By DAMIEN GAYLE
An archaeologist who claimed to have found the bones of Cleopatra's murdered half-sister says they are pinning their hopes on new forensic techniques to conclusively identify the remains.
It was claimed that the remains of Princess Arsinöe IV, who was murdered more than 2,000 years ago on the orders of Egypt's queen Cleopatra, were the first relics of the Ptolemaic dynasty to be identified.
But rival experts have since said the evidence linking the bones to the princess is largely circumstantial, and even the researcher who found them admits they have been handled too many times to get a reliable DNA test result.
Nevertheless, Dr Hilke Thuer, from the Austrian Academy of Science, who made the discovery, remains convinced that they belonged to the Classical-era Egyptian royal.
Princess Arsinoe's purported remains were found in a tomb in Ephesus, a large and important ancient Greek city on the coast of Asia Minor, in what is now modern-day western Turkey.
She was Cleopatra's younger sister or half-sister. It is believed both were fathered by Ptolemy XII Auletes, but whether they shared a mother is unclear.
Still, however closely they were related by blood, there was no love lost between Arsinoe and her powerful sister.
A power struggle between Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII, in which the legendary seductress enlisted the help of Julius Caesar, saw the younger sister join the Egyptian army to resist Rome's legions, LiveScience reported.
After Cleopatra's victory with Rome's help, Arsinoe was taken captive and allowed to live in exile in Ephesus. But, it is believed, the Egyptian queen continued to see her younger sister as a threat.
After Caesar's assassination, she persuaded her new lover, Mark Antony, to have Arsinoe murdered in 41BC.
Two-thousand years later, in 1904, archaeologists excavating Ephesus found a ruined structure which they dubbed the Octagon after its unusual shape.
Further digs in 1926 revealed a grave chamber within the Octagon, inside of which were found the bones of a woman judged to be about 20 years old.
Dr Thuer, who is an expert in ancient architecture, told the Charlotte Observer: 'When I was working with the architecture of The Octagon and the building next to it, it wasn’t known whose skeleton was inside.
'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.'
That clue combined with the fact that in ancient times only special people were buried within cities themselves, the octagonal shape which resembles the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the fact the bones are female, left her convinced the bones were those of the Egyptian princess.
The initial opening to the burial chamber was small, and the Austrian team which first excavated took away only the skull, which was lost in Germany during the Second World War.
But then, in 1985, the back side of the chamber became accessible and Dr Thuer rediscovered the rest of the skeleton.
Unfortunately for Dr Thuer, the discovery led to the first major blow to her theory.
Forensic analysis of the bones showed they belonged to a girl no older than 15 or 16 - which seems young for a woman said to have played a big role in ancient geo-politics.
A BBC documentary in 2009 nevertheless trumpeted Dr Thuer's claims that the bones belonged to Arsinoe, and used measurements taken before the skull was lost to reconstruct her face.
She told the Sunday Times at the time: 'The results of the forensic examination and the fact that the facial reconstruction shows that Arsinoe had an African mother is a real sensation.'
Presenter and archaeologist Neil Oliver was equally gushing, saying at the time: '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.'
But despite a string of excitable headlines reporting the findings, other researchers were sceptical about the judgements of the woman's ethnicity and, indeed, her true identity.
'We get this skull business and having Arsinoe's ethnicity actually being determined from a reconstructed skull based on measurements taken in the 1920s?' wrote David Meadows, a Canadian classicist and teacher, on his blog rogueclassicism.
Dr Thuer admits that DNA tests she and her colleagues tried to carry out on the remains were less than satisfactory.
She told the Charlotte Observer: 'They tried to make a DNA test, but testing didn’t work well because the skeleton had been moved and the bones had been held by a lot of people. It didn’t bring the results we hoped to find.
'I don’t know if there are possibilities to do more of this testing. Forensic material is not my field.
'One of my colleagues on the project told me two years ago there currently is no other method to really determine more. But he thinks there may be new methods developing. There is hope.'