Archaeologists Discover 4,300-Foot-Long Tunnel Under Ancient Egyptian Temple

Researchers have been digging near the Taposiris Magna Temple in hopes of finding Cleopatra’s long-lost tomb

Taposiris Magna Temple
The Taposiris Magna Temple west of the ancient city of Alexandria Koantao via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered an underground tunnel at Taposiris Magna, a temple dedicated to Osiris, the god of death.

Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist with the University of Santo Domingo, located the 6.5-foot-tall, 4,300-foot-long tunnel roughly 43 feet underground at the temple, which is situated west of the ancient city of Alexandria. She also found two Ptolemaic-era alabaster statues and several ceramic vessels and pots, reports Artnet’s Sarah Cascone.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities shared the find in a statement last week and described the tunnel as a “geometric miracle.”

The entrance shaft and the tunnel
The entrance shaft and the tunnel Courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Part of the tunnel is submerged underwater, which could be the result of several earthquakes that struck the region between 320 and 1303 C.E. Archaeologists suspect that those natural disasters caused the temple to collapse.

The tunnel is “an exact replica of Eupalinos Tunnel in Greece, which is considered as one of the most important engineering achievements of antiquity,” Martinez tells Live Science’s Owen Jarus. The Tunnel of Eupalinos, located on the Greek island of Samos in the eastern Aegean Sea, was an aqueduct that carried water for more than 1,000 years.

During previous excavations at the site, archaeologists found a variety of other artifacts, including coins featuring the names and images of Cleopatra VII and Alexander the Great. They’ve also found figurines, statues of the goddess Isis, a mummy with a gold tongue and a cemetery full of Greco-Roman-style mummies.

Alabaster head
One of two alabaster heads archaeologists discovered at the site Courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Cleopatra—who ruled Ptolemaic Egypt from 51 to 30 B.C.E.—and her longtime lover, the Roman general Mark Antony, died by suicide in 30 B.C.E. Historians believe they are likely buried together, but they don’t know where.

Martinez, a criminal lawyer turned archaeologist, has believed for many years that the ancient queen was buried at the Taposiris Magna Temple. After successfully petitioning the Egyptian government to conduct research in the area, she began digging—and though she hasn’t found Cleopatra’s tomb yet, she’s made many other important discoveries over the past 15 or so years, including the tunnel.

The tunnel measures 6.5 feet tall and 4,300 feet long. Courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

She is continuing her attempt to locate the ancient queen’s long-lost tomb, and she thinks she’s getting closer. As she told the Heritage Key blog in 2009, “If there’s one percent of a chance that the last queen of Egypt could be buried there, it is my duty to search for her.”

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