BURG EL-ARAB, Egypt — Egypt's top archaeologist made his version of a sales pitch Sunday, presenting 22 coins, 10 mummies, and a fragment of a mask with a cleft chin as evidence that the discovery of the lost tomb of Mark Antony and Cleopatra is at hand.
Zahi Hawass showed off the ancient treasures to journalists during a tour of a 2,000-year-old temple to the god Osiris, where they were found. He believes the site near the Mediterranean Sea contains the mysterious tomb.
"In my opinion, if this tomb is found, it will be one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century because of the love between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and because of the sad story of their death," he said.
Mark Antony and Cleopatra challenged Caesar Augustus for control of the Roman Empire more than two millennia ago. Their armies were defeated and rather than submit to capture, the lovers committed suicide.
The Roman historian Plutarch said Augustus allowed the two to be buried together, but their tomb was never found.
Hawass' claim is the latest spectacular announcement by the archaeologist, who continues to capitalize on the world's fascination with ancient Egypt. He regularly unveils discoveries that are often met with skepticism and bemusement by Egyptologists abroad.
With his trademark Indiana Jones-style hat, Hawass guided journalists through the Toposiris Magna temple 30 miles from Alexandria. He held up the fruits of three years of excavation by a team from the Dominican Republic, including the fragment of a mask bearing a distinctive cleft chin, which many believe Antony had.
Kathleen Martinez, the Dominican archaeologist who has been excavating the site for the last three years, said she chose the temple based on 12 years of studying the life of Cleopatra.
"I believe it could be Taposiris Magna because it was the most sacred temple of its time," she said, explaining that the lovers were buried in a temple rather than a public tomb to protect them from the Romans.
Martinez's team also found coins bearing Cleopatra's name and face, as well as carvings that could represent the doomed lovers.