Archaeologists looking for the tombs of Antony and Cleopatra will start digging up three sites at a temple where tombs may be located, said Egypt’s antiquities authority. After a radar survey of the temple of Taposiris Magna, west of Alexandria, Egypt, was completed last month as part of the search for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, the team believes they’re only one step further from finding precious remains.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) expedition excavating the temple and its surrounding area is headed by Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA, and Dr. Kathleen Martinez, a scholar from the Dominican Republic.
Hawass said that joint efforts by Egypt and the Dominican Republic on the excavation of the temple have been ongoing for about three years. The recent radar survey is the most significant step taken by the team to date. It was carried out by an Egyptian expert radar team with American Dr. Roger Vickers serving as a consultant. The radar revealed three possible areas of interest where a tomb may be located. The mission has received the results of the survey, and will begin excavating each of these three places of interest next week.
The most important recent development at Taposiris Magna has been the discovery of a large, previously unknown cemetery outside the temple enclosure. The expedition has found 27 tombs, 20 of them shaped like vaulted sarcophagi, partly underground and partly above ground. The remaining seven consist of staircases leading to simple burial chambers. Inside these tombs, the team has found a total of 10 mummies, two of them gilded. The discovery of this cemetery indicates that an important person, likely of royal status, could be buried inside the temple. It was common for officials and other high-status individuals in Egypt to construct their tombs close to those of their rulers throughout the Pharaonic period. The style of the newly discovered tombs indicates that they were built during the Greco-Roman period.
Martinez said that the expedition has excavated a temple at Taposiris Magna dedicated to the goddess Isis, and discovered coins depicting the face of Alexander the Great. They have found a number of deep shafts inside the temple, three of which seem to have been used for burials. It is possible that these shafts were the tombs of important people, and the team’s leaders believe that Cleopatra and Mark Antony could have been buried in a deep shaft similar to those already discovered inside the temple.
Dr. Hawass said that the expedition has so far found a beautiful alabaster bust/head of Cleopatra, along with 22 coins bearing her image. The statue and coins show her as a beauty, contradicting the idea recently suggested by an English museum curator that the queen was quite ugly.
Finds from Taposiris reflect a charm that could have captured the hearts of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, and indicate that Cleopatra was in no way unattractive, said Hawass. Moreover, the features of the sculpted head show no signs of African ancestry, contradicting a recently advanced theory. The team has also found many amulets along with a beautiful headless statue dating to the Ptolemaic Period. Among the most interesting finds is a unique funerary mask depicting a man with a cleft chin. The face bears some similarity to known portraits of Mark Antony himself.
Antony and Cleopatra, whose relationship was later immortalized by William Shakespeare and set on-screen with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, could have been buried in a deep shaft in a temple near the Mediterranean Sea. The lovers committed suicide in 30 BC after being defeated in the battle of Actium. Mark Antony is said to have killed himself with his sword, while Cleopatra is believed to have clutched a poisonous asp to her chest.