Cleopatra’s Lost Tomb

Q & A with Kathleen Martinez

Kathleen Martinez

Kathleen Martinez

Secrets of the Dead: Cleopatra’s Lost Tomb followed Kathleen Martinez, criminal lawyer turned maverick archaeologist, as she searches for Cleopatra’s lost tomb. Why did Kathleen decide to become an archaeologist? Why did she choose Cleopatra? What are the updates on the project? Kathleen Martinez answered our questions below.

1. We learned from the episode that you’re a criminal lawyer. What inspired you to become an archaeologist? And how did you start? Do you still practice law?

Kathleen Martinez: From a very young age I recall wanting to be an archaeologist, but my parents discouraged me from pursuing my interests seeing as how there was no Archaeological precedent in the Dominican Republic. They urged me to study a career that was attainable in my country, and so I did. Years later however, the interest remained and I decided to study archaeology as a hobby since I could not hope to work in the field at the time. I never imagined that one day I would be presented with the opportunity to lead an entire excavation project in Egypt in search for the lost tomb of Cleopatra. I dedicated 15 years to study Cleopatra as a historical character but more so the mystery of her last days. The uncomfortable way she chose to die couldn’t have been a sporadic decision; it must have had a special meaning for her. So I decided to take on Cleopatra’s case and analyze her distinct facets: life, death, friends, enemies, and projects. A compilation of ancient’s texts, especially those of medieval Arab and Egyptian writers, as well as steles and papyri allowed me to trace the steps of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony to the temple Taposiris Manga. In regards to my practice of law, I still handle a few cases but not many-just important clients. Sometimes I will be inside a subterranean chamber and a client will call me for a consultation, it is a strange sensation.

2. What are the challenges to work as an archaeologist? How are your projects funded? What has been the most rewarding moment of your archeological work so far?

Kathleen Martinez: There are numerous misunderstandings in the minds of the general public pertaining to what it is we actually do. Unfortunately many people don’t see archaeology as real work especially people in third world countries. There is this delusion that archaeological findings that are not gold artifacts are worthless and that demonstrates difficulties when dealing with uncooperative local residents or property owners. In this project we have had difficulties with funding, most of the funds are distributed based on university prestige rather than individual project merit. At the beginning I had to fund the project myself, that was until my theory was being proved by the discoveries we were making at the site and we gradually started gaining support. Similarly, because of my origins working overseas presents to be another challenge: the language, the culture, being way from family. Recently however a new problem has emerged as a result of the Arab Spring, looting and destruction of artifact by religious fanatics jeopardize site preservation.

3. Why did you choose Cleopatra for your project?

Kathleen Martinez: Cleopatra is a fascinating character; she was the first celebrity, the most powerful woman of her time. She was an educated woman in an era where women were strictly forbidden to have an education and above all lived and died attempting to fulfill her duties and defying adversity. The enigma of her life captivated me.

4. Any updates on the project?

Kathleen Martinez: This season we will be working on finalizing the map of the temple for publication, adding to preexisting excavation plans all the discoveries that where made during our project. Most notably however, this season we will be working with groundbreaking GPR [ground-penetrating radar] Survey equipment that will ultimately help us reach our target.

5. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to study archaeology?

Kathleen Martinez: Archaeology offers abundant opportunities for involvement; it is never too late nor too early to become involved. Archaeology transcends borders, culture, language, and any socioeconomic divide. But the most important thing is to be passionate about the work you are doing, to explore and read.

6. If you could go back in time and ask Cleopatra one question, what would it be?

Kathleen Martinez: I would ask her to please elaborate on how she managed to enter the Royal Quarter of the palace concealed in a rug in efforts to meet Julius Caesar. How did she come up with such a daring plan? It thrills me.

7. Are there any other historical figures or time periods you would want to investigate once this project is complete?

Kathleen Martinez: My current project is not limited to the search for Cleopatra’s Tomb but also unearthing the complexities of the temple Taposiris Magna. Cleaning and excavating the entire complex will take roughly 40 years, so I’ll be busy for a while.

8. What do you have to say now to those people who doubted your work/theories about Cleopatra’s lost tomb?

Kathleen Martinez: I choose to dedicate my time to the contributions rather than the critiques. The rigorous scientific work we have carried out in the temple Taposiris Magna has been to better comprehend an important historical period much of which remains a mystery. These findings are contributions to Egyptology, they are supported by archaeological evidence that others were unable to discover but that were indeed within this sacred temple. My satisfaction is personal.