Courtesy Mark RyanArchaeologists in Egypt believe they may be on the verge of uncovering the long-sought final resting place of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. The two ill-fated lovers committed suicide together in 30 BC after being defeated in a power struggle over control of the Roman Empire.
Zahi Hawass, the Indiana Jones of Egyptian antiquities says crews are ready to dig up three chambers located 65 feet below the surface, where they hope the remains of Antony and Cleopatra will be found. The chambers were discovered using ground-penetrating radar in the vicinity of the Taposiris Magna, a temple erected in 300 BC in honor of the Egyptian god Isis.
"In my opinion," Hawass said, "if this tomb is found it will be one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century because of the love between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and because of the sad story of their death."
The two lovers have appeared in stories throughout the ages including a play by William Shakespeare, another by George Bernard Shaw, and a number of major motion pictures (1912, 1917, 1934, 1945, 1963). According to legend, Antony died by his own sword while Cleopatra took her life by holding poisonous asps to her bosom
Discovery of their graves would indeed be a coup, especially for lawyer-turned-archaeologist Kathleen Martinez who seems to have made it her life’s work to restore the Queen of the Nile’s tainted image.
As a young girl in the Dominican Republic, Martinez remembers listening to her father and his colleagues bad-mouthing Cleopatra’s reputation during scholarly discussions in their library.
"They were speaking very badly about her and about her image," Martinez recalled. "I got very upset. I said I didn't believe what they are saying, that I needed to study more about her."
Martinez spent the next 14 years uncovering as much as she could find about Cleopatra’s life. In the end, her studies led her to a portrait of an intelligent leader who ruled as Egypt’s last pharaoh.
"[Cleopatra] spoke nine languages, she was a philosopher, she was a poet, she was a politician, she was a goddess, and she was a warrior."
Four years ago, Martinez convinced Hawass to allow her to join his archaeological team, and for the last three years has been excavating the hillside site near Abusir about 30 miles east of Alexandria, where the tombs are thought to be located.
But artifacts from the Abusir site – including a piece of male statuary, coins with Cleopatra’s image, and a mask fragment with a cleft-chin - seem to point to this being Marc Antony’s burial site. And if his remains are buried here, then so are Cleopatra’s.
"She couldn't be buried in a different place from Mark Anthony and be protected by Isis,” Martinez said.
The scientists hope to begin digging into the chambers as soon as next month but a modern hitch may postpone that for a few months. One of the summer homes of Egyptian president President Hosni Mubarak is located near the dig-site, and security concerns could delay digging into the chambers until autumn.