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Bone wars: Is skeletal find Cleopatra’s sister?

  • Egyptian queen believed to be to blame for half-sister's murder
  • Possible remains of Princess Arsinoe found in Ephesus
  • Long-standing debate over remains' actual identity; researcher who found them says doubt is 'a kind of jealousy'

The ancient city of Ephesus, where the possible remains of Princess Arsinoe were discovered.

Recent events have highlighted a pretty weird and entirely fascinating news sub-trend: recovered royal remains.

Just three weeks after the skeleton of England's King Richard III was uncovered from beneath a British parking lot, debate is heating up around the remains of another ancient royal who also suffered an inglorious and brutal ending.

The half-sister of Egyptian queen Cleopatra, Princess Arsinoe, was murdered in what's now Turkey in 41 B.C. Historians believe it was her legendary sister who actually ordered Arsinoe's death, fearful the younger princess would one day seek to claim Cleopatra's throne.

Bone up! 14 facts about Richard III

Fast forward more than 2,000 years, and archeologist Hilke Thuer is confident that excavated skeletal remains from Ephesus are in fact those of the young princess. A series of circumstantial evidence -- including the approximate age of the victim, the victim's gender and the specific location of the remains -- drove Thuer's conclusion. However, unlike Richard III, obtaining genetic proof will be difficult.

She recently told North Carolina's News & 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." Thuer first identified the remains as Arsinoe in 1985.

"One of my colleagues on the project told me two years ago there currently is no other method to really determine more," Thuer added. "But he thinks there may be new methods developing. There is hope."

Not everyone is as certain as the Austrian archeologist, mainly because the bones could be those of a number of other young women who might have died during the same time and were buried in the same, admittedly prestigious, location.

"Those arguments didn’t find anything to disprove my theory," she countered to the News & Observer. "This academic questioning is normal. It happens. It's a kind of jealousy."

Thuer will present her findings Friday in Raleigh, North Carolina, during a speech titled "Who Murdered Cleopatra’s Sister? And Other Tales From Ephesus".

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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