ARCHEOLOGISTS and forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of Cleopatra's younger sister, murdered more than 2000 years ago on the orders of the Egyptian queen.
The remains of Princess Arsinoe, put to death in 41BC on the orders of Cleopatra and her Roman lover Mark Antony to eliminate her as a rival, are the first relics of the Ptolemaic dynasty to be identified.
The breakthrough, by an Austrian team, has provided pointers to Cleopatra's true ethnicity. Scholars have long debated whether she was Greek or Macedonian, like her ancestor the original Ptolemy, a Macedonian general who was made ruler of Egypt by Alexander the Great, or whether she was north African.
Evidence obtained by studying the dimensions of Arsinoe's skull shows she had some of the characteristics of white Europeans, ancient Egyptians and black Africans, indicating that Cleopatra was probably of mixed race, too. They were daughters of Ptolemy XII by different wives.
The institute's breakthrough came about after it set out to examine Thur's belief that an octagonal tomb in the remains of the Roman city of Ephesus contained the body of Arsinoe.
According to Roman texts, the city, in what is now Turkey, is where Arsinoe was banished after being defeated in a power struggle with Cleopatra and her earlier lover, Julius Caesar.
Arsinoe was said to have been murdered after Cleopatra, then with Mark Antony after Caesar's death, ordered the Roman general to have her younger sibling killed to prevent any future attempts on the Egyptian throne.
The distinctive tomb was first opened in 1926 by archeologists who found a sarcophagus inside containing a skeleton. They removed the skull, which was examined and measured, but it was lost in the upheaval of World War II.
In the early 1990s Thur re-entered the tomb and found the headless skeleton, which she believed to be of a young woman. Clues, such as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb, which echoed that of the lighthouse of Alexandria with which Arsinoe was associated, convinced Thur the body was that of Cleopatra's sister.
Fabian Kanz, an anthropologist appointed to examine the remains, dated the skeleton to between 200BC and 20BC. He said he was certain the bones were female and placed the age of the woman at 15-18. Cleopatra was about 27 at the time of her sister's demise. The lack of any sign of illness or malnutrition also indicated a sudden death.