Why Was This Mummy Found With A Golden Tongue?
During explorations at an ancient Egyptian temple near Alexandria in 2021, archaeologists found something startling and unique. While searching inside a burial shaft, they found a 2,000-year-old mummy with a golden tongue. This isn’t to suggest that the mummy suddenly came to life and began impressing them with its powers of oratory persuasion. It means that the mummy had an actual golden tongue - a replica made from precisely shaped, shiny golden foil. This glittering discovery was made by a joint team of archaeologists from the Dominican Republic and Egypt, headed by trailblazing archaeologist Kathleen Martinez.
Golden Tongue at Taposiris Magna
The excavations took place at a location called Taposiris Magna, a small, ancient community that was founded in 280 BC by Ptolemy II, one of the Ptolemaic descendants of Alexander the Great who ruled Egypt as a Hellenistic state for nearly 300 years following its fall to Alexander in the fourth century BC. The temple at Taposiris Magna that contained the mummy was dedicated to Osiris, the ancient Egyptian Lord of the Underworld, who was worshipped by Greek leaders in Egypt who honored the old traditions.
It isn’t known for sure why the mummy was given a golden tongue. Its discoverers theorize that the tongue was attached so that the deceased individual could communicate verbally with Osiris in the afterworld. This is entirely speculative, however, since there are no written records that can identify the individual or prove that he might have had anything to say that an ancient Egyptian god would want to hear.
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The mummy with the golden tongue was just one of many marvels recently found at Taposiris Magna. (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)
A Stunning Bounty Of Alexandrian Artifacts
The mummy with the golden tongue was highly unusual, but it was only one of the fascinating relics that were found in the 16 new burial shafts discovered by Kathleen Martinez and her Dominican-Egyptian team.
One of the more remarkable finds was a female mummy that was enclosed in a full body death mask.
A female mummy that was enclosed in a full body death mask. (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)
The archaeologists also found the remains of two other entombed mummies, one of which was covered in plaster layers decorated with golden images of Osiris. Partially intact scrolls were found next to these mummies, and the archaeologists started the long laborious process of decoding the scrolls to see what secrets they might reveal.
Additionally, several well-preserved statues were also discovered, and these are believed to represent some of the important individuals buried in the Taposiris Magna temple. Other treasures discovered in the burial shafts alongside the mummies include eight marble masks, and eight golden flakes that were once part of a golden wreath. It is impossible to date these relics to a particular year. But they were almost assuredly buried sometime during the era of Greek rule, which lasted from 305 BC to 30 BC.
Two of the well-preserved statues believed to represent some of the important individuals buried in the Taposiris Magna temple. (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)
In Search of Cleopatra: The Kathleen Martinez Story
Originally trained as a lawyer (and still practicing part-time as such), Kathleen Martinez moved to Egypt to begin her explorations in 2002, shortly after earning her master’s degree in archaeology. She first became interested in archaeology and ancient Egypt at the age of 15, when she became deeply obsessed with the life and times of the legendary Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt and close friend of Mark Antony and Julius Caesar, as has been immortalized repeatedly in Hollywood movies since the beginning of the film industry.
When Martinez first arrived in Egypt, she came of her own initiative and not with the support of any institution. She came to search for the location of Cleopatra’s lost burial place, which she believes will be found not inside a tomb, but in a burial shaft in a temple dedicated to Osiris and/or Isis, who are perhaps the most well-known of all the ancient Egyptian gods. It is known that Cleopatra and Mark Antony felt an affinity to these figures from Egyptian mythology, and Martinez was certain that if she just found the right temple, she would find the mummies of Cleopatra and her consort somewhere inside.
On her initial visit to Egypt, Martinez managed to secure an appointment to see the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, the celebrated Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass. Against all odds, Martinez wangled a two-month permit to explore several temples that were normally not open to independent researchers. Despite having a short time to look, Martinez made a discovery that was destined to change her life.
“In archaeology, two months is nothing,” she said in a 2016 interview with the New York City-based news agency DNAinfo. “But I took what they gave me, and the last day of those two months, I made a big discovery that changed the architecture of Egyptian temples. I found two [previously hidden] chambers in the Temple of Taposiris Magna [where] the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony could be.”
North facade of the Osiris Temple ruin in Taposiris Magna, west of Alexandria, facing the sea. (Koantao/ CC BY-SA 3.0)
Returning home to the Dominican Republic, Martinez convinced officials at the University of Santo Domingo to sponsor further archaeological work at Taposiris Magna. In 2005, Martinez and her team became the first archaeologists from Latin America to gain permission to carry out excavations on Egyptian soil.
Will Cleopatra’s Grave Ever Be Found? Stay Tuned!
It remains to be seen if Martinez will ever find the burial place of Cleopatra. While academics don’t dismiss the possibility that she and Mark Antony might be interred in the temple at Taposiris Magna, there is no actual evidence that suggests she is. Many archaeologists and Egyptologists are highly skeptical of Martinez’s theory, including Dr. Hawass.
But there is no disputing the enormity of Martinez’s accomplishments in the nearly two decades she has spent exploring the Taposiris Magna site. She and her team have discovered hundreds of artifacts since their excavations began in 2005, including a bust of Cleopatra and several ancient coins from her time bearing her image. They also discovered evidence proving that the temple foundation had been constructed under the authority of Ptolemy IV, who ruled Egypt from 221 BC to 204 BC.
As the discovery of 16 new burial shafts during the most recent exploration season demonstrates, the temple at Taposiris Magna is a gift that keeps on giving. Perhaps, one day, Taposiris Magna will deliver the ultimate prize to Kathleen Martinez, and reveal itself as the actual burial site of Cleopatra. If that happens, it would represent the perfect capstone to the career of a true pioneer in her field.
Top image: The mummy with the golden tongue and other recent finds from the Taposiris Magna site. Source: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
By Nathan Falde