Found: the sister Cleopatra killed
Forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of the queenâs younger sister, murdered over 2,000 years ago
ARCHEOLOGISTS and forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of Cleopatraâs younger sister, murdered more than 2,000 years ago on the orders of the Egyptian queen.
The remains of Princess ArsinÃ¶e, put to death in 41BC on the orders of Cleopatra and her Roman lover Mark Antony to eliminate her as a rival, are the first relics of the Ptolemaic dynasty to be identified.
The breakthrough, by an Austrian team, has provided pointers to Cleopatraâs true ethnicity. Scholars have long debated whether she was Greek or Macedonian like her ancestor the original Ptolemy, a Macedonian general who was made ruler of Egypt by Alexander the Great, or whether she was north African.
Evidence obtained by studying the dimensions of ArsinÃ¶eâs skull shows she had some of the characteristics of white Europeans, ancient Egyptians and black Africans, indicating that Cleopatra was probably of mixed race, too. They were daughters of Ptolemy XII by different wives. The results vindicate the theories of Hilke ThÃ¼r of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who has long claimed that the skeleton was ArsinÃ¶e. She described the discovery of ArsinÃ¶eâs ethnicity as âa real sensation which leads to a new insight on Cleopatraâs familyâ.
Fellow experts are now convinced. GÃ¼nther HÃ¶lbl, an authority on the Ptolemies, said the identification of the skeleton was âa great discoveryâ.
The forensic evidence was obtained by a team working under the auspices of the Austrian Archeological Institute, which is set to detail its findings at an anthropological convention in the United States later this month.
The story of the discovery will also be the subject of a tele-vision documentary, Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer, to be shown on BBC1 at 9pm next Monday.
The instituteâs breakthrough came about after it set out to examine ThÃ¼râs belief that an octagonal tomb in the remains of the Roman city of Ephesus contained the body of ArsinÃ¶e.
According to Roman texts the city, in what is now Turkey, is where ArsinÃ¶e was banished after being defeated in a power struggle against Cleopatra and her then lover, Julius Caesar.
ArsinÃ¶e was said to have been murdered after Cleopatra, now with Mark Antony following Caesarâs death, ordered the Roman general to have her younger sibling killed to prevent any future attempts on the Egyptian throne.
The distinctive tomb was first opened in 1926 by archeologists who found a sarcophagus inside containing a skeleton. They removed the skull, which was examined and measured; but it was lost in the upheaval of the second world war.
In the early 1990s ThÃ¼r reentered the tomb and found the headless skeleton, which she believed to be of a young woman. Clues, such as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb, which echoed that of the lighthouse of Alexandria with which ArsinÃ¶e was associated, convinced ThÃ¼r the body was that of Cleopatraâs sister. Her theory was considered credible by many historians, and in an attempt to resolve the issue the Austrian Archeological Institute asked the Medical University of Vienna to appoint a specialist to examine the remains.
Fabian Kanz, an anthropologist, was sceptical when he began this task two years ago. âWe tried to exclude her from being ArsinÃ¶e,â he said. âWe used all the methods we have to find anything that can say, âOkay, this canât be ArsinÃ¶e because of this and thisâ.â
After using carbon dating, which dated the skeleton from 200BC-20BC, Kanz, who had examined more than 500 other skeletons taken from the ruins of Ephesus, found ThÃ¼râs theory gained credibility.
He said he was certain the bones were female and placed the age of the woman at 15-18. Although ArsinÃ¶eâs date of birth is not known, she was certainly younger than Cleopatra, who was about 27 at the time of her sisterâs demise.
The lack of any sign of illness or malnutrition also indicated a sudden death, said Kanz. Evidence of the skeletonâs north African ethnicity provided the final clue.
Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic anthropologist, reconstructed the missing skull based on measurements taken in the 1920s. Using computer technology it was possible to create a facial impression of what ArsinÃ¶e might have looked like.
âIt has got this long head shape,â said Wilkinson. âThatâs something you see quite frequently in ancient Egyptians and black Africans. It could suggest a mixture of ancestry.â
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