Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe reconstructed.

arsinoe-recon1

Image made of Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe

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 Scientists have recreated an image of the face of the sister of Cleopatra, the last Egyptian pharaoh. A team of forensic art experts at Dundee University made the 3D computer image of Arsinoe, who was hated by Cleopatra, who lived 2,000 years ago.

Researchers undertook the work for a new documentary, Cleopatra – Portrait of a Killer, on BBC ONE.  Scientists based the computer model on what are believed to be remains of Arsinoe found in Ephesus, Turkey.

‘Historical background’

The Unit for Forensic and Medical Art at Dundee used facial reconstruction and forensic techniques to generate images and models from human remains.  In the case of Arsinoe, researchers took dozens of pictures of the skull found in Turkey.  From these they generated a 3D computer model of the head, to which skin, hair and facial features were added.

Dr Caroline Wilkinson, who leads the unit, said: “The skull that was found is not complete but from examining the bone structure and shape we are able to add the lower part of the jaw and then render the skull as a full 3D model.”

The team also found that the skull and skeleton of Arsinoe may indicate that she had both European and ancient Egyptian characteristics.

Digital artist Janice Aitken, who added skin, hair and eye colour to the image said: “Although it is not possible to tell the exact skin, eye and hair colour from the skull, the historical background information and shape of the skull suggested a mixed ancestry.”

The forensic art team at the university was also responsible for reconstructing the face of German composer Bach last year.

If they really wanted to be sure she was Egyptian they could use isotope testing on the bones, but the Egyptian features of the skull do seem to support that she’s Arsinoe. Apparently Cleopatra had her murdered in her teens. She also did away with her two younger brothers. Yikes.

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18 responses to “Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe reconstructed.

  1. I would have very little confidence in this reconstruction. They only have a partial skull, and the soft tissues, hair, etc. are all mere supposition. They built up the image based on “historical background”, so the forensic science adds essentially nothing to what was already surmised.

    • It was missing a jawbone. Forensic reconstructions of skulls for victim ID purposes have been pretty reliable so far.

      I have to say I think the recon quality isn’t brilliant.

  2. I also saw this programme; they need to do a DNA test on the bones of this alleged sister of Cleopatra.
    I think that would clarify quite a lot of doubt over her origin! Especially as her father was Ptolemy a Macedonian general and her mother was supposed to be African; when they say African that could mean anything; such as North African, Nubian, or Somalian. I wish that they would be more precise when stating the word, African. In the early days of history only the Berbers were know to the ancient Greeks as Africans; as they were called then Ifrans/or Ifrians, which comes from the berber word for their home land, Ifriyqia, which included , Western Libya, all of Tunisia, and Eastern Algeria.
    So did they mean North Africans, Berbers or Sub-saharan Africans.

    • I doubt it would have been Somalian.. too far away. They said the skull shape was Egyptian-long from front to back.

  3. I wasn’t thrilled with the programme, although I believe it could be Arsinoe. I do wish they had said her mother was Egyptian, rather that African, as that would be more accurate. I think her grandmother was an Egyptian, also. However, as most of her ancestry was Macedonian and her sister Cleopatra (VII) is described as having reddish/bronze hair, would she be more likely to have them same color hair? Therefore paler skin too?
    As to facial reconstructions in general (also refering to the Nefertiti one), as far as I know, thay are not completely accurate, but are only close enough to allow identifcation by being similar to the person being identified by family etc. Other forms of identification are usually required for absolute identification. I think the Nefertiti reconstruction does bare a close resemblance, therefore, to the busts of her.

  4. It is unfortunate that a “scientific” paper could not be more precise in the use of language. Among the ancients, the Greeks, black skinned Africans were known as Ethiopians, not Egyptians.

    It would be unlikely that the Ptolemy’s would have intermarried with sub Saharan Africans. They would strengthen their Egyptian credentials by intermarrying with established noble Egyptian families. Most black skinned people in Egypt were Nubians and Pygmies. The Nubians being mostly used in the military and as guards, the Pygmies were used as dancers, as Fools as in European Royal Court usage and representation of the God Bes.

    Cleopatra lived in Rome for some time, and while comments regarding her non Roman origins, being a foreigner, were common especially her alien life style compared to Romans, nothing much was said on her appearance. It is likely Arsinoe was a similar colour to Cleopatra, that is olive skinned. Red hair in Egypt was considered as bad being representative of Sutekh. I doubt Cleopatra was red haired, maybe she wore red wigs. Roman woman wore blond wigs, the Egyptians were known for wearing wigs of many colours including blue.

  5. Cleopatra wouldn’t necessarily have had olive skin, even with an Egyptian mother (and possibly grandmother). Also remember that it was the fashion to be as pale as possible. Although I would like to mention that you can have reddish blonde hair and pale skin yet tan well rather than burn, as in my family. Her hair is described as reddish bronze, presumably then, a reddish blond. Why would she wear a red wig, if your argument is that red hair was considered bad? Isn’t the most likely explanation that this was the actual color of her hair? Alexander was welcomed in Egypt (for freeing her from the Persians) and had the same color hair. Ramesses the great also had red hair and it didn’t do him any harm.

  6. She rather resembles somebody I know, except for the darker skin shade.
    My daughter has brown hair and her father’s brown eyes and like him, she does not tan easily.
    Some of the ancient Egyptians seem to have African (as in modern terms) features, others don’t. Cleopatra’s features resemble that of Ptolemy Soter, her Macedonian ancestor to a certain extent. I think there is also Persian blood in her ancestry, from the Seleucid line.
    I would go with olive/bronzed skin even if she had African ancestry.

  7. However, as most of her ancestry was Macedonian and her sister Cleopatra (VII) is described as having reddish/bronze hair, would she be more likely to have them same color hair?

    Since When? Where did you hear that crap about the reddish/bronze hair. By the way people even then died their hair.

    • Kimberlee Leanne Spielberg

      The reddish bronze hair? I’m pretty sure it was Plutarch, via the Egyptologist Joanne Fletcher, who specialises in ancient Egyptian hair. There is also a now lost ancient painting that was found at Hadrian’s villa, which was copied and described in the 18th (?) century. It appears to represent Cleopatra and this also had red hair. I am aware that she could have dyed her hair but being almost entirely Macedonian there is no reason to believe her hair could not have been naturally this colour. Other members of the Ptolemies are known to have been blond. Why would you assume it must be dyed? Why do you assume her hair would be another colour, with no evidence?

  8. t would be unlikely that the Ptolemy’s would have intermarried with sub Saharan Africans. They would strengthen their Egyptian credentials by intermarrying with established noble Egyptian families. Most black skinned people in Egypt were Nubians and Pygmies. The Nubians being mostly used in the military and as guards, the Pygmies were used as dancers, as Fools as in European Royal Court usage and representation of the God Bes.

    See this is why we have so many problems. Black people ruled Egypt and were the 1st dynastics. Remember Menses and others.

  9. I’m a photographer and charcoal pencil artist, not a historian, but for years I have focusd on facial features. I have in that time become very good at guessing a persons ancestrial lineage based on bone structure and its my opinion that if the computer image of Arsinoe above is correct, they have her coloring wrong. The image above does indeed suggest mixed lineage, however with a strong European base. I’ve never seen these features on one so dark. It would be very unusual.

  10. I don’t think the skin color has anything to do with the facial features so the comment about seeing those features on anyone so dark is absurd. East Indians have European facial features too and some with darker skin. And there are Europeans with darker skin, so that point is pretty ignorant. Historically, I would have a hard time believing that the Ptolemies would have mixed with black Africans also. And coins dating from that time do not reflect that either. It is also possible that they had different mothers. Siblings with the same parents can also look totally different from each other. I have black hair, hazel eyes, and light olive skin. My sister has pale skin, dark blue eyes, and light, course brownish blond hair. She had strawberry blond hair as a child. Our face structure looks nothing alike either. So you don’t necessarily look alike even with the same parents. It only takes one person from the past to influence genes of future generations. The gene pool is a lottery. You never know what the outcome will be.

  11. Rach..
    I agree with your comments about siblings. I had made that observation about Cleopatra herself in a thread along similar lines. I did an online test and my head and facial measurement were closest to that of an Eurasian Turkish race. So if my skeleton was found in that area of the world, would it be assumed I was local?

  12. Why is she so horribly white ? It’s disgusting. No one among mediterraneans people is or was so pallid ! She seems alike a salad grown in a cave. Maybe, as a girl, she was bred behind closed doors but certainbly the men of her family were mostly outdoors and the reconstruct of Akheton is also too whitish. Why ?

    • Why is she so horribly white

      Might just be the colour levels on the image. You’d expect her to be olive complected at the lightest.

  13. I saw this documentary as well. The primary method of determining a person’s race (based on the bones) comes from the skull. THEIR CONCLUSIVE FINDINGS WERE THAT SHE WAS MIXED RACE. FULL STOP.

    • Actually their conclusion was that she had mainly European features with some North African (not black African) features. I watched it too, but I paid attention. Not mixed race. This is THEIR reconstruction, does it look mixed race to you?

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