News / Middle East

Archeologists May Be Closing in on Cleopatra's Tomb

Zahi Hawass displays a Ptolemaic statue discovered at Taposiris Magna, in northern Egypt on 8 May, 2010.
Zahi Hawass displays a Ptolemaic statue discovered at Taposiris Magna, in northern Egypt on 8 May, 2010.

Multimedia

Audio

They are among history's most famous lovers - Antony and Cleopatra, the Roman warrior and the Egyptian queen.  From Shakespeare to Hollywood, their story has been told many times.  Now, Egypt's top archeologist, with his own touch of Hollywood style, says he may be closing in on Cleopatra's tomb.

On a recent sunny day west of Alexandria, Zahi Hawass strides across the rock and rubble of Taposiris Magna, a Ptolemaic temple overlooking the shores of the Mediterranean.   Wearing his trademark Indiana Jones hat, he explains that although others have scoured the temple before, this current dig, begun in 2005, has turned up countless new treasures.

He says the team has located the original main entrance and uncovered a series of pharaonic-style entrance blocks.  There is also a statue, which Hawass, giving the headless torso a playful pat, says is likely that of Ptolemy IV, one of Cleopatra's ancestors.  "That is really important discoveries " he says,"in the search for the beautiful, magical queen - Queen Cleopatra."

The idea of Taposiris as the burial place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, who killed themselves rather than submit to Antony's rival Octavian, was proposed by a young Dominican archeologist, Kathleen Martinez.  She tries to evoke the couple's last days, the end of Egypt as an empire.  "She has to choose a place that she must be safe after life," she says, because "the Romans hated her so much, they will search for her body and they will destroy it."

Martinez notes that, significantly, the temple is dedicated to Isis and Osiris, ancient gods to whom the couple often compared themselves. But she says she is most excited about discovering a tunnel that bores straight down into bedrock.   The team has devised a special winch that has already gone down 35 meters.   She says she expects there will soon be "important news."

Egyptian archeologist Zahi Hawass prepares to enter a shaft some believe may lead to Cleopatra's tomb, 08 May 2010
Egyptian archeologist Zahi Hawass prepares to enter a shaft some believe may lead to Cleopatra's tomb, 08 May 2010

I ask if she will show us down the tunnel.  She consults with Hawass, who decides to go himself.  The improvised winch lowers the archeologist into the narrow, dark shaft. 

And then it stops.   The cables are twisted and Hawass is stranded 10-meters underground.

Workers, who only rigged the contraption a week before, struggle for a long 15 minutes to straighten the wires.  One man grabs a rope as back-up.  Onlookers resort to awkward banter, fixing blame for my suggestion.    Then Hawass starts to spin himself around in the cramped space, untangling the cables.

The winch re-engages and the archeologist rises to the surface.  In mock anger, he takes a menacing step toward me and pretends to land a punch.

The moment is vintage Hawass.  It probably should have belonged to Martinez, but Hawass takes the spotlight.  He fills the scene with genuine drama, makes his usually nervous employees only more so, and ends up providing the entertainment.

At 62, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities is going through his own Golden Age.  Hawass is the top archeologist in arguably the world's richest archeological land, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, star of countless television programs, a prolific columnist and man-about-town.

Most recently, he has championed the return of ancient artifacts to their homelands, becoming a hero to others who have seen their heritage plundered.   He can be shameless in his quest to get things back. He tells a story about a woman from Canada, who insisted on being repaid the 10,000 pounds sterling she spent on it.  "I wrote her a letter to say that if she will keep this statue, the curse of the Pharaohs will rest on her," he says, adding that the next day, she handed the piece over. 

He also takes pride in emphasizing the Egyptian, a parallel to Cleopatra - a Ptolemaic leader of Egyptian heritage who was the first to bother learning the local language.  The archeologist is the first of his countrymen to be the international face of Egyptology, a field long dominated by Western Europeans.  It is an image he feels important to project both abroad and at home.  

He describes children coming up to him on the streets of Cairo, asking "'When are you sending the robot inside the pyramid?'   And you have to know,"  he says,  "there is a revival now among Egyptians loving their antiquities."

Not that mummies and pyramids are a hard sell.   But his excitement and verve are catching and, on occasion, one suspects, overwhelming.  I ask if his seemingly outsize persona ever poses a problem.  "God gave me this talent,"  he says.  "I will not tell him no."

It is a belief in self that lessens any surprise that his latest discoveries have an international tie-in.   Next month, a major museum exhibit called Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt, will open in the United States.  And Hawass, with his enthusiasm, will be on hand.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs