I suddenly have this unaccountable urge to comment on the current issue of National Geographic Magazine. Maybe that isn’t so strange. I mean, after all, I like reading the mag and I’m on record as saying, in the Swedish Skeptics quarterly no less, that my ideal museum exhibition would be a 3D version of a Nat Geo feature story. Though I wonder if that’s the only reason. Well, anyway:
Nat Geo covers quite a bit of archaeology, usually of the same Great Civilisations and Opulently Furnished Tombs of Antiquity kind that we meet with in more specialised international pop-archaeomags such as Current World Archaeology. Thus, in the July issue, we find a feature by Chip Brown on the tomb of Cleopatra VII, the last Pharaoh of Egypt. She was born in 69 BC, ascended to the throne at age 18, ruled successfully for two decades, and committed suicide for political reasons at age 39 in 30 BC. The study of her time is historical archaeology in Egypt, while Sweden where I work wasn’t even mentioned briefly in writing until the century following hers.
Cleopatra is said to have killed herself in a tomb stuffed with riches after Octavian’s successful invasion put an end to Egyptian independence. But nobody knows where the tomb was located. The most energetic of the people involved in the search is one Kathleen Martinez, a non-archaeologist from the Dominican Republic, who comes across as quite obsessive in the feature piece. She thinks the tomb may be somewhere at Taposiris Magna, a not very well-known city of Cleopatra’s time.
Why there? Because it had a cult of Osiris and Isis, which was not uncommon, and because Cleopatra used the imagery of Osiris and Isis in her propaganda, and… Well… Because Martinez has a hunch.
Has any evidence supporting her ideas surfaced in five seasons of fieldwork? No.
I think this is a pretty ridiculous story for Nat Geo to run.