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.
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”.
Fellow experts are now convinced. 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.