National Geographic : 2011 Jul
e top half of a granite colossus is hoisted to the surface of Aboukir Bay, northeast of Alexandria. About 18 feet tall, the full sculpture represented Hapy, the god of the Nile's yearly ooding, which fertilized Egypt's elds. It likely stood outside the major temple in Herakleion. at long-lost city, now rediscovered under- water, was a center of trade and pilgrimage and a ritual site for Cleopatra and other Ptolemaic pharaohs. the renowned Italian archaeologist, had exca- vated the foundation of a small fourth-century . . Coptic basilica in the otherwise vacant courtyard of the enclosure and discovered an area of Roman baths. In 1998 a Hungarian team led by Győző Vörös found evidence of a colon- naded structure inside the enclosure that they concluded (incorrectly, as it turned out) had been an Isis temple. It was clear when Vörös's book, Taposiris Mag- na, was published in 2004 that the temple had had three incarnations---as a Ptolemaic sanctu- ary, a Roman fort, and a Coptic church. But was that the whole story? Zahi Hawass found himself pondering the possibility that a black granite bust of Isis that Vörös had coaxed from the dirt of Ta- posiris Magna might well be the face of Cleopatra herself. In October 2005 the dig got under way. Today it's easy to imagine that the view from the pylon of Taposiris Magna looks much like it did in Cleopa- tra's day---if you can block out the unsightly band of condominiums and resort hotels between the coastal highway and the broad white sand beach and glimmering blue expanse of the Mediterranean. One hot, sun-washed morning at the temple in May 2010, Kathleen Martinez was bundled in a long-sleeve shirt, head scarf, and ngerless woolen gloves. "For some reason I am always cold when I am here," she said. e two months of excavation she had requested had turned into three months, and three months had become ve years. On the bedrock in the middle of the site an array of column fragments showed the ghostly outlines of what Hawass and Martinez have con- cluded was not a temple to Isis, but a temple to Osiris. It was oriented on the east-west axis. At an angle just north were the faint hints of an Isis chapel; to the south, an excavated rectangular pit: " at was the sacred lake," Martinez says. It's a cliché that you can stick a shovel in the ground almost anywhere in Egypt and find something amazing from the long-gone past. When Martinez and a team of excavators began probing the ground in 2005, she was focused less on the ultimate prize of Cleopatra's tomb than on simply nding su cient evidence to sustain her theory that Taposiris Magna might be the place to look. She hoped to demonstrate that the temple was among the most sacred of its day, that it was dedicated to the worship of Osiris and Isis, and that tunnels had been dug underneath the enclosure walls. Within the rst year, she was rewarded by the discovery of a sha and several underground chambers and tunnels. "One of our biggest questions is why did they dig tunnels of this magnitude," she says. "It had to be for a very signi cant reason." During the 2006-07 season the Egyptian- Dominican team found three small foundation deposits in the northwest corner of the Osiris temple, just inches from where the Hungarian expedition had stopped digging. e deposits conclusively linked the Osiris temple to the reign of Ptolemy IV, who ruled a century and a half before Cleopatra. In 2007, further support- ing the view that the site was very important to the Greeks of ancient Egypt, the excavators found a skeleton of a pregnant woman who had died in childbirth. e tiny bones of the unborn baby lay between the skeleton's hips. Her jaw was distended, suggesting her agony, and her right hand was clutching a small white marble bust of Alexander the Great. "She is a mystery," said Martinez, who had a co n built for the remains of the mother. In six years Taposiris Magna has become one of Egypt's most active archaeology sites. More CHRISTOPH GERIGK, FRANCK GODDIO/HILTI FOUNDATION e time had come to drop the veil. "I have a theory," Martinez said, and con ded she thought Taposiris Magna was where Cleopatra was buried. "What?" said Hawass, grabbing his chair.