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Egyptians hope to find Cleopatra's tomb

Cleopatra and Mark Antony were immortalised as two of history’s greatest lovers, but their final resting place has always been a mystery. Now archaeologists in Egypt are about to start excavating a site that they believe could conceal their tombs, according to a report in The Times.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2009 14:07 IST

Cleopatra and Mark Antony were immortalised as two of history’s greatest lovers, but their final resting place has always been a mystery. Now archaeologists in Egypt are about to start excavating a site that they believe could conceal their tombs, according to a report in

The Times

.

Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt’s Superior Council for Antiquities, said on Thursday that there was evidence to suggest that Cleopatra and Mark Antony were buried together in the complex tunnel system underlying the Tabusiris Magna temple, 17 miles from the city of Alexandria.

The dig, which begins next week, could reveal answers to the many myths surrounding the pair — including speculation about the Queen’s reputed beauty and the couple’s suicide. Teams from Egypt and the Dominican Republic will begin excavating three sites along the tunnels in the hope that one of the deep shafts will lead to a burial chamber. The sites were identified by a radar scan.

Kathleen Martínez, an Egyptologist from the Dominican Republic who is working on the dig, said that the writing of Roman chroniclers indicated that the two were buried together. The discovery that ten mummies of nobles were buried at the site had strengthened evidence that Antony and Cleopatra could be close, she said.

Last year archaeologists at the temple unearthed a bronze statue of the goddess Aphrodite, the alabaster head of a Queen Cleopatra statue and a mask believed to belong to Mark Antony. The expedition also found 22 coins bearing Cleopatra’s image, which Dr Hawass said showed an attractive face — debunking recent speculation on the queen’s renowned beauty. “The finds from Tabusiris reflect a charm. . . and indicate that Cleopatra was in no way unattractive,” Dr Hawass said in a statement.

British scholars threw cold water on the celebrity of Cleopatra’s beauty in 2007. Academics at the University of Newcastle argued that Cleopatra was a pointy-nosed, thin-lipped woman with a jutting jaw line — an assessment based on a Roman coin.

For most, Cleopatra will for ever be imagined as the stunning seductress portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor opposite Richard Burton in the 1963 Hollywood classic Cleopatra.

Dr Hawass, who first suggested the temple as the possible burial site of the couple nearly three years ago, has called the possible discovery of Antony and Cleopatra’s tomb “bigger than that of King Tutankhamun’s tomb”, which was discovered in 1922.

Other experts are cautious, however. John Baines, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford, doubted that Antony would be buried alongside Cleopatra. “It’s unlikely Mark Antony would have a tomb that anyone would be able to discover because he was the enemy at the time he died,” he told The Times last year. Dr Hawass remains defiant. “This is our theory. Others may disagree, but we are searching to see if we can prove it,” he said.

He would not be the first to lay claim to Cleopatra’s remains. Most recently, a group of French archaeologists digging near Abu Qir Bay in Alexandria found the ruins of Cleopatra’s Palace. They, too, suggested that they would find the queen’s tomb, but nothing has been unearthed so far.