Okay … this is a long-developing story. Last year — almost to the day — Zahi Hawass was all excited about some major underground tomb at Tabusiris Magna; it seemed to be building on something announced a couple of years before that. A month later, we were pretty much getting the same story. Then we learned that the archaeologist in charge — Kathleen Martinez — had found an alabaster head of Cleo. In June, 2008, we heard pretty much the same. Then (in an item which didn’t get much attention) Dr. Hawass was saying there was nothing remotely connected to Tony and Cleo at the site. After that, we didn’t really hear anything … until today, of course. My mailbox is overflowing with coverage of this, but as most of the info seems to stem from an AP wire story, we’ll give the incipit of one version:
Archaeologists next week will begin excavating three sites in Egypt near the Mediterranean Sea that may contain the tombs of doomed lovers, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
In a statement Wednesday, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said the three sites were identified last month during a radar survey of the temple of Taposiris Magna as part of the search for the lovers’ tombs.
The temple is located on Lake Mariut which is today called Abusir, near the northern coastal city of Alexandria, and was built during the reign of King Ptolemy II (282-246 B.C.)
Teams from Egypt and the Dominican Republic have been excavating the temple for the last three years.
The celebrated queen of Egypt and her lover, a Roman general, committed suicide after being defeated in the battle of Actium in 31 BC. Ever since, questions have lingered over where the lovers’ bodies are buried.
Excavators have also found a number of deep shafts inside the temple, three of which were possibly used for burials. The leaders of the excavation believe it’s possible Cleopatra and Mark Anthony could have been buried in a deep shaft similar those already found, according to the statement.
Last year, archaeologists at the site also unearthed a bronze statue of the goddess Aphrodite, the alabaster head of a Queen Cleopatra statue, a mask believed to belong to Mark Anthony and a headless statue from the Ptolemaic era at the excavation site.
The expedition also found 22 coins bearing Cleopatra’s image.
There’s nothing here we haven’t heard before including this mysterious “mask believed to belong to Mark Anthony”. This detail is also mentioned in a press release posted at Dr. Hawass’ site (which may be the source of the AP coverage), but is described in a bit more detail:
Among the most interesting finds is a unique mask depicting a man with a cleft chin. The face bears some similarity to known portraits of Mark Antony himself.
The mask was also mentioned in coverage last May — in a piece with a slideshow depicting the ‘alabaster statue’ (maybe), but I have still yet to see a photo of the mask. Methinks there’s some movement afoot to deflect attention from all that Arsinoe business (or perhaps build on it) …
UPDATE (04/18/09): Giles Coren has an interesting oped piece in the Times on how this drive to get the ‘truth’ (about things like Cleo, the Shroud of Turin, etc.) via archaeology “diminishes” us as humans — the idea being that we are asking questions we don’t really want the answers to. I think, however, we need to distinguish between searches for things like the tomb of Cleopatra (or even Alexander) by legitimate archaeologists from the fringe types who make the same look bad. It would also be nice if the press gave as much coverage to legitimate finds as they do to sensational claims …