Tunnel discovered under Egyptian temple may lead to Cleopatra’s tomb, archaeologist says

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Written by Christian Edwards, CNN

Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist at the University of Santo Domingo, has been searching for Cleopatra’s lost tomb for nearly 20 years. Now she believes she has made a crucial breakthrough.
Martinez and her team have uncovered a 1,305-meter (4,281-foot) tunnel 13 meters (43 feet) underground, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities recently announced – an architectural design expert called an “engineering marvel.”

“The excavation revealed a huge religious center with three shrines, a sacred lake, more than 1,500 objects, busts, statues, gold pieces, a huge collection of coins depicting Alexander the Great, Queen Cleopatra and the Ptolemies,” Martinez told CNN.

Kathleen Martinez discovered a tunnel that could lead to the lost tomb. Credit: Kathleen Martinez-Nazar/Taposiris Magna Project

“The most interesting discovery is the complex of tunnels leading to the Mediterranean and sunken structures,” she added. Exploring these underwater structures will be the next stage of her search for the lost tomb of the Egyptian queen – a journey that began in 2005.

“My perseverance cannot be confused with obsession. I admire Cleopatra as a historical character. She was the victim of propaganda by the Romans, with the aim of distorting her image,” said Martinez.

“She was an educated woman, probably the first to formally study at the Museum in Alexandria, the center of culture in her time,” said Martinez, who said she admired Cleopatra as a student, linguist, mother and philosopher. .

When her husband, the Roman general Mark Antony, in 30 BC. died in her arms, Cleopatra took her own life shortly afterwards by letting a viper bite her, according to popular belief. The moment has been immortalized in art and literature, but more than two thousand years later little is known about where their remains lie.

Elizabeth Taylor appears as Cleopatra and Richard Burton as Mark Antony in the 1963 film "Cleopatra."

Elizabeth Taylor appears as Cleopatra and Richard Burton as Mark Antony in the 1963 film “Cleopatra”. Credit: 20th Century Fox

A series of clues led Martinez to believe that Cleopatra’s tomb might be located in the Temple of Osiris in the ruined city of Taposiris Magna, on Egypt’s northern coast, where the Nile River meets the Mediterranean Sea.

The most important of these was the name itself. According to Martinez, Cleopatra was regarded in her day as “the human incarnation of the goddess Isis,” as Antony was regarded as that of the god Orisis, the husband of Isis.

Martinez believes Cleopatra chose to bury her husband in the temple to reflect this myth. Of all the 20 temples around Alexandria she studied, Martinez said, “no other site, structure or temple combines as many conditions as the Temple of Taposiris Magna.”

Excavations have so far unearthed more than 1500 ancient objects.

Excavations have so far unearthed more than 1500 ancient objects. Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism

In 2004, Martinez presented her theory to Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist who was then Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities. Her project was approved a year later.

And after years of searching, Martinez feels she’s getting close.

The excavations so far have revealed that “the temple was dedicated to Isis” — which Martinez says is another sign that the lost tomb is nearby — as well as the tunnels under the sea.

The search for the lost tomb has taken Martinez under the Mediterranean Sea.

The search for the lost tomb has taken Martinez under the Mediterranean Sea. Credit: Kathleen Martinez-Nazar/Taposiris Magna Project

Now, Martinez said, she’s at “the start of a new journey” — underwater excavations.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Egypt’s coastline has been ravaged by earthquakes over the centuries, causing parts of the Taposiris Magna to collapse and sink beneath the waves.

This is what Martinez and her team are looking for. While it’s “too early to know where these tunnels lead,” she’s hopeful.

If the tunnels lead to Cleopatra, “it will be the most important discovery of the century,” she said.



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