Mummies of two high-status Egyptians found, offers clues in hunt for Cleopatra’s tomb

Mummies of two high-status Egyptians found, offers clues in hunt for Cleopatra’s tomb
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Mummies of two high-status Egyptians found, offers clues in hunt for Cleopatra’s tomb

In a Nile Delta temple, the mummies of two high-profile ancient Egyptians may lead researchers closer to finding the remains of Cleopatra, the legendary Egyptian Queen.

The mummies, who lie for 2000 years untouched, are in bad shape because water had seeped into the tomb. But they were initially coated with gold leaf – a privilege reserved for the highest members of society only – which implies that they could communicate directly with Cleopatra.

The two mummies found inside a sealed tomb at Taposiris Magna, that would originally have been completely covered with gold leaf.
The two mummies found inside a sealed tomb at Taposiris Magna, that would originally have been completely covered with gold leaf.

The male and female mummies may have been priests who played a key role in maintaining the power of the legendary Egyptian queen and her lover, Mark Anthony. Also found at the site were 200 coins bearing Cleopatra’s name and her face, which would have been pressed based on Cleopatra’s direct instructions.

It is still unclear where the long-lost tomb of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII dated 30 BC, though it is very near the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

However, this research team is convinced that excavations in the ancient town of Taposiris Magna, marked by a temple still standing today, would soon uncover the rest place of the ancient couple. While researchers have excavated the site since 2005, only a small percentage of the vast site was explored.

The mummies were found in what is the first ever intact tomb to be opened at Taposiris Magna – an event that’s the subject of a Channel 5 documentary to be broadcast this week.

‘Although now covered in dust from 2,000 years underground, at the time these mummies would have been spectacular,’Dr Glenn Godenho ,a senior lecturer in Egyptology at Liverpool University, told the Guardian.

‘To be covered in gold leaf shows they would have been important members of society.’ One of the mummies was found wearing an image of a scarab, pained in gold leaf, symbolising rebirth.

But the 200 coins bearing Cleopatra’s likeness links the pharaoh ruler directly to Taposiris Magna, which was founded in the third century BC.

Dr Godenho said that the tomb of Anthony and Cleopatra is expected to be a ‘way grander affair’ than this mummified couple. ‘Although we don’t know what Ptolemaic rulers’ tombs looked like because none have ever been firmly identified yet, it’s really unlikely that they’d be nondescript and indistinguishable from the burials of their subjects,’ he told.

‘Add to that the fact that most consider the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony to be in the vicinity of Alexandria rather than out here at Taposiris Magna, and all the evidence points to these not being royal mummies at all.’

Dr Kathleen Martinez, an academic from the Dominican Republic, is leading the dig at the Taposiris Magna temple. After working there for over 14 years, Dr Martinez and her colleagues are more convinced than ever Cleopatra’s tomb will be found there.

Dr Martinez is seen reacting to the opening of the newly-found mummies at Taposiris Magna in the Channel 5 documentary, which will broadcast on Thursday.

Cleopatra was Egypt’s last pharaoh and the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, from 51 BC to 30 BC. Cleopatra and her Roman lover Mark Anthony may have been buried at the site 2,000 years ago because of her desire to imitate an ancient prophecy, Dr Martinez believes. During her life, which ran from 69 BC to 30 BC, Cleopatra was known both as a seductress and as a captiva-ting personality.

She famously used her charms to first seduce Julius Caesar to cement Egypt’s alliance with Rome, and then to seduce one of his successors, Mark Anthony.

In order to fix herself and Anthony as rulers in the minds of the Egypt-ian people, she also worked hard to associate them with the myth of Isis and Osiris.

According to the myth, Osiris was killed and hacked into pieces that were scattered across Egypt. After finding all of the pieces and making her husband whole again, Isis was able to resurrect him for a time. Martinez believes Taposiris Magna was closely associated with the myth as the name means ‘tomb of Osiris’. The inclusion of ‘Osiris’ could mean it was one of the places where his body was scattered in the story.

Taposiris Magna temple
Taposiris Magna temple

After Mark Anthony killed himself following defeat to Octavian but before her own suicide, Cleopatra put detailed plans in place for them both to be buried there, in echoes of the myth, Dr Martinez thinks.

She previously told National Geographic: ‘Cleopatra negotiated with Octavian to allow her to bury Mark Antony in Egypt. ‘She wanted to be buried with him because she wanted to reenact the legend of Isis and Osiris.

‘The true meaning of the cult of Osiris is that it grants immortality. After their deaths, the gods would allow Cleopatra to live with Antony in another form of existence, so they would have eternal life together.’

Doubts have been cast on the theory, however, as other experts believe Cleopatra was hastily buried in Alexandria itself – the city from where she ruled Egypt until her death, believed to have been caused by snake venom.

Anthony, Cleopatra and the ptolemaic dynasty

Cleopatra, also referred to as the world’s first celebrity, was the last of a long line to the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt – the Greek general Alexander the Great. When she was born, her empire was reduced to a shadow of its former selves while the ruling class was prone to bitter struggle.

Married to her brother Ptolemy XIII in her father’s will, she united with Julius Caesar against him – famously having herself smuggled to see the Roman general inside a carpet so she could strike terms with him.

After his murder in 44BC Egypt, Mark Anthony was appointed to oversee the eastern reaches of the Republic – including the independ-ent kingdom of Egypt. Though married to Octavian’s sister, Anthony formed a relationship with Cleopatra and had three children with her.

Eventually Anthony and Octavian turned against one-another and fought for control of the Republic, which ended with defeat at the Battle of Actium. Octavian chased Anthony and Cleopatra back to Alexandria, where they were eventually captured.

Anthony died in Cleopatra’s arms after fatally stabbing himself, before she also committed suicide – reportedly by letting an asp bite her. Octavian returned to Italy where he became the first Emperor of Rome, while Cleopatra and Anthony were buried in Egypt.

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John Smith has been with Histecho since 2017, A Senior Editor & Writer for Histecho. his work has been featured in outlets such as Scientific American, The Washington Post, NBC News, and Fox News. John grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York.