The final day of the initial two month excavation permit at Taposiris Magna, the archeologists on Dr. Martínez’ team sat on the ground, refused to work, and encouraged her to give up. Martínez said she would not. She would use every minute of those eight remaining hours. The Dominican asked her excavation team to spread out through the temple site to boost the possibility of a discovery.
At 11 am, they opened a small depression in the ground and found a shaft. Digging further, they found two subterranean rooms! That proved her often ridiculed theory of underground chambers. Martínez said that was the best day of her life. Her find changed the understanding of Egyptian temple architecture forever. Martínez was not surprised her ideas bore fruit, however the rest of the Egyptologists were astounded. Dr. Hawass, of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, extended their permit to continue working.
The Dominican Team’s Treasures
- The second excavation period, the team found amazing evidence the site was important. Egyptologists had thought that Taposiris Magna was unfinished and minor. Martínez’ work proved otherwise. At the corner of the Osiris temple, digging unearthed two small clay plaques bearing Greek inscriptions. Translation revealed they were temple dedication tablets from the time of Ptolemy IV, Cleopatra VII’s great-great-great grandfather! These foundation deposits were a priceless find and clearly linked Cleopatra’s family to the site.
- Another season, while excavating a second temple within the site, as the rubble cleared Martínez saw it followed the shape of a traditional Isis worship space; two rooms with a connecting room between them. In the center they found monetary offerings: coins that feature Cleopatra on one side, and Marc Antony on the reverse.
- In 2015, the Stele Magna was found, written in Egyptian hieroglyphs and the written script of everyday spoken Egyptian (Demotic). Translation of the stele showed Taposiris Magna was the most important temple of the Goddess Isis in Northern Egypt. Issued in the reign of Ptolemy V, the stele predates the Rosetta Stone.
Getting permission to start her project was a big obstacle for the Dominican archeologist, but not the only one. One season, Martínez wanted the Bedouin workers to help open a tunnel. They refused, saying a big snake in there would kill everyone. Not afraid of serpents, she went in herself to dig. Her tool hit metal. She removed the dirt carefully; it was an unexploded bomb from WWII. Taposiris Magna was close to the WWII Battle of El Alamein. Martínez lifted the bomb into her arms and carried it up to ground level in the open worksite elevator, to remove it from the tunnel. She realized what the workers said made a lot of sense as a cautionary tale. Martínez called the Egyptian police and together they removed 48 unexploded bombs.
Over the years, her Dominican-Egyptian team has found 600 artifacts, a system of tunnels under Taposiris Magna, and a large Greek cemetery next to the temple site. So far, they’ve uncovered 800 skeletons, 10 mummies, mummification tools and two mummies covered in gold leaf. She’s not discovered Cleopatra’s tomb yet, but with recent radar scans, Martínez is closer than ever before.
For those of us impatient for the tomb to be uncovered, Dr. Martínez puts her work in perspective. Countries like Italy, Germany, the US, Hungary, and England excavated for 100 years and found little at the site. In 12 years, her Dominican-Egyptian team has found 6 absolutely priceless items; like the Stele Magna and the foundation deposits of the temple. They’ve unearthed coins, temples, statues, pottery, amulets and perhaps a bust of Cleopatra herself.
Is Dr. Martínez’ excavation a success? The foremost museum of Egytology confirms it. On behalf of the Dominican Republic, Dr. Martínez presented over 300 artifacts to the Cairo Museum collection in 2018. The three month museum exhibition of the finds was a big hit. Dr. Martínez’ search for Cleopatra’s tomb has been featured on PBS Secrets of the Dead and a National Geographic documentary. What’s next?
Kathleen Martínez plans to spend the rest of her life excavating Taposiris Magna and asserts, “I will not die without finding Cleopatra’s tomb.” Considering how hard she works and how determined she has proven to be, I can’t help but believe her.
Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. Olé! –Rebecca