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Cleopatra, Mark Antony’s tombs may have been found

Archaeologists think they may be close to locating the graves of the doomed lovers Cleopatra and Mark Antony in a temple on the Mediterranean Sea just west of Alexandria, Egypt.

For years, researchers have been seeking the graves of the famed pair, celebrated in plays and movies, but all the leads have proved fruitless. French archaeologists, for example, recently said that they believed the tombs to be in the newly excavated remains of Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria but so far have found nothing.

Last year, archaeologists from Egypt and the Dominican Republic found the remains of a cemetery near the temple of Taposiris Magna, 17 miles west of Alexandria. The cemetery has so far yielded 27 tombs and 10 mummies, two of them gilded. Such cemeteries are common near royal tombs.

The team has also found a damaged bust of Cleopatra, 22 coins bearing her image and a funerary mask that is believed to be of Mark Antony.

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Last month, it used radar to find three deep shafts leading to three “spots of interest” under the temple where the tombs might be located, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said in a statement released Wednesday. The team will begin excavating the shafts next week.

Because of the romance that has grown about the pair, the discovery of the couple’s tombs could be even bigger than the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the council.

Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide after their defeat in the battle of Actium in 31 BC, he with a knife and she reputedly with the fangs of an asp.

Historically, Cleopatra has been viewed as a beautiful woman, a reputation enhanced by Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal in the eponymous 1963 film. But researchers from Newcastle University in England concluded in 2007 that she was not particularly attractive, based on her portrait on a Roman coin, which showed her as a sharp-nosed, thin-lipped woman with a protruding chin.

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But the newly discovered bust and coins portray her as much more beautiful. “The finds from Taposiris reflect a charm . . . and indicate that Cleopatra was in no way unattractive,” Hawass said in the statement.

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thomas.maugh@latimes.com


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