Egypt, thou knew'st too well: is Cleopatra's final secret out?

Archaeologists believe they are on brink of discovering queen's final resting place

Just as he did fictitiously with Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare immortalised Antony and Cleopatra as a tragic tale of a defeated couple. But unlike Verona's star-crossed lovers, Marc Antony and Cleopatra's final resting place has remained a mystery.

Now archaeologists believe they are on the cusp of a conclusive discovery. Three sites buried deep underneath the crumbling limestone of a 2,000-year-old temple are thought to contain a series of complex systems of tunnels which archaeologists believe could lead to the tomb of the two lovers.

And to prove it, Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Superior Council for Antiquities, showcased a range of items yesterday that have been found at the site at Burg El-Arab, nearAlexandria. They include 22 coins bearing Cleopatra's image, a fragment of a mask – with a cleft chin which he believes could belong to Antony – and 10 mummies of apparent nobles. "The discovery of the cemetery this week really convinced me that there is someone important buried inside this temple," he said. "No one would be buried outside a temple without a reason. We saw in the pharaonic days, they were always buried beside pyramids."

Urging caution, he added: "If you look at the face of Mark Antony, many believed he had this cleft on his chin and that's why I thought this could be him."

The discoveries follow excavations that started last week on three sites along the tunnels by teams from Egypt and the Dominican Republic. It is hoped that one of the deep shafts, identified by a radar scan, will lead to a burial chamber where the tomb will be found. Dr Hawass believes that the tomb could be "bigger than that of King Tutankhamen's", discovered in 1922.

It was more than two millennia ago when Mark Antony and Cleopatra challenged Caesar Augustus for control of the Roman Empire. Their armies were defeated and in 30 BC, rather than surrender, the two lovers committed suicide – Mark Antony by his sword, and Cleopatra with a poisonous asp.

The Roman historian Plutarch said Caesar allowed the two lovers to be buried together, but thelocation of their tomb was kept secret. "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 his death," said Dr Hawass.

Kathleen Martinez, the Dominican archaeologist who has been working at the site for the past three years, said the Taposiris Magna temple was chosen after 12 years of studying the life of Cleopatra. Describing it as the "most sacred temple of its time", she argued that the lovers were "buried in a temple rather than a public tomb to protect them from the Romans".

But John Baines, an Egyptologist at Oxford University asked why Augustus, who defeated Antony, would have chosen such a distinguished burial place. "I don't see a particular connection between that site and Antony and Cleopatra," he said.

Several discoveries have already been made at the site. Last year, archaeologists unearthed a bronze statue of the goddess Aphrodite, the alabaster head of a Queen Cleopatra statue and another mask believed to belong to Mark Antony.

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

However, academics from the University of Newcastle recently poured cold water on this, claiming that the Egyptian Queen was a pointy-nosed, thin-lipped woman with a jutting jaw. Dr Hawass believes that the discovery of the coins that show Cleopatra with an "attractive" face, argued otherwise. "The findings reflect a charm ... and indicate that Cleopatra was in no way unattractive," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore