While we were visiting J’s parents we watched a few documentaries about ancient Egypt (or related subjects) that they’d recorded from TV channels we don’t have. A bit of a mixed bag – one of them I’d’ve switched off if it was just me (J wasn’t as annoyed by it), but the others were better.
Ultimate Tut was a documentary about Tutankhamun, presented by Chris Naunton (who’s the Director of the EES), so J had heard of it and was looking forward to the chance to watch it. The focus was on how he died, and how come his burial was so small compared to other Pharaohs, although it also covered a lot of what’s known of the history of the period too.
It presented a new theory for how Tutankhamun died – perhaps run down by a chariot on the battlefield. The evidence here comes from the injuries to the mummy (including ribs broken in a straight line down one side), and they spent sometime modelling the injuries one might expect from a chariot accident using modern technology that’s usually used for car accidents. One thing that’s always interesting about the theories is which damage is considered as being due to injuries & which is considered an artifact of mummification or excavation – I’m sure I’ve heard the rib injuries dismissed as an artifact before. They also suggested that a death on the battlefield might explain the rushed aspects of the burial – if they were aiming for 70 days after death and he’d died away from mummification facilities then maybe they rushed the process.* And that might account for why the mummy appears to be charred. Apparently if you don’t let oil (like linseed oil) dry out properly from rags then it can spontaneously combust in the right conditions, and rushing mummification might create the right conditions for his corpse to’ve smouldered in its coffin for a while post-burial. So that’s a bit different from the previous picture of a boy king who was so sickly he walked with a stick – we’re back to a strapping young lad racing about on chariots. I think it’s probably impossible to ever be sure what Tutankhamun died of, but not surprising that people keep trying to figure it out.
This was the best of the programmes we watched over the weekend, I think.
The Egyptian Job
The framing device of The Egyptian Job wound me up, which is a shame as I think it was an interesting subject. Basically they had a team of four experts (a couple of egyptologists, a mechanical engineer & an undercover (US) policeman who’d investigated modern day organised crime) who were trying to reconstruct the story of how tomb robbers raided Amenemhat III’s pyramid at Lahun. I think what I objected to was the desire to create fictional people with names and a fictional deadline to create a sense of “tension” when there wasn’t any evidence for when it happened or who did it. So this construct of Sobeki and his gang who had “one year” to do the deed just made me roll my eyes, and I didn’t really think that the ex-policeman added much to the overall programme other than provide hooks for the fictional stuff (“well they’d need someone who knew about tunnels, so Sobeki would recruit a stonemason”, “they’d need a distraction, what festivals were there”).
However, I thought the interesting bit was that we don’t often get programmes about Middle Kingdom stuff. And the engineering feat of the robbery was also pretty impressive – involving not just a tunnel under the pyramid for quite a way but even once inside they had to move or otherwise bypass several enormous stones intended to prevent robbery.
Egypt’s Lost Rival
This programme wasn’t really about Egypt, as you can tell from the name – Egypt’s Lost Rival. It was about the city of Qatna (which is in modern day Syria) which rose to prominence during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period. Relating it’s dating to that of Egypt is relevant as it grew during a time when Egypt was concentrating on internal matters – and was destroyed when the Egypt of the New Kingdom turned to empire building. I wasn’t paying much attention while this programme was on, as we’ve watched it before. From what I saw this time & what I remember it is a pretty good documentary that tells the story both of the modern excavation of Qatna and of the history of Qatna as we know it. The thing that’s particularly stuck in my mind is that one of the things they discovered was the archives of the Qatna rulers in the form of cuneiform tablets (like those found at Amarna from a later time) which means there’s some written evidence for the history of this city. Including, if I remember correctly, the rulers of Qatna failing to capitulate to the Egyptian Empire, and the subsequent retaliation.
Quest for Egypt’s Lost King
Quest for Egypt’s Lost King was a trot through the history of Akhenaten’s switch from the traditional religion of Egypt to his new monotheistic sun-worshipping religion. It was presented by Josh Bernstein, who I’d not seen do any programmes before – seemed quite good tho. He talked to a whole selection of experts – including Barry Kemp (who was the expert accompanying the holiday J and I were going to go on this year that was cancelled). I think it must’ve been quite an old programme as the other experts included Zahi Hawass. The theories about Akhenaten’s physical ailments were also fairly dated (I don’t think it’s generally believed any more that the art style of the period is an accurate depiction of the man). So this was a slightly odd watching experience – with a first half that was rather good and a second half that took a nose-dive off the plausibility cliff (only in part because it was dated, also because of a high degree of credulousness about “facts” that fitted the theory without being convincing about their “fact” status).