Renowned archaeologist Franck Goddio talks with podcast host Steve Mirsky [below] about his efforts to recover artifacts from the ancient cities of Alexandria, Heracleion and Canopus, with special attention to discoveries related to Cleopatra and her reign. The exhibit Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt opens at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on June 5th. Web sites related to this episode include http://www.underwaterdiscovery.org
hmmmmmmmmm, he grumbled, Marge Simpson-like:
In a “cougars we love” photo essay, the Women on the Web internet site champions Cleopatra for cradle snatching her younger brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV.
Here’s the latest semi-coherent press coverage from Dominican Today, presented in its entirety lest I forget to add it to the record:
“That’s the mystery of the past, we’ve found doors as small as 20 by 20 centimeters which lead to great chambers,” revealed the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, regarding the search for Cleopatra’s tomb by a Dominican-Egyptian team.
Zahi Hawas is in the country to receive a decoration in the National Palace and a Doctorate degree from the Catholic University of Santo Domingo in the company of Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez, who leads the team which searches for Cleopatra’s tomb.
“So far only 30 percent of archaeological artifacts and tombs have bee found,” Hawas said of the investigation in his country, despite the constant excavations by teams from around the world. “But with cameras we can now see what’s behind those magic walls.”
The Egyptian scholar said Egypt’s Government seeks to assure that the excavations are transparent and allow people around the world can observe the work. “We also use National Geographic so that everyone can see what we’re doing,” he said Wednesday morning in an interview on Telesistema Channel 11.
A Dominican’s dream
“I saw that it was a dream of Kathleen, I then realized that the place had to be important since no one would have built anything there unless it was for an important figure,” Mawas said.
Whereas Martinez, an attorney-turned-archaeologist who’s proud to proclaim that her work is part of a larger effort by a Dominican-Egyptian team, noted that she convinced the Supreme Council of Antiquities to let her look for Ptolemy’s Temple, near Alexandria, where she’s convinced she’ll come across one of Egypt’s most enduring secrets. “I know inside that I’m close to finding Cleopatra’s tomb.”
She said with Hawas’ support, she has found the largest mummy tomb uncovered so far and among the important sites found, she noted that of the Taposisirs Magna, or the temple of Osiris, and Isis, determined from the gathered evidence in Greek script, which she said reveal the link to Ptolemy
“I halted the Louvre museum’s excavations until they return five Egyptian paintings which they did, and so far 5,000 artifacts have been returned from around the world,” he said, adding that he’s also working for the return of five unique pieces, such as the Nefertiti bust and a Rosetta stone in London’s museum. “I’ve centered by demand on Nefertiti’s bust.”
The scholar also invited the hosts of the Telesistema program El Dia, Huchi Lora and Patricia Solano, to transmit the excavation live via Egyptian satellite “to see all the artifacts we’ve found,” whereas Lora invited the scholar to visit the country for a conference on January.
FWIW … Here’s our previous coverage:
- Search for Cleopatra’s Tomb to Resume (October 4, 2009)
- Cleopatra Tomb Update (July 28, 2009)
- Cleopatra’s Tomb Update (sort of) (July 7, 2009)
- Cleo’s ‘Tomb’ ~ Further Thoughts (April 19, 2009)
- Cleo’s Tomb Update: the Anthony Photo (ditto)
- Cleopatra’s Tomb Again!!
The last one there has links to previous coverage of this story (which features another non-archaeologist) …
Just so you know … from RIA Novosti:
Egyptian archeologists will carry out new explorations in October to search for the tombs of Cleopatra and her beloved Mark Antony, the head of Egypt’s Higher Council of Antiquities said on Monday.
“One of the most important projects is to find the tombs of the famous pharaoh Cleopatra, the seventh in the Ptolemy dynasty, and Mark Antony. These tombs might be located in the city of Taposiris Magna, 50 kilometers from Alexandria,” Zahi Hawas said at a news conference in Moscow.
Hawas, who is leading the expedition, said statues of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, coins bearing Cleopatra’s image and a large number of tombs had been found next to a temple where the couple might be buried.
“These necropolises on both sides of the temple in Taposiris Magna are important evidence that high representatives of the royal family were buried in the temple,” Hawas said.
He said his team would carry out their work in the middle of October, at which time they could find evidence to support their theory.
The archaeologist added that most Egyptian treasures have yet to be found, despite many years of excavations, as only 30% of sites have been explored.
“Seventy percent remain underground. The problem is that all these monuments are under buildings,” he said.
Hawas also said that Egyptian authorities would next week demand a Nefertiti bust from a Berlin museum as Cairo has proof the artifact was taken out of the country illegally.
The Nefertiti bust was discovered at the start of the 20th century by a German archeologist who took it to Berlin, where it has since remained.
… never have figured out why this Russian source always seems to get this particular story first …
There’s a lengthy Global Arab Network (and other sites) story kicking around about the dig at Tabusiris Magna … nothing really new other than we get the name of the site director: Dr Said Altalhawy. Perhaps more importantly, we also get (in the concluding paragraph) this:
The site is now closed for the summer, and the team will have to wait until at least January before they can continue the search for the resting place of Alexandria’s most venerated daughter.
… hmmm … that seems inordinately long, no?
One of the ongoing problems I have with this whole ‘tomb of Cleopatra’ thing is the assumption — it appears — that not just Cleopatra but also Antony will be found in Egyptian-style sarcophagi, all mummied up. But as with Arsinoe, I’m still not sure of what the burial practices of the Ptolemies were. Consider when the young Octavian made his journey and visited the tomb of Alexander (according to Cassius Dio 51.16, via Lacus Curtius):
After this he viewed the body of Alexander and actually touched it, whereupon, it is said, a piece of the nose was broken off. But he declined to view the remains of the Ptolemies, though the Alexandrians were extremely eager to show them, remarking, “I wished to see a king, not corpses.”
See also Suetonius, Augustus 18 … Does that suggest that the Ptolemies may have been ‘on display’ in the same manner as Alexander? I honestly don’t know. I’m also bothered by the fact that all the focus seems to have been on the manner of Cleopatra’s death and relatively little attention has been paid to what happened between that time and Antony’s death (hence the title of this post), specifically as regards the corpse of Antony. As far as I am aware, the main source for such things is Plutarch’s Life of Antony (written a century or so after the events in question, of course). In chapter 82 (via Lacus Curtius) we are told:
As for Caesarion, then, he was afterwards put to death by Caesar,— after the death of Cleopatra; but as for Antony, though many generals and kings asked for his body that they might give it burial, Caesar would not take it away from Cleopatra, and it was buried by her hands in sumptuous and royal fashion, such things being granted her for the purpose as she desired.
Keeping in mind that we’re dealing with events happening in the first couple of weeks (give or take a few days) of August, 30 B.C., we clearly aren’t dealing with a mummification opportunity, even if it is done with Cleopatra’s own hands. And from the next mention of Antony a few chapters later (84), it is clear that the obsequies are pretty much complete; just prior to Octavian’s departure for Syria:
After Cleopatra had heard this, in the first place, she begged Caesar that she might be permitted to pour libations for Antony; and when the request was granted, she had herself carried to the tomb, and embracing the urn which held his ashes, in company with the women usually about her, she said: “Dear Antony, I buried thee but lately with hands still free; now, however, I pour libations for thee as a captive, and so carefully guarded that I cannot either with blows or tears disfigure this body of mine, which is a slave’s body, and closely watched that it may grace the triumph over thee. Do not expect other honours or libations; these are the last from Cleopatra the captive. For though in life nothing could part us from each other, in death we are likely to change places; thou, the Roman, lying buried here, while I, the hapless woman, lie in Italy, and get only so much of thy country as my portion. But if indeed there is any might or power in the gods of that country (for the gods of this country have betrayed us), do not abandon thine own wife while she lives, nor permit a triumph to be celebrated over myself in my person, but hide and bury me here with thyself, since out of all my innumerable ills not one is so great and dreadful as this short time that I have lived apart from thee.”
The next chapter opens:
After such lamentations, she wreathed and kissed the urn, and then ordered a bath to be prepared for herself.
A pretty elaborate account, to be sure, and one where the translator’s decision might make a difference in regards to how the passage is interpreted. In this case, the translator (Bernadotte Perrin) tells us that Antony’s remains are in an urn. John Dryden’s translation tells us that they’re in a tomb (as do most of the other public domain translations). If we take Perrin’s translation, we might suspect that Antony was cremated in the time-honoured Roman fashion. If we take the ‘tomb’ translation, we might not be so dogmatic. Here are the relevant Greek passages from Plutarch (hat tip to DM and DP for tracking these down for me; I’m cutting and pasting from this) … I’ve highlighted the word in question:
84.3 ἡ δ’ ἀκούσασα ταῦτα πρῶτον μὲν ἐδεήθη Καίσαρος, ὅπως αὐτὴν ἐάσῃ χοὰς ἐπενεγκεῖν Ἀντωνίῳ· καὶ συγχωρήσαντος, ἐπὶ τὸν τάφον κομισθεῖσα καὶ περιπεσοῦσα τῇ  σορῷ μετὰ τῶν συνήθων γυναικῶν “ὦ φίλ’ Ἀντώνιε” εἶπεν [...]
85. Τοιαῦτ’ ὀλοφυραμένη καὶ στέψασα καὶ κατασπασαμένη τὴν σορόν, ἐκέλευσεν αὑτῇ λουτρὸν γενέσθαι. λουσαμένη δὲ καὶ κατακλιθεῖσα, λαμπρὸν ἄριστον ἠρίστα.
… where we clearly see the word used is “soros”, a wonderfully ambiguous word which usually does refer to an urn for cinerary ashes (according to L&S), but there are some usages which refer generally to a tomb.
If we look to Cassius Dio’s account (51.11), the obsequies for Antony are mentioned in passing:
Following out this plan, they obtained an audience with Cleopatra, and after discussing with her some moderate proposals they suddenly seized her before any agreement was reached. 5 After this they put out of her way everything by means of which she could cause her own death and allowed her to spend some days where she was, occupied in embalming Antony’s body; then they took her to the palace, but did not remove any of her accustomed retinue or attendants, in order that she should entertain more hope than ever of accomplishing all she desired, and so should do no harm to herself. At any rate, when she expressed a desire to appear before Caesar and to have an interview with him, she gained her request; and to deceive her still more, he promised that he would come to her himself.
… and the word Dio uses for ‘embalming’ is ‘taricheuo’, which is indeed the word one uses for embalming in the Egyptian sense.
Turning to Latin sources, Suetonius merely mentions in passing that he allowed them to be buried together and for the tomb they had begun to be completed (Aug. 17 via the Latin Library).
Ambobus communem sepulturae honorem tribuit ac tumulum ab ipsis incohatum perfici iussit.
The gist of all this seems to me to suggest that, by the time Plutarch et al were recounting this, the story of Cleo’s death had become elaborated on in so many ways that no one really had any idea what the details were. The ancient sources were fascinated by that whole asp thing and seem to be making their own assumptions when it comes to the burial of both Antony and Cleopatra. What is interesting, though, is that the only suggestion that mummification might be involved comes from a passing word from the epitome of Cassius Dio …
Editor’s note: you might want to read our previous thoughts on this program/claim/issue (made prior to viewing, obviously):
As a sort of followup to all the hype about this program, I thought it might be useful to provide a reviewish sort of thing of this program since it has appeared in pieces on YouTube. So I’ll intro each section, and perhaps give you some things to look for.
In part one we get the basic background to the tomb claimed to belong to Arsinoe. Outside of the host’s (Neil Oliver) penchant for carrying around a kerosene lamp (which I find to be very distracting; who does he think he is … a latter day Diogenes?), we should note here the discovery of the tomb in the 1920s. The bones are said to have been found in a sarcophagus full of water. When the archaeologists left, they “resealed” the sarcophagus. When Hilke Thur reentered the tomb much, much later (date not given, but obviously not “nearly a century later”), she tells us she found the bones ‘partly in one niche’ and ‘partly in the other niche’ of the barrel-vaulted tomb. The rest of the segment deals with the initial identification of the occupant as being Arsinoe, Rome’s growing interest in Egypt, and some Ptolemaic genealogy:
Part II opens with Cleo being sent into exile by her brother, then seeking Roman help to regain her position. We then get Fabian Kanz (UVienna) talking about the skeleton. There’s good forensic stuff going on here but I can’t help but wonder about the carbon dating now that we know that the bones were disturbed at some point (I honestly don’t know if this is an issue). I’m not sure it’s really relevant that the bones being of a ‘slender’ person is a significant tie to Cleopatra, but it is used as a segue to the story of Cleo smuggling herself back into the palace.
Part III returns to Ephesus and Fabian Kanz returning to the tomb “last summer” in the hopes of finding more bones which belong to the skeleton, which he did (amazingly enough). Still no skull, though. Then we hear of Dr Thur tracing the skull to Germany in the 1920s and subsequently disappearing during WWII –but some archaeologist had made measurements of the skull. He is said to have mentioned that the skull reminded him of skulls he had seen from Egypt. Whatever the case, the much-hyped reconstruction was made according to this archaeologist’s notes, photos, and measurements. Some important things to note here … the reconstruction is based on ‘remapping’ a similar skull of similar gender and ‘ethnicity’ (we are told, but it isn’t really explained); it’s not even a complete skull, the jaw is missing. Again, the beauty of the erstwhile owner of the skull is used as a link to Cleopatra and provide a segue to the little ‘war’ between adherents of Cleopatra and adherents of Ptolemy. The segue leads to the Pharos of Alexandria and eventually to Arsinoe’s proclamation as queen by the “rebels”.
Part IV opens back at the octagonal tomb in Ephesus and the question of the identity of its owner. The archaeologists back in the 1920s had taken some objects from the tomb back to Vienna, including an interesting ‘column’ torch holder thing which is clearly designed to look like a bundle of papyrus (suggesting, of course, an Egyptian owner). Meanwhile, Hilke Thur and a some engineers have been trying to track down bits of the tomb and are doing a virtual reconstruction of it (this is very interesting!). Eventually, we see that the connection is made between the Pharos of Alexandria (as a symbol of the Ptolemies) and the tomb as being belonged to Arsinoe. That’s the segue clue back to the events at the Pharos, with Caesar ultimately swimming for his life. And so, the Pharos becomes a symbol of Arsinoe’s victory. The ensuing political events are then related … culminating in Arsinoe being paraded (in front of a Pharos) in Caesar’s triumph back in Rome.
Part V opens with Caesar’s sparing of Arsinoe’s life and banishing her to Ephesus, specifically, to the Temple of Artemis. We then get a segment on the Temple, of course, including its popularity as a place for asylum. There follows the political events following the death of Julius Caesar, including Mark Antony’s partying in Ephesus and his eventual liaison with Cleo. It culminates with Cleopatra planning to get rid of Arsinoe.
The final segment returns to the present and the bones purported to belong to Arsinoe. Fabian Kanz notes that the bones belonged to a person who appeared to be healthy, had an easy life, and died young. Then, of course, we cut back to the ancient narrative and the murder of Arsinoe on Cleopatra’s request and Antony’s orders. It is characterized as “the biggest crime of this period” to violate the sanctuary of the Artemesion. We are then told that:
… this skeleton is the first forensic evidence of Cleopatra’s family ever found. The shape of the tomb, its similarity to the Pharos — these are all parts of a code and the whole of it comes together to make a complete picture. At last we can solve the mystery beyond doubt of who the skeleton actually is. None other than Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe …
We then have to find out what she looked like and we get the ‘rebuilding’ of the skull. After Drs. Kanz and Thur marvel at the skull, we get the ‘big announcement’ that the skull is elongated but also has European features, and so indicates mixed ancestry. Oliver then announces:
Our revelation backs up the controversial theory that the princess, and therefore her sister Cleopatra, also had African blood.
Then comes the suicide of Cleopatra and the political results thereof. The program ends with a facial reconstruction of “what she might have looked like” (interestingly, the only use of speculative language in the program).
Unfortunately, the YouTube version doesn’t preserve the credits, so I can’t give any more detail on researchers etc. (if, as, and when I do get this info, I’ll add it). I can note that the woman playing Cleopatra (fwiw) actually matches my own conception of what Cleo probably looked like; the Caesar and Antony aren’t even close. It’s interesting to have the tale of Cleo narrated by the same guy who was the herald in HBO’s Rome series, but other than that, there was nothing in this program to change my mind from things already said. The most serious is that it ignores the fact that we do not know who Cleopatra’s mother was, but you can revisit my previous posts for the full picture.
While poking around YouTube for assorted items this past week, it came to my attention that I could put a little minifilm festival of Cleopatra movie trailers together here to start our weekend blogging off … so, in chronological order:
The 1934 DeMille version starring Claudette Colbert:
Possibly the worst ever … the 1945 version starring Vivien Leigh:
The 1963 version with Elizabeth Taylor:
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:
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).
- ‘Beginner’s luck’ may lay trail to Cleopatra tomb (AFP via Google)
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:
… 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:
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:
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.
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) …
- Egypt to search 3 sites for Cleopatra’s tomb (AP via Google)
- Egyptians hope to find Cleopatra’s tomb (Times — small slideshow; no mask)
- Egypt to search 3 sites for Cleopatra’s tomb (Boston Herald)
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 …
Here’s an interesting bit of synchronicity … my spiders picked up a piece in the Independent which is about Giotto’s Lamentation of Christ … the incipit, however, is rather more in the purview of this blog:
There is also anachronism in viewing. We can’t help looking at pictures through our own later eyes. We see them in ways their first spectators could never have. They suggest to us things that didn’t exist then. This needn’t be a distraction. If the likeness is precise, it may help us focus the picture more clearly.
Take Jacques-Louis David’s painting, The Oath of the Horatii. It’s a frieze-like, neo-classical composition. It shows an ancient Roman legend. Three brother-heroes, their right arms extended straight out, are swearing self-sacrificial loyalty to their father, who holds up their swords.
But the contemporary US painter Alex Katz saw it this way. The gestures, he said, “are very, very clear, they’re very decisive – clear in what they are supposed to be as gestures… When I saw the David with the three swords I thought of three guys with cigarette lighters and a woman with a cigarette. That’s what it looked like to me.”
We’ve leapt from ancient Rome (where the scene is set) or the late 18th century (when it was painted) to a Hollywood scene in the mid 20th century – three young blades, shooting out their arms to offer some broad a light. This is far from the subject of the picture. But the precision of the visual likeness brings the modern viewer very close to the shape and speed of its three simultaneous lunges.
… which reminded me of this on-set photo from the Claudette Colbert version of Cleopatra (directed by Cecil B. DeMille):
… which coincidentally, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this week, coverage of which was also flooding my email box … here’s a representative bit from the Baltimore Sun:
Claudette Colbert is the sauciest Cleopatra since the 1st century B.C. in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 production of Cleopatra, a classic from those frisky days before Hollywood got itself all moral and safe.
DeMille, the master of the early-Hollywood epic, spent his career giving the people what they wanted, and what that meant was movies featuring as much titillation as contemporary standards would allow, usually in stories based on history or the Bible. Colbert had scorched the screen twice already in DeMille productions – 1932′s The Sign of the Cross, in which she famously took a nude bath in asses’ milk, and 1934′s Four Frightened People – but neither of those is as much fun as Cleopatra, in which she seduces two continents, gets delivered to Caesar (Warren William) wrapped in a rug and distracts poor Marc Anthony (Henry Wilcoxon) so that he doesn’t know which way is up, much less which way is Rome.
Of course, it’s all delightfully anachronistic; Colbert’s about as Egyptian as George Washington, and the 1930s vernacular doesn’t exactly match the time period. But who cares? Colbert is riveting (in costumes that weighed as much as 60 pounds), DeMille’s mastery of the deliciously overblown is unmatched, and the film’s huge art-deco sets belong in a design museum.
For my part, I’ve always hoped someone would find a copy of the Theda Bara version … photos like this from a 1917 flick definitely spark curiosity (although we admit there seems to be obvious anachronism here as well; whether it’s delightful or not is probably a matter of personal taste):
- Great Works: The Lamentation of Christ (1305-6), Giotto (Independent)
- Claudette Colbert Lighting Henry Wilcoxon’s Cigarette on the set of Cleopatra (Corbis … photo source)
- New on DVD: Cleopatra 75th Anniversary Edition(Baltimore Sun)
Here’s something I didn’t know … this well-known (to Classicists, anyway) painting of Cleopatra’s death by D. Pauvert:
… is currently owned by the monogloved-one. Somehow I always thought MJ would have some ‘connection’ to Cleo … whatever the case, he’s putting this one up for auction.
Just before bed last night I was deluged with bloggables, chief among which was a report in numerous newspapers about tests having been done on the bones of someone believed to be Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s murdered sister. This one presents numerous difficulties and the press might be jumping the gun (once again), although it is clear this is hype for a television program masquerading as news. In any event, let’s begin with a bit from the Times‘ coverage on the identification of the bones as Arsinoe:
The distinctive tomb was first opened in 1926 by archeologists who found a sarcophagus inside containing a skeleton. They removed the skull, which was examined and measured; but it was lost in the upheaval of the second world war.
In the early 1990s Thür reentered the tomb and found the headless skeleton, which she believed to be of a young woman. Clues, such as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb, which echoed that of the lighthouse of Alexandria with which Arsinöe was associated, convinced Thür the body was that of Cleopatra’s sister. Her theory was considered credible by many historians, and in an attempt to resolve the issue the Austrian Archeological Institute asked the Medical University of Vienna to appoint a specialist to examine the remains.
Fabian Kanz, an anthropologist, was sceptical when he began this task two years ago. “We tried to exclude her from being Arsinöe,” he said. “We used all the methods we have to find anything that can say, ‘Okay, this can’t be Arsinöe because of this and this’.”
After using carbon dating, which dated the skeleton from 200BC-20BC, Kanz, who had examined more than 500 other skeletons taken from the ruins of Ephesus, found Thür’s theory gained credibility.
He said he was certain the bones were female and placed the age of the woman at 15-18. Although Arsinöe’s date of birth is not known, she was certainly younger than Cleopatra, who was about 27 at the time of her sister’s demise.
The lack of any sign of illness or malnutrition also indicated a sudden death, said Kanz. Evidence of the skeleton’s north African ethnicity provided the final clue.
Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic anthropologist, reconstructed the missing skull based on measurements taken in the 1920s. Using computer technology it was possible to create a facial impression of what Arsinöe might have looked like.
“It has got this long head shape,” said Wilkinson. “That’s something you see quite frequently in ancient Egyptians and black Africans. It could suggest a mixture of ancestry.”
The Thür mentioned is Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The tomb in question is actually in Ephesus and we know that Arsinoe was actually killed there at Cleopatra’s request and on Marcus Antonius’ orders. The identification of the tomb as belonging to Arsinoe seems reasonable (if not exactly secure) enough. As might be expected, though, the ancestry side of things is what the press is latching on to … Dr Thur is quoted in the Telegraph (and there’s a similar quote in the AFP coverage):
“It is unique in the life of an archaeologist to find the tomb and the skeleton of a member of Ptolemaic dynasty. The results of the forensic examination and the fact that the facial reconstruction shows that Arsinoe had an African mother is a real sensation which leads to a new insight on Cleopatra’s family and the relationship of the sisters Cleopatra and Arsinoe.”
The headlines of both the Telegraph (“Cleopatra had African ancestry, skeleton suggests”) and the AFP coverage (“Cleopatra ‘was part-African’”) show the leap the press is taking with this one, despite the fact that we are not entirely sure who Cleopatra’s mother was (she is not named in any Classical source as far as I’m aware and the suggestion that it was Cleopatra V (Arsinoe’s mother) is a long-standing conjecture) — she and Arsinoe did not necessarily have the same mother. But beyond that, we get this skull business and having Arsinoe’s ethnicity actually being determined from a reconstructed skull based on measurements taken in the 1920s? Although I fear being labelled as one having the “brainpan of a stagecoach tilter”, can there not be some actual DNA tests on the skeletal material? Was it even suggested? I think the jury’s still very much out on this one …
UPDATE I (03/16/09): I note that Mary Beard agrees with me – The skeleton of Cleopatra’s sister? Steady on.
UPDATE II (03/16/09): Late last night a synapse fired and I remembered we had some hype on this back in September, but it was rather vague. Just to refresh folks memory (if you didn’t click the link), we were promised that, “This film, based on riveting new archaeological evidence, gives a fresh perspective on the world’s original femme fatale.” We were told that, “… more details will be announced about the forensic evidence at a later date.” Back in September I wondered what this “riveting” evidence might be and wondered at Zahi Hawass’ silence on the matter. I still wonder about that, but what really was keeping me awake last night was the question of whether a member of the Egyptian royal family — albeit in exile and as a result of a political murder — would have been funerated non-Egyptian style (sans mummification) or Egyptian style. Not something we can know, alas.
Outside of that, other synapses insisted on firing and I remembered from back in my undergrad days not the much-hyped reconstruction of (purportedly) Philip II’s skull, but rather the less-hyped one which followed thereupon – that of a skull purported to belong to Midas, found in the so-called Midas Mound at Gordion. That skull also was ‘elongated’ and so I dug up A.J.N.W. Prag, “Reconstructing King Midas: A First Report”, Anatolian Studies 39 (1989) and on pp. 160-161 we read:
The face that emerged was somewhat long, with the upper part rather lightly built but the lower part and the jaw fairly substantial: the face of an elderly man with a particularly long back to his head: both Mr. Neave and Professor Alpagut had noted an unusual elongation to the back of the skull, so that the sides were somewhat flattened and the top pushed up almost into a ridge: Professor Alpagut suggests that this is the result of bandaging the skull tightly while the individual was still a baby, a “cosmetic” practice noted on other skulls found in Turkey.
We’ll have to wait and see if the BBC ‘documentary’ mentions this sort of thing … I’d also like to know if anyone involved in this has studied skulls from Macedonian burials to see whether there might be some evidence of elongation within that culture.
UPDATE III (03/16/09): Dorothy King has some useful observations on elongated skulls – Strange Skulls: Arsinoe’s So-called Tomb at Ephesus
UPDATE IV (03/20/09): Katherine Griffis-Greenberg has tracked down an abstract of a paper by the folks who did some DNA testing on the skeleton (paper to be delivered at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists on April 3, 2009). From p. 216-217 of the abstract collection comes:
Cleopatra identified? – Osseous and molecular challenges. F. Kanz, K. Grossschmidt, J. Kiesslich.
Arsinoe IV of Egypt, the younger sister of Cleopatra, was murdered between the ages of 16 and 18 on the order of Marc Antony in 41 BC while living in political asylum at the Artemision in Ephesus (Turkey). Archaeological findings and architectural features point to the skeletal remains found in the socalled Oktogon – Heroon in the center of ancient Ephesus – to being those of Arsinoe IV. Respective remains were dated and investigated by forensic osteology, radiology and ancient DNA analysis to assess identification: Radiocarbon dating (VERA-4104) isolated the period between 210 and 20 BC (94 % prob.). Morphological features suggest a female with an estimated body height of 154 cm (+/- 3 cm) and 217 with limbs in good proportion to one another. Epiphyseal closure and histological age estimation (femoral cross sections) revealed a consistent age at death between 15 and 17 years. The whole skeleton appeared to belong to a slim and fragile individual (soft tissue reconstruction was applied and compared to ancient sources). Stress markers, like Harris’ lines were absent and no sings for heavy workload or pre- or perimortal traumas were found. Ancient DNA analysis was carried out for several bone samples. No nuclear DNA was detected, most likely due to diagenetic factors and storage conditions. Endeavors to find mitochondrial DNA are currently in progress. Investigations could neither verify nor disprove the theory on the origin of the remains. However, after successful mtDNA typing a maternal relative reference sample would be required for final identification.
So I guess we do have the answer to our DNA testing … clearly any results will not help in regards to identification, unless perhaps this DNA can be compared to some Macedonian burials. But just to complicate things, I’m pretty sure that EVERYONE has some African mtDNA, no?
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.