WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Kathleen Martinez was well on her way to becoming a successful lawyer in the Dominican Republic when she decided to leave it all behind to try something her family thought was a crazy, childish dream.
“As a kid, I dreamed to one day go to Egypt and make a major discovery, but my family, friends and the people who cared about me, they convinced me it was only a dream — that I shouldn’t even continue having this idea and I should not study archeology,” Martinez told those gathered on Saturday at the Armand Hammer Health Science Building on 701 W. 168th St.
She had spent the better part of two decades researching Cleopatra's life before deciding to leave her career behind to search for the queen’s tomb in 2005.
Her relatives discouraged her from the expedition, saying they feared for her safety, but she went anyway, accompanied by a cousin who was the only supporter among her close family.
"I couldn't believe what I was doing," Martinez said, adding that as soon as she landed in Cairo, she began to fear her family had been right. She was detained as soon as she walked off the plane, by officials who dismissed her documents from the Dominican Republic, saying her passport was fraudulent.
“The Dominican Republic didn't have an embassy in Egypt, and a place with no embassy in Egypt didn’t exist,” Martinez said in Spanish. “Therefore, the Dominican Republic didn’t exist to them."
Martinez said she was detained for hours, and after being released — as fate would have it — met someone who would put her in contact with the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt, Zahi Hawass.
“Less than 24 hours later, I had a meeting with the Ministry of Antiquities and on my way to acquiring a license,” she said.
Martinez went on to present to the ministry and Hawass, but was only granted two months of excavation versus the year that’s usually granted for a license. She said there are approximately 1,000 applications for excavations, although only 80 are granted. These licenses, Martinez added, are only granted to some of the most famous universities in the world.
“In archaeology two months is nothing, 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 Magna [where] the tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Antony could be."
Martinez said each dig since that first discovery has led to more tunnels, passages, as well as discoveries of busts, coins and statues totaling almost 600 artifacts.
“Something told me she could be there,” Martinez said, adding that although other prominent archaeologists dismissed her studies at first, she persisted because she wanted to demonstrate that archaeologists from Latin America should be given an opportunity to study the temples as well.
During her presentation, she said she’s confident this next season, which she’ll continue in November, will lead to the discovery of the century with the tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Antony.
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who organized the educational presentation, was joined by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, State Senate Democratic candidate Marisol Alcantara and Assembly Democratic candidate Carmen de La Rosa, who all congratulated Martinez on her persistence, which Espaillat said will lead to the “discovery of the century.”
“I think the major story behind this, is the persistence of this young woman, who defied all odds, has been in Egypt for over a decade, has had trouble self-financing the project, but has persisted,” Espaillat said.