More than 2,000 years after Princess Arsinoe IV’s death archaeologists are hoping new forensic techniques will confirm that remains recovered in Turkey belong to Cleopatra’s murder sister. Arsinoe IV’s bones were lost after being stolen by the Nazis during World War II, but now Hilke Thur, a Viennese archaeologist, claims he’s found evidence the skeleton in his possession is the former princess.
Historians aren’t sure if Arsinoe was the sister or half-sister of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, although it has been confirmed the two shared a father in Ptolemy XII Auletes. When Ptolemy XII died he left the throne to Celopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, who soon tried removing Cleopatra from power.
Julius Caesar would join the struggle, winning Cleopatra back the throne with Roman support. Unfortunately for Princess Arsinoe, she had already taken sides against Cleopatra and – after the power struggle – was banished to Ephesus, an ancient Greek city in what is now Turkey. According to Live Science, Cleopatra had a change of heart in 41 B.C., perceived her sister as a threat, and had her murdered.
Thur told the Charlotte News Observer that a skeleton he helped recover during an archaeological dig at a monument in Euphesus, the Octagon, was the remains of a girl in her late teens, implying that was consistent with Arsinoe at the time of her death. Other scientists doubt that, pointing to Cleopatra’s murdered sister’s importance during the Egyptian-Roman war.
“When I was working with the architecture of the Octagon and the building next to it, it wasn’t known whose skeleton was inside,” he said. “Then I found some ancient writers telling us that in the year 41 B.C., Arsinoe IV – the half-sister of Cleopatra – was murdered in Ephesus by Cleopatra and her Roman lover, Marc Antony. Because the building is dated by its type and decoration to the second half of the first century B.C., this fits quite well. I put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
But critics allege the evidence is merely circumstantial and that the bones have been handled too many times for a positive DNA identification, a claim Thur admits. The archaeologist said the DNA test, “didn’t bring the results we hoped to find,” but the academic questioning is nothing more than “a kind of jealousy.”
Earlier this month scientists announced they had determined an unrelated set of remains, found underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, belonged to Richard III. The king, portrayed as a merciless tyrant by playwright William Shakespeare, was killed during the 1485 Battle of Bosworth, the culmination of the War of the Roses. Richard’s skeleton had 10 wounds, eight in the head, which was evidence that he had almost certainly lost his helmet before dying on the battlefield.