Monday, March 16, 2009

Austrian Scientist: Cleopatra Was Likely Part African

To this day Cleopatra remains one of the most enduring figures in ancient history, albeit a misunderstood one.

But a recent BBC News article about a recent archaeological discovery about her genes shatter some of the long-accepted myths about her race.

For years she has been assumed to be European in her looks, partly because so many fictional works created by European and American artists simply portrayed her that way.

Many archaeologists have long asserted that she was Greek or Macedonian as many of the Egyptian monarchs were actually Macedonian in origin.

Some African-Americans and Afro-centric scholars have long claimed she was in fact, a dark-skinned Egyptian African queen, but the truth is a merger of all these claims.

The inaccuracies that surround this fascinating Egyptian monarch are compounded by the numerous fictional works based on her life.

Most famously Elizabeth Taylor's portrayal of her in the 1963 film Cleopatra solidified the pop-culture myth of Cleopatra as a light-skinned, blue-eyed Caucasian. With Elizabeth Taylor's stunning blue eyes and simmering on-screen sexuality, it's not too hard to understand how THAT happened.

The film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and co-starring Richard Burton is known notoriously as one of the most expensive box-office flops in history, because of the enormous costs of it's elaborate sets and costumes and a series of delays and on-set accidents. Originally budgeted at $2 million it eventually cost $44 million and nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox studios.

There are no less than eight films (the first produced in 1917 and the most recent, in 2005) about her life and she has also been written about by playwrights (including Shakespeare), novelists, poets and was also characterized in the recent BBC-HBO cable television series Rome; usually cast as a white Caucasian female.

But the truth, according to the BBC News article is that she was in fact, most likely the daughter of an African mother based on a study of her sister Arsinoe's skeleton first unearthed in the late 1920's.

Cleopatra was born in January 69 BC and her parents were brother and sister. Her mother, Cleopatra V was an Egyptian queen and her father Ptolemy XII, was a direct descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a general of Alexander the Great.

Austrian Hilke Thuer of the Austrian Academy of Sciences completed a study of the skull of Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe found in a tomb in Ephesus, Turkey; he asserts that a close study of the skull clearly demonstrates that Arsinoe's mother was African and hence, Cleopatra was likely of mixed race as well.

To eliminate her younger sister as a potential rival for the Egyptian throne (they were both daughters of Ptolemy XII with different mothers), Cleopatra ordered her lover/husband Marc Antony to kill Arsinoe in 41 BC after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar in 44 BC (with whom Cleopatra had 3 sons...)

So after years of assumptions, science now makes clear that Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh, was in fact of mixed race and most likely had African, Egyptian and Macedonian (Greek) features.

A truth that has taken 2,000 years to come to light.

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