Egypt’s Lost Cities Review: “Indiana Jones Is Old School..”

EGYPT’S LOST CITIES: Monday 30th May, BBC1 8.30pm

It appears that the ousting of President Hosni Mobarek isn’t the only revolution going on in Egypt, with military satellite technology possibly set to change how we go about searching for the long lost treasures of the Pharaohs.

Leading the charge in this field is US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak, who is using infrared technology and what appears to be a massive touchscreen iPad-style device to put together a map of the Ancient Kingdom. It’s an exciting time, with Parcak and her NASA sponsored lab team in Alabama over the pond confident that 99% of Egypt’s treasures are yet to be found. To think that we’ve only found 1% of what’s beneath the sands in enough to turn me into a giddy wide-eyed schoolboy all over again.

If this fact excites you as much as it does me, then I’m sure you will have thoroughly enjoyed Egypt’s Lost Cities: What Lies Beneath on BBC One. Presented by Dallas Campbell and Liz Bonnin, the programme explored these recent satellite discoveries, with the Beeb treating viewers to a whole hour and a half of the most important locations in the Ancient Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt, as well as some pre-dynasty sites.

US archaeologist Parcak has tried in vain to get an official nod to dig in areas shown up on satellite imagery. With the power of the BBC behind her however, permission is quickly granted to excavate a possible new pyramid, one of 17 found by the archaeologist and the first to be located in over 20 years. Dr Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s recently appointed Minister of Antiquities and never one to miss a media opportunity, soon gets stuck in, and a team is soon carrying around buckets of sand in Saqqara, ancient part of Egypt literally steeped in history and home to the famous first pyramid, built by Djoser in 2700 BC.

Dr Hawaz also treats presenter Dallas Campbell to an incredible sight not visible to most tourists. The pair travel into the uppermost chamber above the tomb room in the Great Pyramid, still the largest and most accurately built stone structure on earth, to see graffiti from the ‘followers gang of kulfu’ which built of the pyramid. For writing thats 4500 years old, it’s a remarkable sight.

It’s an amazing fact to note that burial places for over 200 pharaohs are missing, some of which would have been pyramid burials due to the popularity of building the stone structures during the 13th Dynasty. Despite the satellite imagery showing us the location of 17 of the monumental tombs, whether or not they are still intact is another question, with the Egyptian museum housing the top to three pyramid still not found. One of these is of King Ay, the longest reigning pharaoh of 13th Dynasty. It is his pyramid that may have been found in Saqqara and is now being excavated.

Using fantastic graphics revealing every part of the Ancient Kingdom, Egypt’s Lost Cities takes the viewers on a fantastic tour of some the country’s greatest sites, not just those most visited on the tourist trail. Thanks to the ‘eye in the sky’ technology, it’s possible to revisit sites such as the Cave of Swimmers on the country’s South-West border featuring rock paintings from over 8000 years ago, to the lost labyrinth at Herakleopolis, and the desert hills of long abandoned capital city Abydos to search for the next Tutankhamen like tomb discovery. It really is thrilling stuff.

The one thing that took away from my enjoyment of the programme was the overly annoying presenters. Archaeology in Egypt doesn’t require a constant rabble of rubbish from two supposed experts, who just sounded like a pair of tourists on a jolly. Great presenters know when to speak and when to let other’s speak, and I found myself getting more irate by the pair as the programme went on.

However, as a fan of all thing historical and Egypt in particular, I managed to look past this flaw, with Lost Cities delivering factually, looking visually glorious and fullfilling my expectations, despite having two hosts who should have been resigned to ancient history themselves. Unfortunately, the programme’s findings couldn’t be shown in full, as the recent political revolution has temporary put a hold on archaeological digging. Since the ousting of the President, the US satellite image is now being used to find out how much of the country historical sites have been looted and destroyed in the uprising. Sadly, it appears that this is applicable to quite a few of them.

So could satellite imagery be the stuff of the future? It appears so based on results, with the most recent evidence validating all of the finding from the infrared imagery. Speaking about the technology and how it will change the practice of ‘digging in the dark’ in the deserts of Egypt, the American archaeologist Parcak says “Indiana Jones is old school, we’ve moved on from Indy, sorry Harrison Ford.” And with 1,000 tombs, 3,000 ancient settlements and 17 new pyramids so far found using the technology, it’s hard to disagree with her.