The Search for Cleopatra’s Tomb Redux

With a Cleopatra exhibition about to hit Philadelphia and plenty of hype to be associated with it (if it isn’t already), it seems like a good time to see what — if any — developments there have been in the search for Cleopatra’s tomb. To bring folks up to speed, after finds of statuary linked to Cleopatra and (purportedly) Marcus Antonius, the folks at Taposiris Magna were forced to shut down operations last July because the President was summering in the area vel simm. Digging resumed (apparently) in October. In November we had a semi-coherent piece about the woman in charge of this particular dig — Kathleen Martinez — and it seemed to be treading a fine line between a link to Ptolemy and ‘Cleopatra’s Tomb’. Our November update also had links to most of our previous coverage.

Now we can get to some ‘new’ stuff. Back in December, I never got around to posting about the discovery/raising of some monumental gateway associated with Cleopatra’s palace complex from the waters off Alexandria. Here’s a bit from the Guardian:

A team of Greek marine archaeologists who have spent years conducting underwater excavations off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt have unearthed a giant granite threshold to a door that they believe was once the entrance to a magnificent mausoleum that Cleopatra VII, queen of the Egyptians, had built for herself shortly before her death.

They believe the 15-tonne antiquity would have held a seven metre-high door so heavy that it would have prevented the queen from consoling her Roman lover before he died, reputedly in 30BC.

“As soon as I saw it, I thought we are in the presence of a very special piece of a very special door,” Harry Tzalas, the historian who heads the Greek mission, said. “There was no way that such a heavy piece, with fittings for double hinges and double doors, could have moved with the waves so there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to the mausoleum. Like Macedonian tomb doors, when it closed, it closed for good.”

Tzalas believes the discovery of the threshold sheds new light on an element of the couple’s dying hours which has long eluded historians.

In the first century AD the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Mark Antony, after being wrongly informed that Cleopatra had killed herself, had tried to take his own life. When the dying general expressed his wish to pass away alongside his mistress, who was hiding inside the mausoleum with her ladies-in-waiting, he was “hoisted with chains and ropes” to the building’s upper floor so that he could be brought in to the building through a window.

Plutarch wrote, “when closed the [mausoleum's] door mechanism could not open again”. The discovery in the Mediterranean Sea of such huge pieces of masonry at the entrance to what is believed to be the mausoleum would explain the historian’s line. Tzalas said: “For years, archaeologists have wondered what Plutarch, a very reliable historian, meant by that. And now, finally, I think we have the answer.

“Allowing a dying man to be hoisted on ropes was not a very nice, or comforting thing to do, but Cleopatra couldn’t do otherwise. She was there only with females and they simply couldn’t open such a heavy door.”

The threshold, part of the sunken palace complex in which Cleopatra is believed to have died, was discovered recently at a depth of eight metres but only revealed this week. It has yet to be brought to the surface.

The archaeologists have also recovered a nine-tonne granite block which they believe formed part of a portico belonging to the adjoining temple of Isis Lochias. “We believe it was part of the complex surrounding Cleopatra’s palace,” said Zahi Hawas, Egypt’s top archaeologist. “This is an important part of Alexandria’s history and brings us closer to knowing more about the ancient city.”

[...]

Here’s a bit more detail from al Ahram:

[...]

Ibrahim Darwish, head of museums in Alexandria and one of the archaeologist-divers, said the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias and was located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s mausoleum stood near this temple. A door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered there in 1998.

Archaeologist Harry Tzalas, who headed the 1998 underwater archaeological mission, told the Weekly that the lifted pylon was the most important artefact found in the submerged Royal Quarter as it is a symbol of an amalgamation of Greek and Pharaonic architectural styles. Tzalas pointed out that since the pylon, which is cut in the ancient Egyptian architectural style, was found at the entrance of the Greek temple of Isis Lochias, and shows that some of the monuments of Alexandria were not only in the Graeco-Roman style but Pharaonic as well.

Although the Eastern Harbour is the place where Mark Anthony died after being defeated by Octavian, and where Cleopatra tragically ended her life, Tzalas said, the couple were not buried there. He explained that the Cleopatra mausoleum was being built near the Isis temple but was not ready when she died, and she was not buried there.

[...]

The AP coverage — which has largely disappeared from the interwebs, alas — included a nice little paragraph, inter alia:

Hawass has already launched another high-profile dig connected to Cleopatra. In April, he said he hopes to find the long-lost tomb of Antony and Cleopatra – and that he believes it may be inside a temple of Osiris located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Alexandria.

More coverage:

Now here’s where I was confused — and was hoping for clarification (which is why I didn’t immediately post all that) which never came — because it appeared that we had one archaeologist saying they had found something known to be near the actual tomb of Cleopatra while the Supreme Council of Antiquities head was still saying things about Taposiris Magna. Further adding to the confusion was an excerpt from Dr. Hawass’ blog at the time:

The Greek expedition was able to recognize the artifacts, and they worked in cooperation with the Department of Underwater Antiquities of Alexandria at the coastal area of Chatby. The two most important of the 400 the Greek mission found are the 9-ton pylon tower, and the 15-ton threshold of a door. Both are made of granite and are of great historical importance in reconstructing the great city of ancient Alexandria. Ancient authors such as Plutarch and Strabo write about Cleopatra’s palace being located in this area, with her mausoleum and a temple of Isis right next to it. It seems likely that this pylon tower was for that temple of Isis, since it was the only temple in the area, and the threshold, which was found very near to it, could be for the door of Cleopatra’s tomb.

… and one from an associated press release:

According to Harry Tzalas who headed the 1998 mission, the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s Mausoleum was near this temple – a door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered in 1998.

At the eastern harbor is where Mark Antony died after being defeated by Octavian. It is also where Cleopatra tragically ended her life. However, we do not think the couple was buried here.

Why not? Why not? Why not? Much of the coverage mentioned below also claims ‘evidence’ that the couple wasn’t buried in Alexandria, but the details are lacking.

In any event the ‘latest’ discovery at Taposiris Magna is being touted as the latest ‘evidence’ of Cleo’s tomb being there. Indeed, just a quick overview of some of the headlines might give you the impression that it has definitely been found, e.g.:

What has been discovered in the past week or so is a headless statue of one of the Ptolemies (Ptolemy IV is apparently the likeliest candidate). The Independent’s reportage is more representative of the more reasonable coverage of this find:

Archaeologists excavating at Taposiris Magna, a site west of Alexandria, have discovered a huge headless granite statue of a Ptolemaic king, and the original gate to a temple dedicated to the god Osiris.

In a statement issued by the SCA, Dr Zahi Hawass says that the monumental sculpture, which is a traditional figure of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh wearing collar and kilt, could represent Ptolemy IV, the pharaoh who constructed the Taposiris Magna temple. He added that the statue is very well preserved and might be one of the most beautiful statues carved in the ancient Egyptian style.

The joint Egyptian-Dominican team working at Taposiris Magna discovered the temple’s original gate on its western side. In pharaonic Egypt the temple was named Per-Usir, meaning ‘A place of Osiris’. Legend has it that when the god Seth killed Osiris he cut him into fourteen pieces and threw them all over Egypt. This is one of fourteen temples said to contain one piece of the god’s body.

The team also found limestone foundation stones, which would once have lined the entrance to the temple. One of these bears traces indicating that the entrance was lined with a series of Sphinx statues similar to those of the pharaonic era.

The team, led by Dr Kathleen Martinez, began excavations in Taposiris Magna five years ago in an attempt to locate the tomb of the well-known lovers, Queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony. There is some evidence that suggests that Egypt’s last Queen might not be buried inside the tomb built beside her royal palace, which is now under the eastern harbour of Alexandria.

Dr Hawass pointed out that in the past five years the mission has discovered a collection of headless royal statues, which may have been subjected to destruction during the Byzantine and Christian eras. A collection of heads featuring Queen Cleopatra was also uncovered along with 24 metal coins bearing Cleopatra’s face.

Behind the temple, a necropolis was discovered, containing many Greco-Roman style mummies. Early investigations, said Dr Hawass, show that the mummies were buried with their faces turned towards the temple, which means it is likely the temple contained the burial of a significant royal personality, possibly Cleopatra VII.

cf:

A related report in VOA includes a paragraph which gives us a glimpse, I think, of why folks might be tenaciously clinging to this Taposiris theory:

The idea of Taposiris as the burial place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, who killed themselves rather than submit to Antony’s rival Octavian, was proposed by a young Dominican archeologist, Kathleen Martinez. She tries to evoke the couple’s last days, the end of Egypt as an empire. “She has to choose a place that she must be safe after life,” she says, because “the Romans hated her so much, they will search for her body and they will destroy it.”

… which, of course, is interesting insofar as the Romans (at the official level) don’t seem to have ever had a problem with allowing burials. It was the mob who did the inter Tiberim sort of thing. But getting back to the ‘responsible coverage’ , much of it echoes what is found in a press release at Hawass’ blog. What’s more interesting, however, is the concluding paragraph in the aforementioned Independent piece,  which includes something not in the press release:

Dr Hawass has already hailed the dig as a success, whatever the outcome: “If we discover the tomb… it will be the most important discovery of the 21st century. If we do not discover the tomb… we made major discoveries here, inside the temple and outside the temple.”

Seems like Dr. Hawass is leaving the door open to back away from the Taposiris-as-tomb-site theory, no? Whatever the case, it’s increasingly starting to look like the ‘evidence’ that is preventing them from choosing the more logical site for Cleo’s tomb (in Alexandria) is the ‘non evidence’ from Taposiris Magna. I seem to hear the sound of hammers being applied to evidence …

Ancient Greek ‘Austerity’

Location of Pieria Prefecture in Greece
Image via Wikipedia

In the wake of all that Greek ‘stuff’ that’s been happening comes an interesting item on a Greek precedent for ‘austerity’:

Ancient Greeks at the end of the 4th century BC apparently went through a period of austerity and curtailment of wasteful spending similar to that Greece is facing today, according to finds in tombs in Ancient Pydna recently brought to light by excavations conducted by the 27th Ephorate of Prehistorical and Classical Antiquities.

A recovery excavation in a land plot destined for the installation of a photovoltaic unit in the northwestern section of the fortified settlement of Ancient Pydna (in the present-day prefecture of Pieria) revealed two clusters of tombs dating back to the 4th and 3rd century BC respectively. The unviolated tombs bear witness to the passage from the age of wealth to an era of economic tightness in a region of strategic importance that was the most significant commercial center of the Macedonian kingdom.

At the end of the 4th century BC, Athenian custodian Demetrios Falireus, appointed by King Cassander of Macedon, issues a decree prohibiting the erection of opulent tombs or funeral monuments, and recommending curtailment of extravagance in funerary rituals. Thus, the 4th century BC tombs are impressive and ornately built, while those of the 3rd century BC are smaller and more frugal, deputy supervisor of the Pydna excavations Manthos Bessios told ANA-MPA.

Thus, where the 4th century tombs contained offerings made of precious materials, such as gold jewelry, elaborate vases and ivory-plated beds, the 3rd century BC tombs were smaller, less elaborate, and contained instead offerings of more mundane materials, such as clay, although both clusters of tombs were of men, women and children of the affluent social class.

via 3rd century BC Greeks went through austerity period | ANA.

The ANA coverage is alone in citing Demetrius Phalereus as the author of the decree in question … but as far as I’m aware, Demetrius was in charge of Athens. Was Pydna also part of Demetrius’ decree? Or has something been lost in translation here?

More coverage:

On Satyrs, Serpents, and Laocoon

I find this to be VERY interesting … Art Daily (one of my favourite daily reads, by the way) today informs us in a couple of excerpts:

On 11 June 2010 Sotheby’s New York will offer for sale a rediscovered antiquity from the collection of one of the greatest arts patrons of all time – Lorenzo de’ Medici. Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent, Roman Imperial, circa 1st century A.D., is the only ancient sculpture confirmed to have been in ‘il Magnifico’s’ collection and it is estimated to sell for $300/500,000* when it is offered in Sotheby’s spring sale of Antiquities. Letters written to Lorenzo by his agents reveal that the marble group was excavated in Rome in early 1489 from the same location where several ancient sculptures, including the renowned Apollo Belvedere, had recently been discovered. Following Lorenzo’s death, the satyr group disappeared for 350 years until its reappearance in a private collection on the Dalmatian coast (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) circa 1857. While the work was published in the late 1930s and a plaster cast created (now at the University Museum in Graz), the whereabouts of the original ancient group were unknown for several decades, until a Sotheby’s representative happened upon it earlier this year in an Austrian Family Collection. It had descended in the family of the collector who had acquired it circa 1857 and they had become unaware of its acclaim. The present group will be on view at Sotheby’s New York from 5 -10 June, prior to its sale on 11 June 2010.

Lorenzo de’ Medici played a pivotal role in the Italian Renaissance, particularly in the renewal of interest in antiquity, and gathered a significant collection of ancient art. Recently published letters dating to 1489 indicate that Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent was excavated from the gardens of the convent of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna on the Viminal Hill in Rome in early 1489. The marble group left Rome for Florence, destined for Lorenzo’s collection, on the morning of 13 February, packed in a crate and strapped to a mule. In a letter from the same day, Lorenzo’s agent describes the group of satyrs as “three beautiful fauns on a small marble base, all three bound together by a great snake… and even if one cannot hear their voices they seem to breathe, cry out and defend themselves with wonderful gestures; that one in the middle you see almost falling down and expiring.” (L. Fusco and G. Corti, Lorenzo de Medici: Collector and Antiquarian, Cambridge, 2006).

So far, so good … now here’s a photo of the group (via Art Daily; it doesn’t seem to be up at Sotheby’s site yet):

Now I know what you’re thinking … that looks an awful lot like:

Wikimedia Commons

Then the Art Daily item goes on to say (emphasis mine):

Lorenzo de Medici created an informal academy where he encouraged his court artists, including the Renaissance masters Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Michelangelo Buonarroti, to study from classical antiquity. Striking evidence of the influence of Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent on artists in Lorenzo’s circle can be found in at least two works: Michelangelo’s marble relief entitled “Battle of the Centaurs” circa 1490 1492, now at the Casa Buonarroti in Florence, and Pollaiuolo’s engraving “Battle of the Nudes” circa 1489, the finest impression of which is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Here’s the ‘Battle of the Centaurs’ thing:

Wikimedia Commons

via Sotheby’s to Sell Rediscovered Antiquity from The Collection of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The most ‘obvious’ link is that ‘hand grasping behind the head’ pose, in the Satyrs piece, the Centaur relief, and, interestingly enough, in the Laocoon (I’m sure folks can see others as well). Back in 2005, we  mentioned Lynn Catterson’s theory that the Laocoon was faked by Michelangelo and wondered ‘aloud’ a year or so later at the apparent lack of scholarly reaction to the theory. Given that the discovery of the Laocoon was in (we are told) 1506, and with  this item (and this predates it by quite a bit) I think we need to wonder aloud again …

UPDATE (a few moments later):

Just came across this nice pdf of an item from 2005:

Dacian Kilns

Can’t find that I’ve mentioned this one yet:

The Head of the Archaeology Department in Satu Mare County Museum Robert Gindele, said on Monday that following the process of gradiometre examination of the lands in the area, around 100 ovens were discovered underground, at a couple of tens of centimetres depth. ‘The ovens were used to make pots for supply, they have more than 2-metre diameter and are unique. I believe what we have here is the largest pottery centre in Central Europe and even Western Europe maybe. They date back from 100 AD to 350 AD,’ said Gindele.

The archaeologists hope to be able to start digging this spring in order to unearth the ovens. Gindele believes that once the digging starts, earthenware pots made in these ovens will be discovered which will provide useful information on the culture of those times. The first research activities showed that this area would have hosted some kind of complex of pots and jars production. In 1964 in Mediesu Aurit, 16 Dacian identical ovens used to burn ceramics were discovered, and they were transferred to the Satu Mare County Museum patrimony.

via Around 100 Dacian ovens discovered at Mediesu Aurit | Financiarul.

Classical Lena Horne

Lena Horne

Lena Horne via last.fm

While I heard of  the amazing Lena Horne‘s passing the usual way folks do these days — via Twitter — it was interesting that she turned up in something fetched by my spiders:

“There was Helen of Troy and then Lena Horne,” choreographer Agnes de Mille said of Horne at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in 1984. “It’s her magic. I have seen people lean out of their seats to watch her.”

via Lena Horne, Jazz Singer Who Broke Color Barriers, Dies at 92 – Bloomberg.com.

Further investigation found that this wasn’t the first time Ms. Horne was compared to the face that launched a thousand ships; back in 1980, Jet Magazine made the same comparison, but sadly ascribed to Homer something more Marlowesque … still, Lena was definitely in the Helen category …

What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?

Well, Reg, they are helping in neutrino research:

Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics, at its laboratories in Gran Sasso, has received 120 lead bricks from an ancient Roman ship that sunk off of the coast of Sardinia 2,000 years ago. The ship’s cargo was recovered 20 years ago, thanks to the contribution of the INFN, which at the time received 150 of these bricks. The INFN is now receiving additional bricks to complete the shield for the CUORE experiment, which is being conducted to study extremely rare events involving neutrinos. After 2,000 years under the sea, this lead will now be used to perform a task 1,400 metres under the Apennine mountain.

The National Laboratories of Gran Sasso (LNGS) of Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) has received 120 2,000-year-old lead bricks from the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari in Sardinia. The lead bricks, together with the ship that transported them, had remained in the sea for 2,000 years, which reduced by approximately 100,000 times the albeit very low original radioactivity represented by one of its radionuclides, lead-210. In fact, lead-210 has a half-life of 22 years, so that by now it has practically disappeared in the bricks.

It is precisely this characteristic that makes the lead extremely useful, in that it can be used to perfectly shield experiments of extreme precision, such as those conducted in the underground INFN laboratories in Gran Sasso. After 2,000 years under the sea, this lead will now be used to perform a task 1,400 metres under the Apennine mountain.

The part of the bricks that is “adorned” with inscriptions will be removed and conserved, whereas the remaining part will be cleaned of incrustations and melted to construct a shield for the international experiment CUORE, a study on neutrinos, whose discoveries could contribute to the knowledge of this elusive particle and of the evolution of the Universe.

Moreover, the INFN will perform important precise measures on the lead (and possibly on the copper found on the ship), to study the materials used in the Bronze Age.

The lead bricks were made available as the result of a 20-year collaboration involving the INFN, its facilities in Cagliari, and the Archaeological Superintendency of Cagliari, with the support of the General Direction of Antiquity. As part of this collaboration, 20 years ago the INFN contributed 300 million lira for the excavation of the ship and the recovery of its cargo.

The INFN would like to thank the superintendents Drs. Fulvia Lo Schiavo and Marco Minoja, as well as Doctor Donatella Salvi, for their collaboration.

“The commander of that ship would certainly never have imagined that the lead would be used 2,000 years later for something that had to do with the Universe and the stars” – comments INFN President Roberto Petronzio – “History and Science can now speak to one another across the centuries, thanks to the research in High-Energy Physics”.

“This lead,” – explains Professor Ettore Fiorini – “which is responsible for the CUORE experiment, represents an extremely important material for shielding the apparatuses used to conduct research on rare events – a material that must be totally free of radioactive contamination”.

Lucia Votano, Director of the INFN laboratories in Gran Sasso, explains that “it’s great and unique that the most advanced and innovative technologies must rely on archaeology and the technology of the ancient Romans. The ancient lead recoverd from the bottom of the sea will be essential for protecting the experiment from natural radioactivity, which could obscure the rare process of neutrinoless double beta decay”.

via: Lead from a Roman ship to be used for hunting neutrinos | Physorg

More Coverage:

And just in case you missed the reference in my intro (although I doubt my regular readers are in that category):

Survey in the Wake of Floods in West Cumbria

Location of Cumbria in England
Image via Wikipedia

Roman finds uncovered by the floods of last November have excited archaeologists – and are set for a major investigation.

The remains of a Roman fort at Papcastle have been open for several years, but nobody has ever known the shape of local roads, the size of the civilian settlement attached to it, where the river Derwent ran and where it was crossed, or where the site’s cemetery was located.

However, the floods which devastated Cockermouth last year also washed up several fragments of pottery, carved stone and possible architectural remains on the opposite side of the Derwent from Papcastle, giving new hope that some of the area’s ancient mysteries could soon be uncovered.

Now, archaeologists from Grampus Heritage and Training are to launch a survey of the land around where the finds appeared, and hope to find the remains of buildings, roads, and signs of occupation.

Using magnetometers – instruments that can detect buried walls – exploration will centre on fields alongside the River Derwent.

Project leader Mark Graham said the finds were exciting and could illustrate the size and shape of the domestic area around the fort.

He said: “A considerable amount of pottery has been found post floods. We’ve always suspected the Romans had some sort of river crossing at Papcastle. Hopefully, our searches might provide some answers.

“The field we are starting in is on the opposite side of the field from Papcastle – that may be evidence of a river crossing, or it may be that the course of river has moved and the site where we are looking was on the same side. We don’t really know the road layout around there, we don’t know where the cemetery was.”

Channel Four’s Time Team had looked at an area around Papcastle, but never as far from the fort remains as the new finds.

And there has never been a systematic geophysical investigation, but the new project will see magnetometers – instruments that can detect buried walls – used to survey a large area near where the finds were made.

Mr Graham added: “We will see if we can see into the soil. The logical next step would then be targeted excavation, with landowner permission, of particular features. We can’t guarantee the survey will produce anything, but by the end of June we should have an idea of how successful it has been.”

Volunteers are being sought to help with the investigation, details from which will form part of the county’s archaeological record.

Fieldwork takes place from May 24 to 28.

via West Cumbria floods uncover Roman finds prompting major probe | News & Star.