Alexandria, Egypt - After 15 years of studying Cleopatra, Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez believes she may have found the final resting place of the famous Egyptian queen.
The site is not where archaeologists previously thought the queen, who is said to have killed herself with poisonous snakes, was buried.
Martinez believes that, instead of the royal burial site in Alexandria that is now sunken under the Mediterranean Sea, Cleopatra and her Roman lover, Mark Antony, were buried on a hill surrounded by water west of Alexandria.
'I thought they were searching in the wrong place, and with the political circumstances she needed a place to be protected in her afterlife,' Martinez told the German Press Agency dpa on Sunday.
Cleopatra and Mark Antony, who was also her political ally, are believed to have committed suicide after their defeat by Roman Emperor Octavian in the Battle of Actium.
Archaeologists have for many years searched in vain for the couple's remains.
On the hill in Abusir, located 50 kilometres west of Alexandria, sits the temple of Taposiris Magna, where Martinez and Egypt's chief archeologist Zahi Hawass believe the lovers lie.
'This temple is perfect place for them to be hidden,' Hawass told reporters on Sunday at a press conference in the temple. 'This could be the most important discovery of the 21st century.
'We found the temple of Isis inside this temple,' he added. 'Cleopatra could be like the Egyptian goddess Isis and Mark Antony could be like Osiris.'
Hawass said the temple was considered sacred because, according to myth, a part of the body of Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of the afterlife, was buried there. In the myth, Seth, the jealous younger brother of Osiris, killed him, dismembered his body and hid the parts in different locations. Later, Osiris' wife, the goddess Isis, gathered the body parts.
Hawass said historians know from the writings of Greek historian Plutarch that Cleopatra and Antony were buried together.
Martinez said a priest likely took Cleopatra's body to the temple after her suicide, sealing it around the year 30 BC.
Martinez said the body could have been moved to the site and hidden from the Romans because Octavian did not have firm control over Egypt immediately after the battle. For Romans, obtaining the bodies of the defeated was considered a sign of victory.
Since excavation started on the site about three years ago, archaeologists have found several clues that indicate Cleopatra's burial in the temple. Twenty two coins bearing the face of Cleopatra were found along with a bust and a pointed-nose mask with a cleft in the chin believed to belong to Mark Antony.
The presence of 27 tombs dating to the first century BC near the temple made could indicate that the temple may have been a royal burial site, according to Hawass and Martinez.
Martinez estimates that the tomb could be 20.7 metres deep and says that finding any chamber underneath the temple would be 'a good sign.'
'I think that the tomb should be intact with a cartouche,' she said, explaining that given the secrecy of the burial, no one had ever excavated at the site before.
Martinez told dpa that it was likely Cleopatra would have been mummified but that Mark Antony was not as likely to have been well preserved because he was neither Egyptian nor a king.
Hawass last week announced that a radar survey had uncovered three possible locations for the tombs. He said that an excavation team would arrive in Egypt on April 22 with advanced radar that could reach 70 metres below the surface.
'We hope to find the tomb and we hope to find the tomb intact,' said Hawass.