Roman (?) Finds from Alexandria

Extremely vague item from Egypt Independent:

Alexandria’s antiquities department has discovered a new archaeological monument in the eastern area of the city.

Archaeologists revealed several items, including cisterns, pottery remains, and a headstone. The items were transferred to Alexandria National Museum. All items belong to the Roman era.

Mostafa Rushdy, head of Alexandria and Beheira antiquities department, said the discovery was found during an archaeological field survey to get permission for building there.

Rushy added that the discovery reflects the greatness of Alexandria, which was the second biggest city after Rome during the Roman Empire.

The item is accompanied by a photo which looks like a burial of some sort with pots that may or may not be Roman. The article itself is a translation from MENA, but I can’t track down the original source, alas …

Greco-Roman Tombs From Alexandria

… all empty, alas … Here’s the story from Al Ahram:

During routine archaeological survey at an area known as the “27 Bridge” in Al-Qabari district, one of Alexandria’s most densely populated slum areas, archaeologists stumbled upon a collection of Graeco-Roman tombs.

Each tomb is a two-storey building with a burial chamber on its first floor. The tombs are semi-immersed in subterranean water but are well preserved and still bear engravings.

Mohamed Abdel Meguid, head of Alexandria’s Antiquities Department, explained that the tombs are part of a larger cemetery known as the “Necropolis” (or City of the Dead) as described by Greek historian Strabo when he visited Egypt in 30BC. According to Strabo, the cemetery included a network of tombs containing more than 80 inscriptions, while each tomb yielded information about burial rituals of the Hellenic period.

The newly discovered collection of tombs, Abdel Meguid pointed out, is a part of the western side of the cemetery that was dedicated to the public and not to royals or nobles. The tombs are empty of funerary collections or mummies, corpses, skeletons or even pottery.

“This is a very important discovery that adds more to the archaeological map of Alexandria,” Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said, adding that the discovery would allow scientists to decipher more about the history of ancient Alexandria and would also add another tourist destination to the city.

Ibrahim said that this and similar excavations were conducted as part of archaeological inspections routinely carried out at the request of constructors who purchased the land. According to Egyptian law, every piece of land should be subject to archaeological inspection before it can be claimed as a free zone for construction.

The area was previously subject to archaeological survey in 1998 when Alexandria governorate decided to build Al-Qabari Bridge over Abdel-Qader Hamza Street in the district.

Excavation at the time uncovered more than 37 tombs, among which a very distinguished tomb bearing a coffin in the shape of a bed, commonly known as the wedding bed. On top of it was a red sheet and two pillows.

… a photo of the tombs (such as they are) accompanies the original article. I can’t help but mention here the minister of state’s comments when some Byzantine-era tombs were found in Alexandria back in April:

“It is a very important discovery that adds more detail to the archaeological map of Alexandria,” Ibrahim told Ahram Online.

… I guess even archaeological discoveries have their predigested soundbite variations …

Cleopatra’s Tomb – Latest

An excerpt from an otherwise ‘standard’ piece from ABC:

One of them is the last Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Legend has it that when the Romans entered Egypt in 30 BC and after losing the Battle of Actium, Cleopatra and her lover Mark Anthony took their own lives in order to avoid being captured by their enemies. The Romans scattered their belongings and their tomb has never been found. Archaeologists however have isolated three sites in Alexandria where they believe the tomb is located.

Three sites in Alexandria? Well, let’s be generous and say the Taposiris Magna site (some 50 km west of Alexandria) might be one of the three. Presumably another one is where that big pylon came from a few months ago. What would be the third?

This Week in Cleopatra News

Most of the press coverage this week comprised of variations on an AP piece on Franck Goddio’s explorations of the underwater ruins of Alexandria, with a special focus on Cleopatra’s palace (to coincide with the exhibition in Philadelphia). Here’s the incipit of a representative item:

Plunging into the waters off Alexandria Tuesday, divers explored the submerged ruins of a palace and temple complex from which Cleopatra ruled, swimming over heaps of limestone blocks hammered into the sea by earthquakes and tsunamis more than 1,600 years ago.

The international team is painstakingly excavating one of the richest underwater archaeological sites in the world and retrieving stunning artifacts from the last dynasty to rule over ancient Egypt before the Roman Empire annexed it in 30 B.C.

Using advanced technology, the team is surveying ancient Alexandria’s Royal Quarters, encased deep below the harbor sediment, and confirming the accuracy of descriptions of the city left by Greek geographers and historians more than 2,000 years ago.

Since the early 1990s, the topographical surveys have allowed the team, led by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, to conquer the harbor’s extremely poor visibility and excavate below the seabed. They are discovering everything from coins and everyday objects to colossal granite statues of Egypt’s rulers and sunken temples dedicated to their gods.

“It’s a unique site in the world,” said Goddio, who has spent two decades searching for shipwrecks and lost cities below the seas.

The finds from along the Egyptian coast will go on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute from June 5 to Jan. 2 in an exhibition titled “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.” The exhibition will tour several other North American cities.

Many archaeological sites have been destroyed by man, with statues cut or smashed to pieces. Alexandria’s Royal Quarters — ports, a cape and islands full of temples, palaces and military outposts — simply slid into the sea after cataclysmic earthquakes in the fourth and eighth centuries. Goddio’s team found it in 1996. Many of its treasures are completely intact, wrapped in sediment protecting them from the saltwater.

“It’s as it was when it sank,” said Ashraf Abdel-Raouf of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who is part of the team.

Tuesday’s dive explored the sprawling palace and temple complex where Cleopatra, the last of Egypt’s Greek-speaking Ptolemaic rulers, seduced the Roman general Mark Antony before they committed suicide upon their defeat by Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus. [...]

via: Divers explore sunken ruins of Cleopatra’s palace | AP via Google

A few more examples (the Daily Mail has very nice photos of some of the finds; the Yahoo link is also  slideshow):

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer was hyping the exhibition with a piece that mentioned the above briefly, but then went on about Taposiris Magna, and included some more from Dr. Hawass, inter alia:

Outside the temple, a large Ptolemaic cemetery was unearthed. Some of its many mummies were gilded, and all their heads were turned toward the temple, which Hawass said could mean an important person, or persons, were buried inside.

He didn’t venture to estimate when the team might discover the tomb itself, but said the excavation project itself was significant: While many have searched for the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria and Siwa, no one has looked for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

“We know that Cleopatra built a palace and tomb . . . but both of these are now underwater in the harbor of Alexandria,” he said. “We know from ancient writers that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. This is why we have turned our focus to the Isis temple . . .. If they were buried inside the temple, they would be symbolic of the husband and wife, Isis and Osiris, buried together.”

Hawass’ favorite piece, which he found inside the temple, is an alabaster head of Cleopatra. “When I held the head in my hand,” he said, “I felt the magic of the queen, and I imagined what it would feel like if we found the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.” [...]

via: The Last Queen of Egypt | Inquirer

I guess we have to keep in mind the item I mentioned the other day as needing to be filed away for future reference, but we are now forced to ask in which ancient source we might read that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. Is any reader of rogueclassicism aware of such? Otherwise, we might want to ponder which cognitive bias we’re being presented with by Dr. Hawass …

File This One Away for Future Reference

An excerpt from a feature on Zahi Hawass in Speigel … I don’t think comment is necessary ….

Hawass reserves the right to announce all discoveries himself. Not everyone likes this. Some people feel that he is about as interested in serious research as Rapunzel was in having her hair cut.

He boasted that there were “10,000 golden mummies” at the cemetery in Bahariya, but only 200 were found. And he mistakenly declared a shabby find in the Valley of Kings to be the gravesite of a female pharaoh.

His own excavation efforts also appear to be somewhat bizarre. For some time, the master has been searching for the body of Cleopatra in a temple near Alexandria — based on an idea suggested to him by a lawyer from the Dominican Republic.

“Are you sure about this?” a journalist wanted to know. Hawass replied: “Completely, otherwise I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. After all, I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

When nothing was found, despite feverish excavation efforts, Hawass took a granite bust of Cleopatra’s lover, Mark Antony, from a museum last year and pretended that he had just pulled it out of the ground.

via Zahi Hawass: Egypt’s Avenger of the Pharaohs | Speigel Online.

Citanda: Cleopatra Podcast Series: Day 1

Black basalt statue of Ptolemaic queen Cleopat...
Image via Wikipedia

The Oxford University Press blog seems to be running a series of podcasts about Cleopatra over the next few days (?). In this first installment, we have an interviewish thing with Duane Roller, who, of course, has recently written a biography of our favourite Alexandrian.

Hellenistic Tombs

Haven’t heard of any reports of this in any greater detail, alas:

Eight tombs dating to the Hellenist Period were partially revealed recently in the region of Gonous, Larissa prefecture, after flooding caused by heavy rainfall swept away a rural dirt road.

The Archaeological Service subsequently conducted an excavation, which brought to light the tombs which, according to initial assessment, date back to between the end of the 4th century BC and the beginning of the 3rd century BC.

Of the eight tombs, only one is intact.

via Hellenistic Period tombs unearthed by torrential rainfall | ANA.

“Alexander” from Alexandria followup

Putting together Explorator I note that Al Alhram has a much better photo of the  statue we mentioned last week (as part of a montage of photos of recent finds in Egypt):

Photo from Al Ahram

Photo from Al Ahram

Sorry … that’s an athlete in the midst of his athleting; it’s a stretch to make that into an Alexander, no matter what the hair might suggest.

Cleo’s ‘Tomb’ ~ Further Thoughts

This one’s starting to bother me, even though I’ve now seen the ‘mask’ being identified with varying degrees of certainty as ‘possibly’ Marcus Antonius. A correspondent sends in a nice video from the site (from a German version of Reuters; the video is in English), which I can’t embed, so here’s the link. What I find interesting here is that a year ago Zahi Hawass had the alabaster head and mask available to him and by June was saying in Al Ahram that “We have found nothing that indicates the presence of Cleopatra’s or Anthony’s tomb.” In the video, what appears to be causing Hawass’ change of face is the discovery of twenty or so rockcut tomb/burials near the temple, which he believes indicates the presence of the burial of someone “important” nearby. We then get a very good example of petitio principis in the claim that “no one would be buried beside a temple without a reason”. Let’s see, Dr. Hawass … do you think the connection between Isis and the burial/resurrection of some other well-known Egyptian divinity might not cause folks to want to be buried near her temple if possible (why is Augustus’ mausoleum in the same general area as the Isaeum in the Campus Martius, he said, thinking out loud. I’ll track that one down later)?  Why do these burials have to be connected to Tony and Cleo? Then come the artifacts found last year … we’ll note in passing that it’s interesting that the alabaster head has a hole drilled in it (why?).

That said, I’ve had correspondence with various folks (who desire to remain anonymous) on this and another question which seems to be bothering folks is the nature of the non-Hawass archaeologist’s — i.e. Kathleen Martinez’ –  qualifications. An AFP piece has also recently landed in my mailbox which makes you go hmmmmm:

The team, led by antiquities chief Zahi Hawass and Kathleen Martinez, an Egyptologist from the Dominican Republic, hopes that the site around the ancient temple of Taposiris Magna, erected to honour the Egyptian god Isis in around 300 BC, will soon reveal the legendary lovers’ final resting place.
The team has worked there for three years — the latest in a chain of digs since an expedition by Napoleon in the 19th century.
Martinez says that the find of a carved male head, a fragment of a mask with a cleft-chin, coins and other artifacts prove that this is Anthony’s burial site.
And she is convinced that Cleopatra’s body also lies somewhere on this rocky outcrop overlooking the Mediterranean, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Alexandria.
“There are historic proofs in the works of (Roman chronicler) Plutarch where he says Cleopatra was buried with Mark Anthony,” Martinez said.
A lawyer by training, Martinez said that trying to unravel the fate of the doomed lovers began as a hobby but has now become what Hawass said could be “one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century.”
Martinez said she “always had the conviction that the tomb of Anthony and Cleopatra was in this temple. We have been looking for the right tunnels, but so far we have only found the entrance to other chambers.
“I studied Cleopatra for 14 years, and I came up with the idea that her death was a religious act, to be bitten by this asp and buried in this temple, so I started searching for the temple,” she said.
“She couldn’t be buried in a different place from Mark Anthony and be protected by Isis.”
The theory was initially disparaged by experts, and after five years of research, it took another year for Martinez to get approval to dig.
But today even Egypt’s antiquities supremo Hawass enthusiastically endorses the hypothesis, which could lead to the greatest discovery in the country since Howard Carter found the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun in 1922.
Martinez admitted that “beginner’s luck” may have played a part, as her team found a major clue in the form of a clay fragment linking the site to Isis just inches from where Hungarian archaeologists stopped working four years ago.
Using ground-penetrating radar, her own expedition discovered two large subterranean chambers and an intriguing passageway.

Well at least she wasn’t guided by snakes, but I’m finding it difficult to follow all the claims of evidence we’re being given now; Hawass’ petitio principis is building on Martinez’. And all of a sudden we’re hearing about a “carved male head” — photo please. And as for this “clay fragment” linking the site to Isis, that’s a first as well. It might be salutary to reference a National Geographic photo that was circulating last May:

National Geographic Photo

National Geographic Photo

The item in the upper left was identified as a bronze statue of Aphrodite (and, of course, Aphrodite and Isis are equatable); why isn’t that being mentioned in this context?

Whatever the case, one of my anonymous correspondents also suggests checking out Vörös, Gyozo (ed.), Taposiris Magna, (Egypt Excavation Society of Hungary  Publications).  My correspondent recalls an “Isis” (as it’s “identified” there) having previously “published” in one of the volumes and is now in  the possession of Martinez. I have no access to this, so if anyone out there would like to wade in on this, please leave a comment (or drop me a line if you wish your comments to remain anonymous).

Cleo’s Tomb Update: the Anthony Photo

This just in as I’m putting together Explorator … Reuters has entered the ‘Cleopatra’s Tomb’ hype with an article that includes an interesting slide show, among which is:

Reuters Photo

Reuters Photo

… presumably the alabaster Cleopatra, the coins, and — most importantly — the mask I’ve been curious about for over a year. Here’s another photo with the mask in the hands of an omnipresent Egyptologist:

Reuters Photo

Reuters Photo

The cleft in the chin is what is being used to tie this to Marcus Antonius, apparently.  So let’s compare … here’s a damaged bust which is possibly MA:

From UTexas

From UTexas

The cleft is definitely there … what I find interesting though, is that a granite statue identified as Marcus Antonius in the Greco Roman Museum in Alexandria (which I can’t find a ‘free’ photo of) doesn’t have this cleft. Some revisionism will be necessary either way, I suspect.

Cleopatra’s Tomb Again!!

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 …

Unsubmerging Alexandria

We’ve heard about this one before and it’s back (coincidentally, so is the piece which is below this one). Excerpts from a piece in the Guardian:

Some of the world’s most exciting sunken treasures could soon be on view after Egypt confirmed plans to build a giant underwater museum in the Mediterranean.

But as preparation begins on the site of Cleopatra’s Palace in Alexandria, funding and technical problems are proving as divisive and controversial as the famed queen herself.

[...]

Remnants of Queen Cleopatra’s palace complex are also submerged beneath the waves, after the island on which it stood fell victim to earthquakes in the 5th century.

Now ambitious but controversial plans are under way to open up this unique site via an immersed fibreglass tunnel which would enable close-up viewing of the underwater monuments. The designs were drawn up by the French architect Jacques Rougerie, a veteran of water-based construction projects, and have been backed by the United Nations cultural agency Unesco.

Next month a detailed technical survey will be launched. “If all goes according to plan, construction will begin in early 2010 and be completed within two and half years,” says Ariel Fuchs, a scientific director at Rougerie’s firm.

The idea is also being promoted by the high-profile marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, who is currently touring Europe with a selection of artefacts already dredged up from the Alexandrian coastline.

Yet the project is running into obstacles. Funding for the museum, which will cost up to $140m (£98m), has not yet been secured.

I hae me doots about the feasibility of this one … I think Goddio could be doing something more useful.