shortly thereafter.

Cleopatra

Posthumous portrait of Cleopatra VII of Egypt, from Herculaneum, Italy, 1st century CE.

There isn’t an unequivocal source to verify the means of her end, but some writers of the time, including Plutarch, put forth the story about committing suicide by snake bite. What is known, is that Cleopatra and Marc Antony were said to be buried together at her request. The exact location of their tomb has remained a mystery. According to a recent report in the Sun, that may be about to change.

Osiris temple Egypt

South view of the Osiris Temple in Taposiris Magna. Photo by Koantao CC by 3.0

A new documentary called “Cleopatra, Sex, Lies, and Secrets” details how a group of archaeologists have been digging at Taposiris Magna, about sixty miles from Cairo, and believe they may have found the place where the Egyptian queen was entombed. While no one has yet found her resting place, it’s long been believed that she must have been entombed near Alexandria, and Taposiris Magna is just over 30 miles from that city.

Osiris temple Egypt

North View of Taposiris Magna Osiris Temple. Photo by Koantao CC by 3.0

Dr. Kathleen Martinez, the head of the Dominican archaeological mission, is the one who put forth the theory that Taposiris Magna might be the answer to the mystery. The temple and its surrounding city constituted an important port city during that period.

Taposiris Magna

Archaeologists digging at Taposiris Magna, where they believe the tomb of Cleopatra to be. Image courtesy of the Science Channel.

The city was built over two thousand years ago, and land-penetrating radar scans of the area found evidence of a network of corridors and tunnels, as well as three structures that could be mausoleums. In the area around the temple they found evidence of 27 other tombs and 10 mummies, which may add weight to Martinez’s theory since the nobility often wanted to be entombed near their rulers.

According to the documentary, the team has discovered a tomb covered in gold leaf, which has apparently been undisturbed, that could be the ancient queen’s final resting place. Inside Egypt reported that Martinez believes that Cleopatra and Antony are buried beneath the temple of Isis and Osiris. The theory held my most scholars on the subject is that the pair had a mausoleum in the royal district of Alexandria, which included the north-eastern part of the city and is now under water.

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In the course of the exploration of the temple, she and her team found a statue which they believe represented lovers locked in an embrace, an alabaster head that came from a statue of the queen, and 22 coins with Cleopatra’s image on them. The excavation also unearthed a ceramic mask below the Isis sanctuary, which could be Marc Antony’s death mask. More details will be emerging about the potential tomb of Cleopatra being unearthed.