Sunday, March 15, 2009

Confirmed: The Body of Cleopatra's Sister

Is this the face of Cleopatra's younger sister, Arsinoe? She looks neither Egyptian nor black African to me - she looks like the Latina down the street. From The Sunday Times March 15, 2009 Found: the sister Cleopatra killed Forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of the queen’s younger sister, murdered over 2,000 years ago Daniel Foggo ARCHEOLOGISTS and forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of Cleopatra’s younger sister, murdered more than 2,000 years ago on the orders of the Egyptian queen. The remains of Princess Arsinöe, 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 Cleopatra’s 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 Arsinöe’s 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. [So the scientists deduce that Cleopatra was of "mixed race" whatever that means these days, ha! - based on her sister's skeleton? Oh please!] The results vindicate the theories of Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who has long claimed that the skeleton was Arsinöe. She described the discovery of Arsinöe’s ethnicity as “a real sensation which leads to a new insight on Cleopatra’s family”. [Why is Cleopatra's "ethnicity" a "real sensation"???] Fellow experts are now convinced [are they?]. Günther Hölbl, an authority on the Ptolemies, said the identification of the skeleton was “a great discovery”. 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. [Ahhhh, now the real truth comes out about this sensationalist news story - it's all about publicity for this television "special." Geez!] The institute’s breakthrough came about after it set out to examine Thür’s belief that an octagonal tomb in the remains of the Roman city of Ephesus contained the body of Arsinöe. According to Roman texts the city, in what is now Turkey, is where Arsinöe was banished after being defeated in a power struggle against Cleopatra and her then lover, Julius Caesar. Arsinöe was said to have been murdered after Cleopatra, now with Mark Antony following Caesar’s death, ordered the Roman general to have her younger sibling killed to prevent any future attempts on the Egyptian throne. [So, we don't even know for sure if Cleopatra was guilty of ordering the murder of her sister? Easy enough to blame her instead of Antony - or someone else looking to implicate Cleopatra and ruin her reputation with a rumor campaign... And yet what is the name of the upcoming t.v. special: Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer (of her own sister, tsk tsk). How low-life can the producers get? Must have studied out of the book of Stalin.] 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 Thür 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 Arsinöe was associated, convinced Thür the body was that of Cleopatra’s 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. “We tried to exclude her from being Arsinöe,” he said. “We used all the methods we have to find anything that can say, ‘Okay, this can’t be Arsinöe because of this and this’.” 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 Thür’s theory gained credibility. He said he was certain the bones were female and placed the age of the woman at 15-18. Although Arsinöe’s date of birth is not known, she was certainly younger than Cleopatra, who was about 27 at the time of her sister’s demise. The lack of any sign of illness or malnutrition also indicated a sudden death, said Kanz. Evidence of the skeleton’s 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 Arsinöe might have looked like. [She reconstructs the skull based on measurements of a missing skull that we have no idea were actually accurate, and from there she "reconstructs" a face. Some people accuse Goddesschess of being "out there" with our theories about the origins of chess, but we haven't tried any stunts like this one!] “It has got this long head shape,” said Wilkinson. “That’s something you see quite frequently in ancient Egyptians and black Africans. It could suggest a mixture of ancestry.” Hmmmm, does this mean those recently discovered "elongated skulls" found in Siberia are a mixture of ancient Egyptians and black Africans, too???


Anonymous said...

"Is this the face of Cleopatra's younger sister, Arsinoe? She looks neither Egyptian nor black African to me - she looks like the Latina down the street."

Interesting, I guess it depends on what your definition of looking black or egyptian is though. Many Latinos are a mixture of black African/Native American and European anyways so that's not too far off.

Jan said...

To me, Egyptian is what the Egyptian people look like today, which isn't too different from how they are depicted in the tomb paintings thousands of years old. Imagine Egyptian Antiquities Director Zahi Hawass in a pharaoh's double crown and pleated linen - I'd say he's a typical Egyptian. To be sure there was racial mixing then as there is now, and unless a family has absolutely tracked its history from day one (which is impossible) there's no way of knowing how many different bloodlines and races are mixed into one's heritage. Under the circumstances, tagging people with titles "white," "black," African, Asian, Caucasian, etc. seems beside the point and a little silly - very 19th century. I always laugh when I'm asked to identify myself by race! Like I know? Just because my skin is "white" (actually, I'm rather olive-skinned, like 2 other of my siblings; the other 3 are fair-skinned). Does that really mean I'm "caucasian?" I can't identify our ancestors four generations back, so who the heck knows what went on and with whom? And really, who cares? On the other hand, it irks me no end when some folks insist on claiming a black African ancestry and origin for the ancient Egyptians! What - is the civilization at Meroe not enough, are the legends, skills and knowledge of the Dogon as nothing to these people that they must also paint the Egyptians as black when anyone who has seen any depictions of Egyptians in tomb paintings knows that the Egyptians were well able to depict peoples of different colors and races? Humbug!

Unknown said...

Cleopatra and her sister were descendants of Ptolemy I Soter, who was one of Alexander the Great's General. Ptolemy I Soter was the son of Arsinoe and Lacus, who were both both Macedonian.

Cleopatra VII (the one everyone thinks of when they say Cleopatra) was the daughter of Cleopatra the VII. Celopatra VII father was the BROTHER of Clopatra V.

So, you can see that Cleopatra's lineage on both her mother and father's sides (brother and sister) leads back to a man and woman who were both macedonian.

Cleopatra would have the physical traits of the Macedonians of that era.

It is incorrect to think she would have looked like other Egyptians. Consider this, she is the believed to be the first ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty that learned to speak Egyptian...

What I am saying is this; even though she was Egyptian by law and birth, her physical traits and heritage was Macedonian....

Macedonians were neither black nor white. They were likely very similar to greeks and Illyans...

I'm curious what you think about this and I'd appreciate if you would email me a response.

Doc T

Jan said...

Hi Doc,

Thanks for your comments. I knew that Cleopatra was a descendant of Ptolemy I, one of the four generals who divided up Alexander's kingdom after he died, and I figured he was from Macedonia. I did not know his specific immediate antecedents.

The comment in the article that I was offended by was this: "Evidence obtained by studying the dimensions of Arsinöe’s 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."

Without having Cleopatra's body, I do not know how anyone could assume that Cleopatra had the same ancestry as her sister, who had a different mother. At best, the half-sisters would share a common ancestry only on their father's side, unless their mothers were closely related. Do we know who Cleopatra's mother was? Do we know who Arsinoe's mother was?

Between the time of Ptolemy I and Cleopatra VII was some 330 years (? -- Alexander's death circa 330 BCE, Cleopatra was born about 69 BCE and died in 30 BCE). Anything could have happened with respect to the line of descent during that time -- lots of intermarriages with non-Macedonians, for instance.

To sum up, I thought the underlying assumptions in the article smacked of "political correctness" rather than sound science, and that bugged me. It is just as wrong to impose our 21st century assumptions on the history of the past as it was to impose 19th century assumptions on it.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Clearly looks Black.

Unlike she's Latina. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Clearly looks Black. To almost everyone but you, I guess?

Unlikely she's Latina. LOL.

Anonymous said...

OK FIRST OF ALL, they THINK it's her half sister, no one KNOWS. And if her half sister was half something else & they had different mothers, why would it relate to meaning SHE also was half black or something. By the way,4-5K yrs ago egypt was totally white & became mixed beginning around 3K yrs ago. Also here's a LINK to a recent recreation of Cleopatra based on a COLOR PORTRAIT done of her during her lifetime and statues. She had golden hair, blue eyes, and very white skin.

Jan said...

Until Cleopatra VII's body is found - if ever that happens - won't be certain about anything regarding what she may have looked like and what her racial/ancestral mix may have been. Probably if her tomb is beneath the ocean there is no body left to discover, it would have dissolved away after all these years. I wonder if somewhere, somehow, Cleopatra is aware that people have been talking about her ever since she died, and will probably still be talking about a thousand years from now.

Was she blonde haired and blue eyed and white-skinned? I would like to see "portraits" of her ancestors, if they are available from tomb paintings, etc.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't say at ALL That it done from a color portrait!

It says: Cleopatra A portrait digitally modeled from Roman Sculptures and the Ancient Painting in Encaustic

Notice the word SCULPTURE!

Jan said...

Cleopatra VII was descended from Greek-speaking Macedonians - per Doc's post several months ago. I don't know what Macedonians look like. The only Greeks I know of are olive-skinned and dark-eyed, dark-haired. But they are not black African.

We all must remember that we bring underlying and usually unspoken assumptions to our discussions -- including the folks who do the facial skeletal reconstructions.

I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we have a very large population of Mexicans, Hondurans, and other immigrants from Middle and South America. I ride the bus with these folks every day on my way downtown to work. I have done so for over 20 years. The immigrants are typicially light-to medium brown or brown/reddish skinned, with black hair and black eyes. When I said that I thought the reconstruction of Arsinoe looked "Latina" - that was what I was talking about. Her reconstruction reminded me a lot of various young women I have seen on the bus in my hometown, all Latinas. I was NOT saying that Arsinoe was Latina - only that she looked like a Latina. There is a difference. I'm no geneticist (is that a word?) I saw the image of the reconstructed Arsinoe and I said what I thought she looked like within my own frame of reference. Geez!

Anonymous said...

Her skull was photographed from different sides, prior to its vanishing in WW2, plus exact measurements, plus 3D Computergraphic Software, plus common scientific sense of human face anatomy = you get a very close look at the face of the woman in that tomb

Besides, a normal New Yorker Yuppie, does not look like a Sioux, oh yes they are both American, so they have to look alike :-), imagine 2000 Years of immigration, arabian rule etc etc, an egyptian today, doesn't have to look like a peasant from King Tuts era, not everybody on african soil has to have dark black skin, to be considered african

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