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Dr Kathleen Martinez, a criminal lawyer turned archaeologist, may be close to finding Cleopatra’s lost tomb after discovering a 1.3km tunnel under an ancient temple in Egypt.

Cleopatra was born around 70BC and ruled for almost three decades before dying in an apparent suicide in 30BC. Her resting place remains a mystery.

After 15 years of searching for the Egyptian queen’s tomb, Martinez led an excavation project under the Taposiris Magna Temple, 60km south-west of Alexandria on the coast. However, she faced scepticism from the archaeological community as the site historically did not have tunnels underneath it.

“They did a lot of bullying and made jokes at my expense. ‘There is nothing there,’ they would tell me. ‘We already excavated there and there’s nothing!’,” said Martinez.

Despite this, her team discovered a rock-cut tunnel that is around two meters high, 1.3 kilometers long and contains two Ptolemaic-era statues. Martinez called the discovery a “geometric miracle”.

“This is the perfect place for the tomb of Cleopatra,” said Martinez.

“If there’s a one per cent chance that the last queen of Egypt could be buried there, it is my duty to search for her.

“If we discover the tomb … it will be the most important discovery of the 21st century.”

Martinez’s team discovered coins in the tunnel that bear the image of Cleopatra and Roman politician and general Mark Antony.  They also found skeletons, mummies, burial rooms, tablets stating the name of the temple, and underground passages.

A key challenge of searching for Cleopatra’s tomb is that many of the records from that period were destroyed by the Romans after they captured Egypt in 30BC. Any surviving chronicles were primarily written by Roman historians, who have a clear bias towards the Roman empire.

Martinez attributes her legal background to helping her find the tunnel.

“The difference between me and other archaeologists is that I approach the project by not using just the science of archaeology,” said Martinez.

“I broaden the scope to include many other sciences. I treat my work like I did when I was solving legal cases.”

Martinez self-funds the Taposiris Magna Temple project and serves as a senior diplomat at the embassy of the Dominican Republic in Cairo to help cover her expenses.