Soulvatzi finds a supporter 1996

ATHENS (UPI) -- A Greek scholar claims she has uncovered manuscript evidence to support the claim that a tomb recently found in the Oasis of Siwa in Egypt's western desert was indeed that of Alexander the Great. Elpida Mitropoulou, who trained in ancient Greece studies at Birmingham and Oxford universities, says she began her probe after Liani Soulvatzi, a controversial Greek archaeologist, announced last year that she had discovered Alexander's tomb at Siwa, some 350 miles (560 km) southwest of Cairo. An official panel of Greek archaeologists challenged Soulvatzi's claim, saying classical manuscripts suggested the Macedonian conqueror was buried at Alexandria, a port city he founded some 110 miles (180 km) northwest of present-day Cairo, or at Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital.

Mitropoulou, who holds a doctorate in archaeology, told United Press International she began an independent study of ancient manuscripts to see if she could resolve the dispute one way or other. After a year of labor, she finally came to the conclusion that Soulvatzi was right and that the official panel had not quite done its homework. A spokesman for the panel declined to comment. Mitropoulou's detective work uncovered a remarkable story of deception and intrigue among the Ptolemy kings who ruled Egypt after Alexander's death. The Ptolemy kings apparently moved the conqueror's mummified body from one place to another several times -- not only throwing off-scent those who wished to steal it, but also befuddling present-day scholars such the official Greek panel. The deception included an order for a fake sarcophagus, or coffin, to be made, while the whereabouts of the real one was kept a closely guarded secret. Mitropoulou says a sarcophagus, made of gold or silver, may be buried among the ruins at Siwa where Soulvatzi's team has been digging as of 1989 at her own expense, with no help from the Greek government. She cites a string of clues found in ancient manuscripts pointing to Siwa as Alexander's real resting place. The Macedonian king visited Siwa before settng out to seize the Persian Empire and expressed a wish to be buried there, within view of the ancient Egyptian god Ammon or Ra, whom Greeks identified with Zeus, the head of the Hellenic pantheon in classical times.

Alexander believed he was the son of Ammon Ra, as his mother, Queen Olympia, had told him. The story of intrigue and deception begins at Babylon, where Alexander died in 323 B.C., probably poisoned. ``His body was mummufied, and a year later -- the time required for a golden sarcophagus to be made -- he was carried to Damascus,'' Mitropoulou said. From there, his remains were taken to Memphis by Ptolemy, one of his generals. Ptolemy, who became king of Egypt and is known to history as Ptolemy I, first buried Alexander's body in Memphis. However, Perdicos, another of Alexander's generals who became king of Babylon, regretted that he had allowed Ptolemy to take the body, and sought to recover it. A war broke out between the two, and Perdicos was killed in battle. Ptolemy was nevertheless concerned that another attempt would be made to seize the body, and he ``carried the golden sarcophagus of Alexander (secretly) to Siwa,'' where he ``buried him according to his wish,'' Mitropoulou said. He apparantly left a fake body in Memphis, "so no one would understand (the real one) was missing,'' she said. Ancient manuscripts say that years later when Ptolemy IV built a mausoleum in Alexandria he had the bodies of his predecessors and Alexander moved to the new structure.

The mausoleum in Alexandria stood at a place called Sima, which is now below water near the ancient port. `From ancient manuscripts we know that the body of Alexander was also taken to Alexandria, but we do not know from where,'' Mitropoulou told UPI. ``If Ptolemy IV knew that Ptolemy I had moved the body of Alexander secretly from Memphis to Siwa, then he (the later Ptolemy) will have taken the real Alexandria,'' she said. However, if he had not been told Ptolemy I's secret, ``he will have taken the fake (body) from Memphis'' to Alexandria, ``and so the real mummified body of Alexander in the gold sarcophagus will never have left Siwa and of course is still there,'' she said.

The intrigue deepens. Ptolemy IV stole a gold sarcophagus, replacing it with one of alabaster in the Alexandria mausoleum. Another change came when the people of Alexandria wanted to be able to see the mummified body of the Macedonian conqueror, and asked that it be placed in a glass sarcophagus. Ptolemy IV complied. ``When the next Ptolemy came to power, he thought it was an insult to Alexander to be in a glass sarcophagus, and replaced it again with a gold one,'' Mitropoulos said. Finally, when Cleopatra was queen of Egypt and became embroiled in a war with the Romans, she replaced the gold sarcophagus at Alexandria with a silver one, the research scholar said.

There was yet another complication in the 4th century A.D., by which time fanatical Christians had acquired a lot of power in Alexandria and were destroying relics of the pre-Christian era. Someone who cared about Alexander thought it would be better to take (the body) back to Siwa,'' Mitropoulou said.

A manuscript by Sisois, a monk who lived in a monastery at Siwa in the 4th Century A.D., says ``he visited (the tomb of) Alexander the Great'' there, she said. ``We also know from Kallimahos (another historial figure) that he visited Alexander in Siwa,'' the researcher said. So, if Mrs. Soulvatzi finds the gold sarcophagus, that would mean the real Alexander never left Siwa,'' she said. If she finds the silver sarcophagus, it would mean the realAlexander was taken to Alexandria and then brought back to Siwa in a silver sarcophagus.''

Among positive signs showing Soulvatzi right was her discovery, during her excavations at the site, were trays and other artifacts bearing images of a star, ram's horns and snakes -- all symbols of the god Ammon. Alexander is known to have carried such items with him in his travels. Moreover, the tomb Soulvatzi discovered in Siwa was of Macedonian design and dated to before 300 B.C. `Finally, and most important, Mrs. Soulvatzi has found a plaque saying that the son of Ammon, Alexander, was buried there. Ptolemy I, who wrote the plaque, describes how he brought the body of Alexander to Siwa,'' Mitropoulou said.