Assorted Documentaries About Ancient Egypt

J’s parents have Sky and so have TV channels that we don’t, so they record anything about Ancient Egypt that they notice & then we watch several of the documentaries when we visit. I’m not going to write these up in detail, instead here are some capsule reviews. I wasn’t always paying full attention to the programmes, so I’ve possibly misremembered stuff.

Ramesses III: Behind the Myth of the Pharaoh

Programme about the harem conspiracy against Ramesses III which led to his murder, and the resulting trial & execution of the conspirators. Focussed on how the papyri tell us a very different story to what the monuments do – the court of Ramesses III was a paranoid one concerned with threats to the Pharaoh and his authority both magical & physical. The monuments are the confident record of a Pharaoh with no enemies, and a secure succession, so if there hadn’t been the chance discovery of the papyri we’d not know the truth. I googled for it and it turns out this was made in 2003, but it was topical because there was a paper last December about the cause of death of Ramesses III and a possible candidate for his son Penteware (post).

A good programme, worth watching. (Originally a BBC programme, part of the Timewatch series).

Egypt’s Mystery Chamber

2009 documentary about KV63 – which was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 2006 and isn’t actually a tomb, it’s a cache of leftover bits from the mummification process probably of Tutankhamun. We’d seen this before, so I wasn’t really paying much attention during it. It’s a good programme tho – and I think it does a good job of taking the lemons of KV63 turning out to not be a tomb and making lemonade out of them. Instead of some “exciting discovery” or “solving the mystery” we get a look at the sorts of things you can find out from seemingly ordinary objects. The real business of archaeology.

Sun Pharaoh

So bad I’m not quite sure where to start. Oh wait, yes I am … ever heard of the Pharaoh Acky-Nathan? No, me neither *rolls eyes* You’d think you’d make sure your narrator knew how to pronounce the name she would need to say several times during the programme. Made even more irritating because she knew how to pronounce “aten” so clearly no-one bothered to explain that “Akhenaten” is “akh – en – aten”. The programme’s about Akhenaten & Nefertiti establishing their monotheistic religion and is breathless and over-excited about how maybe they were killed in the chaos when the high priests took back power (er, what?) and maybe Tutankhamun was murdered because he refused to stop worshipping the Aten (er, what?). I forget precisely what else we were rolling our eyes at, but there were definitely other things that got made up out of whole cloth. We wondered if it was originally a different documentary in German and had a new voice over for the English-speaking market, but despite googling for it I can’t find out if that’s true. I wouldn’t recommend watching it, I’m not quite sure why we didn’t bail on it ourselves.

Museum Secrets: Cairo Museum

This was really good, I wish the series was on a channel J & I get. Basic format is to look at a selection of objects from a particular museum and have a short film giving you context and interesting facts for the object (the series covers a variety of subjects, not just Ancient Egypt). This episode was about the Egyptian Museum in Cairo & the objects included the tiny statue of Khufu that’s the only representation of him that we have, a selection of animal mummies, Tutankhamun’s gold. Also the mummy of Seqenenre Tao (a 17th Dynasty Pharaoh) – which has visible & large wounds in the head. This was my favourite bit of the show – Garry Shaw & a specialist in the sorts of weapons that the Ancient Egyptians of the time used investigated how the wounds could’ve been made. They had a dummy made and put it in different positions (i.e. standing as if on a chariot, lying on the ground, kneeling as if to be executed) and hit it with an axe, demonstrating you got the best matches to the actual wounds if you had him kneeling to be executed.

Tutankhamun Conspiracies with Bettany Hughes

Surprisingly unfocussed documentary from Bettany Hughes about … well, mostly about Tutankhamun? It went off on some odd tangents tho, like a segment about the end of the Old Kingdom due to famine and climate change. Or the bit about how some people connected with the Tutankhamun finds got killed in London in the 1920s & 1930s and maybe it was Alesteir Crowley coz he was in London and hand-wave. It felt like there was a core of a documentary there with Hughes talking to the current Earl of Canarvon & his wife about the find and about Lord Canarvon’s role in it. But then there were bits of other documentaries just stuck in and vaguely justified – I know we recognised a couple of segments from other programmes. Oh and there was an odd bit where they said that some unspecified mummy tested positive for cocaine, nicotine & hash so clearly the Egyptians used these drugs only that seems implausible so maybe the lab screwed up. Or did they! Maybe the Egyptians made it to the Americas coz Thor Heyerdahl could sail the Kon Tiki across the Pacific, but then maybe it’s coz 19th Century aristos were all druggies & that’s where the contamination came from. It was about as confused as my summary, and then Hughes said some variant on “moving on” and we never came back to that.

Nice to see some of the objects & places, but I’m not sure I could recommend watching it.


This was a pretty old documentary about Nefertiti and about Nicholas Reeves searching for evidence about her life. J guessed it was made something like 20 years ago. Being old it was more than a little out of date but it came across as a thorough overview of what was known at the time. I don’t really have anything else to say about it.