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 …

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