Kathleen Martínez is – in one word – impressive. She graduated law school at 18 and has a career as a criminal lawyer in her native Dominican Republic. When she moved to Spain so her husband could study cardiology, she grew restless taking care of her first child. So she decided to get a masters in finance. And after the birth of her second child, she earned another masters degree, finally diving into her first passion: archaeology.
“From a very young age, I recall wanting to be an archaeologist, but my parents discouraged me from pursuing my interests seeing as how there was no archaeological precedent in the Dominican Republic,” she told PBS. “They urged me to study a career that was attainable in my country, and so I did.” But she never stopped trying to learn about archaeology in her spare time. At 15, she began studying Cleopatra and became captivated by her last days.
As she held down a day job – running a practice – she began researching Cleopatra. Eventually, she came up with a theory on why historians have failed to find Cleopatra’s grave. Because Cleopatra and Marc Antony felt connected to Isis and Osiris – two important figures in Egyptian mythology – Martínez became convinced that it was a clue about their final resting place. “It came to me: Cleopatra’s tomb has never been found because she wasn’t buried in a tomb,” she told the University of Pennsylvania’s Knowledge @ Wharton. “She and Marc Antony were buried in a temple to Isis and Osiris. There has to be a temple. But which one?”
“I made a big discovery that changed the architecture of Egyptian temples.”
So in 2002, she planned a trip to Egypt and contacted the government to gain access to temples not open to the general public. No one responded, but she decided to go anyway. What followed is a stranger-than-fiction story. At the airport, immigration officials detained her for hours because they thought her passport was fraudulent. Eventually, officials instructed her to get into a van that would take her to her hotel. Frightened, she ducked into a shop and insisted that she get a Spanish-speaking guide, despite speaking English. It’s a choice that worked out for her better than she could have expected. Her guide knew the scheduling secretary for the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities.
In two minutes, she made her case and got a two-month approval to explore temples usually reserved for archeological research. “In archaeology, two months is nothing,” she said while visiting Manhattan earlier this month, according to DNAInfo. “But I took what they gave me, and the last day of those two months, I made a big discovery that changed the architecture of Egyptian temples. I found the two chambers in the Temple of Taposiris Manga [where] the tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony could be.”
600 artifacts later, she’s currently on a break from work. But she’ll be back at it in November. This time, she’s sure she’ll finally find Cleopatra’s tomb. She’s had a successful run so far, but it hasn’t been without complications. At the beginning, she self-funded part of this project. But once she started making discoveries, she began gaining support. And a few years ago, the Arab Spring brought destruction to some sites.
While it’s currently uncertain if she’ll ever reach her goal, she’ll at least go down in history as one of the very few archaeologist-lawyers. “In regards to my practice of law, I still handle a few cases but not many – just important clients,” she said. “Sometimes I will be inside a subterranean chamber and a client will call me for a consultation. It is a strange sensation.”