Cleopatra Bust Among Treasures Found in Egypt Temple

Mati Milstein
for National Geographic News
May 30, 2008

An alabaster bust of Cleopatra and a mask that might have belonged to her lover Marc Antony are part of a slew of treasures found north of Alexandria, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities announced on Monday.

The artifacts were discovered inside the Taposiris Magna, a large temple in what is now Abusir that was built during the reign of Ptolemy II, which lasted from 282 to 246 B.C.

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the antiquities council, had been at the site leading a team searching for the lost tombs of Antony and Cleopatra.

According to legend, the famous couple committed suicide when Antony was defeated in 31 B.C. during a short series of land and sea battles that cemented Octavian's rule over Rome.

Hawass, who is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, said that in addition to the bust and mask, the team found 22 coins stamped with Cleopatra's face and a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

(The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

While searching the site's network of underground shafts and tunnels, Hawass also stumbled across skeletons that he said were likely the remains of early Christians hiding from Roman authorities.

Though adamant that the most recent discoveries mean they are no closer to finding the tombs, the researchers think Taposiris is "a perfect place for us to look for Cleopatra and Marc Antony," Hawass said.

"It's just a theory—we are not 100 percent—that this was a typical place to hide the tombs away from Octavian."

Bigger Than Tut?

Cleopatra was the last ruler during Egypt's Greco-Roman Period, in which a Greek royal family governed from 323 to 30 B.C. She was arguably one of the most powerful and influential women in the ancient world.

In 48 B.C. she seduced Roman emperor Julius Caesar and bore him a son.

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