No evidence seen of Alexander's tomb, Greeks say

February 06, 1995|By New York Times News Service

CAIRO, Egypt -- A high-level archaeological team from the Greek government, investigating claims that the tomb of Alexander the Great had been discovered in Egypt's Western Desert, visited the site yesterday and said that they saw no evidence that the tomb had been found.

But Liana Souvaltzi, the archaeologist who announced last week that she had found the tomb outside the oasis of Siwa, said on Saturday: "I have no reservations. This is Alexander's tomb. There is no doubt."

She said that the tomb was built in Macedonian style and that three tablets uncovered at the site provided the archaeological proof.

One of the tablets, she said, was written by Alexander's lieutenant, Ptolemy I, and affirmed a legend that Alexander had been poisoned. Another, she said, was left by the Roman emperor Trajan, who she said had paid his respects at the site.

But the Greek team, headed by the general secretary of the Ministry of Culture, George Thomas, said that it was unclear if the structure she was excavating was even a tomb.

He and members of the team said that the style of the complex was not, as Mrs. Souvaltzi said, Macedonian. And they said that the fragments of tablets they were shown did not support any of the translations she provided as proof of her discovery.

The team members also said that the fragments they saw were from the Roman period, about 300 years after the death of Alexander the Great.

"We are not sure if the complex is a tomb or a temple," said Dr. Yanni Tzedakis, the director of antiquities for the Greek government, "although there are elements of the Hellenistic period in the rubble. It appears, however, to be from a later period."

Mrs. Souvaltzi refused to allow the visiting team to read her report on the excavations. She refused to brief the team on her work. And she did not accompany the team to the site outside Siwa. She gave no reason for her refusal to cooperate with the Greek officials.

"The fact that the report on the excavations is not being shown to us is curious," Mr. Tzedakis said. "She should present photos and plans, along with details of the excavations, to back up her claim."

Abdel-Halim Noureddin, chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, who said earlier in the week that he supported the claim by Mrs. Souvaltzi, now says he is less sure about the find. "It is an important discovery," Mr. Noureddin said, "but we have to be a bit careful. We must wait for further study and a reconsideration of the text."

Mrs. Souvaltzi, who has an archaeological degree from the University of Athens, has been excavating in the area around Siwa, 50 miles east of the Libyan border, for the past four years.

The inscriptions on the tablets, broken into pieces, were translated by Mrs. Souvaltzi's husband, who has no formal archaeological training. He also provides the financing for her research.

Mrs. Souvaltzi, who says she has received mystical guidance in her search, in part from snakes, had claimed in the past that this structure was the tomb of Alexander. She wrote an article in an Egyptian magazine, published by Cairo University three years ago, saying that the structure was Alexander's tomb.

The report was dismissed at the time by senior archaeologists in Egypt and Greece.

Alexander, king of Macedon, led his armies out of Greece in 334 B.C. at the age of 22 and conquered an empire that covered much of Asia and the Middle East. Ancient texts indicate that, after his death in Babylon in 323 B.C. on a military campaign, his body was moved to Syria and then to Egypt. But his final burial place remains a mystery.

About 570 B.C. the Pharaoh Amasis built a temple in Siwa to the god Amun. The temple oracle was one of the most famous in antiquity. Alexander went to Siwa in 332 B.C. to see the oracle. The oracle, according to legend, told Alexander that he was divine and the son of Amun.

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