Cleopatra's sister's bones possibly identified

Cleopatra's sister's bones possibly identified
Forensic artist Victoria Lywood worked with a team of researchers to create 3D models of three ancient Egyptian mummies. This model is of a woman who died around the age of 20 nearly 2000 years ago. CT scans reveal that when she was buried her hair was tied in an elaborate pattern popular in the 2nd century AD. (Victoria Lywood)

An Austrian archaeologist believes she has found the bones of Cleopatra's sister, a princess who found herself on the wrong side of her more famous family member and ended up murdered for it.

Hilke Thur, a researcher based at the Austrian Academy of Scientist said that she believes the bones found in the ancient Greek city Ephesus belong to Arsinoe IV.


Though DNA tests were inconclusive, ancient writings show Arsinoe--who was either Cleopatra's sister or half-sister--was murdered there in 41 B.C. by the queen pharaoh and her Roman lover Marc Antony.

Speaking to the Charlotte News Observer ahead of her lecture on her findings at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh this Friday, Thur said the circumstantial evidence makes a convincing case for the remains being those of Arsinoe IV:

In antiquity, ordinary people were not buried within the city. That privilege was only for special people – those with an aristocratic background, or people who did special things for their city. So the body must have belonged to a special person. Also, the skeleton was of a woman.

Then there is the shape of the building. While The Octagon exists only as ruins today, its pieces have been photographed. The images were digitized and ‘virtually rebuilt’ on a computer. The shape of the building, an imperial grave monument, resembles the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The lighthouse, destroyed centuries ago, was built at Alexandria, on the Egyptian coast, by the Ptolemy dynasty from which Cleopatra and Arsinoe IV were descended.

Archaeologists began to excavate the Octagon site in Ephesus in 1904, and discovered the burial chamber containing the bones of a young woman in 1926.

The skull disappeared during World War II, but Thur uncovered the rest of the bones in 1985.

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Some findings have cast doubt on the conclusion that the bones may be of the murdered princess.

The lost skull had been photographed and measured before it disappeared, and a reconstruction of her face suggests she may have had African ancestry through her mother.

Although classicists believe Cleopatra was, like the rest of the Ptolemies, ethnically Greek, it is unclear if the two women shared a mother.

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Additionally, testing shows the bones are of a woman who died before she turned 20, a surprisingly young age considering the important role she supposedly played--a challenge to Cleopatra's rule that eventually led to Arsinoe's murder.


Cleopatra had connected with Julius Caesar in Alexandria in 48 B.C. in an attempt to tamp down rivalries for her throne. Arsinoe raised an Egyptian rebellion against her sister, fought off by reinforcements sent in by Rome.

Arsinoe was captured and taken to Rome, where Caesar granted her life in exile in Ephesus.

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After Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C., Cleopatra took up with Antony and had her sister murdered.

Although Thur says her team is somewhat stuck to find more conclusive evidence, she is hopeful new tests will soon be able to prove the bones' identity.

“They tried to make a DNA test, but testing didn’t work well because the skeleton had been moved and the bones had been held by a lot of people," Thur said. "It didn’t bring the results we hoped to find."

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"One of my colleagues...thinks there may be new methods developing. There is hope.”

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