Ancient tombs that remain a mystery – as archaeologists find what could be Cleopatra’s resting place


This week, archeologists discovered an underground tunnel beneath an Egyptian temple, which they believe may lead to the long-lost tomb of Cleopatra, one of the most famous queens in history.

Cleopatra, who is thought to have been interred together with her lover Mark Antony, is possibly the most famous ancient figure whose remains are still to be found, although there are countless others.  

Here, MailOnline takes a look at the ancient tombs that remain yet to be found, thousands of years after their occupants were laid to rest. 

From Cleopatra to Nefertiti and Alexander the Great, MailOnline takes a look at the ancient tombs that still remain a mystery, thousands of years after their occupants were laid to rest

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA 

Cleopatra was the last of a long line to Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. She ruled from 51 BC to 30 BC – up until the day she died.

Cleopatra became Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt, upon the death of her father, Ptolemy XII, and her brother was made King Ptolemy XIII at the same time. The siblings ruled Egypt under the formal title of husband and wife.

Cleopatra was known as a seductress and as a captivating personality. She used her charms to seduce Julius Caesar to cement Egypt’s alliance with Rome, and then to seduce his second in command, Mark Antony.

Antony married another woman, Octavia, to mend a strained alliance with her brother, the ruler Octavian, although Antony later left his new wife for Cleopatra, violating a Roman law restricting Romans from marrying foreigners. Octavian then declared war on Cleopatra and Antony, defeating them both.

Cleopatra then took refuge in the mausoleum she had commissioned for herself and her disappearance led to the belief that she had killed herself.

Antony died in Cleopatra’s arms after fatally stabbing himself as he thought she had taken her own life. Cleopatra did then kill herself shortly after her lover succumbed to his wounds. 

CLEOPATRA

Cleopatra was Egypt’s last pharaoh and the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, from 51 BC until her death 30 BC, at the age of just 39. 

During her life, Cleopatra was known both as a seductress and as a captivating personality. 

She famously used her charms to first seduce Julius Caesar to cement Egypt’s alliance with Rome, and then to seduce one of his successors, Mark Antony. 

In order to fix herself and Antony as rulers in the minds of the Egyptian people, she also worked hard to associate them with the myth of Isis and Osiris.

According to the myth, Osiris was killed and hacked into pieces that were scattered across Egypt. After finding all of the pieces and making her husband whole again, Isis was able to resurrect him for a time. 

Cleopatra and Antony both died by suicide and were buried together, and their remains are thought to be beneath Egypt’s ancient Taposiris Magna Temple, near the Egyptian city of Alexandria, once the country’s capital.

Archaeologist Kathleen Martinez of the University of San Domingo thinks a newly-discovered tunnel under the temple leads to the remains. She said finding them would be ‘the most important discovery of the 21st century’. 

The tunnel, which is being hailed as a ‘geometric miracle’, stretches for more than 4,800 feet, measures about six feet high and is said to resemble the Tunnel of Eupalinos on the Greek island of Samos – revered as one of the most important engineering achievements of the Classical world. 

Despite the fact researchers have been excavating the Taposiris Magna Temple site since 2005, only a tiny percentage of the vast site has been explored. 

But other experts believe the remains of Cleopatra and Antony are elsewhere; another theory is they were hastily buried in Alexandria itself – the city from where she ruled Egypt until her death in 30 BC.  

Cleopatra ruled from 51 BC to 30 BC - right up until the day she died. She was the queen of Egypt and the last and most famous of the Ptolemaic dynasty

Cleopatra ruled from 51 BC to 30 BC – right up until the day she died. She was the queen of Egypt and the last and most famous of the Ptolemaic dynasty

Experts believe Cleopatra made plans for herself and Antony to be buried at a temple called Taposiris Magna in order to imitate the ancient myth of Isis and Osiris

Experts believe Cleopatra made plans for herself and Antony to be buried at a temple called Taposiris Magna in order to imitate the ancient myth of Isis and Osiris

NEFERTITI 

Nefertiti was a queen of the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the first dynasty of the New Kingdom, a period when Egypt truly became a global power. 

Along with her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti ruled Egypt between 1370 to 1330 BC, a time described as the wealthiest period of ancient Egyptian history. 

The royal couple’s devotion to the god Aten – representing the disc of the sun – was so great that they created a whole new capital in his honour at Amarna, a city on the banks of the Nile. 

Known for her great beauty and power, Nefertiti is thought to have been stepmother of the boy-pharaoh King Tutankhamun. Akhenaten fathered Tutankhamun after sleeping with his sister, it’s believed. 

The bust of Nefertiti was found in Egypt in 1912 at Tell el-Amarna, the short-lived capital of Nefertiti's husband, the Pharaoh Akhenaten. It is now housed in Berlin

The bust of Nefertiti was found in Egypt in 1912 at Tell el-Amarna, the short-lived capital of Nefertiti’s husband, the Pharaoh Akhenaten. It is now housed in Berlin

Nefertiti is thought to have lost her husband around 1336 BC and then may have reigned over Egypt alone.

But her own death and burial place are shrouded in mystery. She is reckoned to have died about six years after her husband, possibly from the plague that struck Egypt at that time. 

Nicholas Reeves, a British archaeologist at the University of Arizona Nefertiti, said in 2015 that there were voids behind the walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb which he proposed to be the burial chamber of Nefertiti.

However, a later study that performed subsequent radar scans concluded ‘there are no hidden chambers immediately adjacent to the Tomb of Tutankhamun’. 

This photo shows a view of the gold burial mask of the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1334-1325 BC) on display at the Egyptian Museum in the centre of Egypt's capital Cairo. Nefertiti is thought to have been stepmother of the Tutankhamun

This photo shows a view of the gold burial mask of the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1334-1325 BC) on display at the Egyptian Museum in the centre of Egypt’s capital Cairo. Nefertiti is thought to have been stepmother of the Tutankhamun

ANKHESENAMUN

Sculpture fragment believed to be of Ankhesenamun, Brooklyn Museum, US

Sculpture fragment believed to be of Ankhesenamun, Brooklyn Museum, US

Ankhesenamun was the third of six known daughters of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti – and the wife of Tutankhamun. 

Despite being married, Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun were half-siblings; they shared the same father, Akhenaten, but had different mothers. 

Some time in the 9th year of his reign, about the age of 18, Tutankhamun died suddenly, leaving Ankhesenamun alone and without an heir about the age 21. 

She then wed Ay, who ruled from 1327 to 1323 BC, but following Ay’s death, Ankhesenamun disappears from the historical record.

In 2010, DNA tests on two mummies found in tomb KV21 in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings suggested that one of the two was the mother of the twins found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, and therefore Ankhesenamun. 

However, not enough data was obtained to make more than a tentative identification.  

While we don’t know much about Ankhesenamun’s appearance beyond golden figures, which may have been glamorised by ancient sculptors, they appear to show an elegant and beautiful woman. 

ALEXANDER THE GREAT 

Alexander III, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king of Macedon, a state in northern ancient Greece between 336 and 323 BC – and is today considered one of history’s most successful military commanders.   

The forces of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) are depicted fighting those of the Indian rajah Porus (active 327-315 BC) on the banks of the River Hydaspes, (now the River Jhelum in Pakistan)

The forces of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) are depicted fighting those of the Indian rajah Porus (active 327-315 BC) on the banks of the River Hydaspes, (now the River Jhelum in Pakistan)

WHO WAS ALEXANDER THE GREAT? 

Alexander III of Macedon was born in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia in July 356 BC. He died in Babylon in June 323 BC.

Alexander led an army across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt claiming the land as he went. His greatest victory was at the Battle of Gaugamela, now northern Iraq, in 331 BC, and during his trek across these Persian territories, he was said to never have suffered a defeat.

Following this battle in Gaugamela, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles (17,700km), founded over 70 cities and created an empire that stretched across three continents. This covered from Greece in the west, to Egypt in the south, Danube in the north, and Indian Punjab to the East.

Never defeated in battle, he created a vast empire that stretched from Greece to India before dying in Babylon in 323 BC at the age of just 32.

Following Alexander’s death, his body was initially buried in Memphis, Egypt, before being transferred in the late 4th or early 3rd century to Alexandria, where it was reburied. 

Now, Alexandria is generally considered to be the actual location of Alexander the Great’s tomb, although exactly where is a mystery. More than 100 official attempts have been conducted to find it.

In 2021, an Egyptian official claimed Alexander the Great’s tomb is in Siwa Oasis, an urban area near the Libyan border with Egypt, although any purported evidence of the claim was not verified. 

Alexander the Great’s cause of death is something of a mystery too, although theories include fever, infection, alcoholism, murder and even the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), according to a 2018 paper in the Ancient History Bulletin. 

The lavishly-furnished tomb of Alexander’s father, Philip II, was discovered during the late 1970s. 

ATTILA THE HUN 

Attila the Hun, considered one of the most powerful warriors in world history, was the ruler of the Huns (the nomadic people of Central Asia and Eastern Europe) from AD 434 until his death in 453. 

Also known as the Scourge of God, he began his rule by slaughtering Goth tribes in modern-day Germany and Austria, then attacked the enfeebled Roman Empire. 

Attila (406 - 453) the Hunnish King known as the 'Scourge Of God', is depicted here circa AD 450. He's considered one of the most powerful rulers in world history

Attila (406 – 453) the Hunnish King known as the ‘Scourge Of God’, is depicted here circa AD 450. He’s considered one of the most powerful rulers in world history

Atilla ruled territories from Germany to the Caspian Sea for almost 20 years, but he reached an undignified end in his mid-40s in March 453. 

On his wedding night, he drank heavily and passed out before choking to death on his own blood, either due to a nosebleed, a rupture or something else. There’s also speculation his new wife, Ildico, murdered him.

Again, what happened to his body and where it lies today is unknown, although the sole surviving written source about his funeral suggests his tomb was fit for a king. 

Jordanes, an ancient writer from the 6th century, said Attila was buried in a triple coffin – the innermost coffin made of gold, the middle coffin made of silver and the outermost coffin made of iron. 

It may be located on the Hungarian Puszta (also known as the Great Hungarian Plain), László Veszprémy, a professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest, told Live Science earlier this year.

GENGHIS KHAN 

Genghis Khan (AD 1162 to 1227), the brutal founder of the Mongol Empire, created a military state that invaded its neighbours and extended across Asia, causing the deaths of roughly 40 million people in the process. 

He was a prolific lover, fathering hundreds of children across his territories. Some scientists think he has 16 million male descendants alive today.

By the time he died in August 1227, the Mongol Empire covered a vast part of Central Asia and China.    

In all, Genghis conquered almost four times the lands of Alexander the Great. He is still revered in Mongolia and in parts of China.

The cover of a biography of the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan (1162 - 1267) by Norman Kotker circa 1960. Genghis Khan was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire

The cover of a biography of the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan (1162 – 1267) by Norman Kotker circa 1960. Genghis Khan was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire

Historians estimate he was responsible for the deaths of nearly 40 million people with his large-scale massacres of civilian populations. 

After dying of a sudden illness in 1227 at the age of 72, the Mongol leader was buried at a secret location that has yet to be uncovered. 

According to legend, Genghis Khan lies buried somewhere beneath the dusty steppe of Northeastern Mongolia, entombed in a spot so secretive that anyone who made the mistake of encountering his funeral procession was executed on the spot. 

GENGHIS KHAN: THE GENOCIDAL FOUNDER OF THE MONGOL EMPIRE 

Genghis Khan was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. In the early 1200s he united the Mongol tribes, creating a military state that invaded its neighbours and expanded.

The Empire soon ruled most of what would become modern Korea, China, Russia, eastern Europe, southeast Asia, Persia and India.

Khan made himself master of half the known world, and inspired mankind with a fear that lasted for generations.

He was a prolific lover, fathering hundreds of children across his territories. Some scientists think he has 16 million male descendants alive today.

By the time he died in August 1227, the Mongol Empire covered a vast part of Central Asia and China.

Originally known as Temüjin of the Borjigin, legend has it Genghis was born holding a clot of blood in his hand. 

His father was Khan, or emperor, of a small tribe but was murdered when Temüjin was still young.

The new tribal leader wanted nothing to do with Temujin’s family, so with his mother and five other children, Temüjin was cast out and left to die.

He later escaped, killed his half-brother, and began gathering supporters and manpower in his teenage years.  

In all, Genghis conquered almost four times the lands of Alexander the Great. He is still revered in Mongolia and in parts of China.

Historians estimate he was responsible for the deaths of nearly 40 million people with his large-scale massacres of civilian populations. 

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