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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Scientists identify skeleton of Cleopatra's murdered sister for BBC One documentary

Fabian Kanz with the skeleton of Cleopatra's sister, skull removed

New and exclusive forensic evidence unearthed for Cleopatra: Portrait Of A Killer being shown on 23 March 2009 at 9.00pm on BBC One promises to shed new light on the former Queen of Egypt.

The BBC documentary is based on the groundbreaking discovery of human remains in a tomb 500 miles from Egypt in Ephesus, Turkey.

Combining state-of-the-art facial reconstruction and forensic techniques with anthropological and architectural analysis of the tomb, experts are now convinced that this is the skeleton of Cleopatra's sister Princess Arsinoe, murdered by her Roman lover Mark Antony on Cleopatra's orders.

For 2,000 years the story of Cleopatra's murderous commands have been the subject of endless speculation. By comparing the writings of Roman historian Cassius Dio and today's forensic evidence, the team now believes that the story is indeed true – and they have the skeleton to prove it.

Until now, many historians have dismissed Cassius Dio's claims as Roman propaganda. The teams behind the discovery believe they can now prove this version of events beyond reasonable doubt.

Furthermore, studies of the shape of her reconstructed skull also point to African lineage which would mean, as her sister, Cleopatra was also part-African. Until now, the royal Ptolemaic family lineage was thought to be of Greek/Caucasian extraction.

Neil Oliver, archaeologist and presenter of Cleopatra: Portrait Of A Killer, says: "Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony ... they are all iconic figures from history. It's almost impossible to remember they were real people and not the semi-mythical figures portrayed by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

"It was like a splash of cold water in the face to be confronted by them as human beings. When I stood in the lab and handled the bones of Cleopatra's blood sister – knowing that in her lifetime she touched Cleopatra and perhaps Julius Caesar and Mark Antony as well – I felt the hairs go up on the back of my neck. Suddenly these giant figures from history were flesh and blood."

Archaeologist Dr Hilke Thuer from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who led the discovery, says: "It is unique in the life of an archeologist to find the tomb and the skeleton of a member of Ptolemaic dynasty. The results of the forensic examination and the fact that the facial reconstruction shows that Arsinoe had an African mother is a real sensation which leads to a new insight on Cleopatra's family and the relationship of the sisters Cleopatra and Arsinoe."

BBC One Controller, Jay Hunt, says: "I am delighted to have this remarkable piece of historical journalism on BBC One. Such a revelation about an iconic figure from the ancient world is likely to change perceptions of Cleopatra forever."

Presented by archaeologist Neil Oliver, the film reveals the darker side of love and power in the ancient world. It brings to life key scenes from the life and loves of Cleopatra – her affair with Caesar; the killing of her two brothers; and the boat where Mark Antony and Cleopatra brokered a murderous pact which sealed the fate of her sister.

Cleopatra: Portrait Of A Killer is a tale of rivalry, lust, incest, murder and power that destroyed an empire. It is an incredible true story about one of history's greatest legends.

Cleopatra: Portrait Of A Killer will be shown on Monday 23 March at 9.00pm on BBC One.

Notes to Editors

The scientific papers on The Lady From The Octagon will be be presented by Dr Fabian Kanz of The Medical University of Vienna at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists on 31 March in Chicago, USA.

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