Egypts Unexplained Files (2019) s01e04 Episode Script

Secrets of the Tomb Raiders

Narrator: Pyramids, temples, tombs these ancient wonders promise even greater secrets still to be found under the sands of Egypt.
Now, cutting-edge science decodes the mysterious land of the pharaohs.
With modern technology, we are gaining an insight into the way the ancient Egyptians lived and the manner in which they died.
Narrator: This time, the Egyptian obsession with death and the afterlife.
What's so special about this dagger that it earned a place in king Tut's tomb? They found a phrase, which seemed to read, "iron from the sky.
" Narrator: Will science uncover the secrets of the embalmers craft? They had this incredible power to stop nature in its tracks.
Narrator: And can new technology uncover the truth behind Egypt's animal mummies? We have these millions of mummified animals, but when we come to C.
scan them, many of them are not what they seem.
Narrator: Ancient clues unearthed, long-lost evidence reexamined, precious artifacts brought into the light of the 21st century.
These are "Egypt's unexplained files".
A metal dagger discovered in TutankhAmun's tomb a possession so prized by the king, he wanted it with him for eternity.
But it shouldn't exist.
Naughton: It's made of iron, which is a material not known to Egypt at this time.
This is still the bronze age, not the iron age.
Narrator: Now state-of-the-art x-ray analysis reveals an unexpected discovery.
There are objects in there that are literally out of this world.
The mystery here is how do these objects come to be in this tomb? Narrator: 2015.
The priceless artifacts unearthed from king TutankhAmun's tomb are on display at the Egyptian museum in Cairo.
Among them, an unusual dagger unlike any other in the collection.
Cooney: The dagger itself has a golden handle with delicate geometric designs and a beautiful golden sheath.
Narrator: But it's not the design that's so special.
It's what it's made of.
It's an iron blade, fully functional.
Narrator: Ever since its discovery, archaeologists have been puzzled over the dagger's very existence.
Cooney: Iron seems so commonplace to us, but for the ancient Egyptians, iron was quite a rarity.
Naughton: The iron age doesn't arrive in Egypt for another two centuries after the time of TutankhAmun, so it's very strange to find such a fine object made of iron at this time.
Narrator: A clue to the dagger's origins surfaces in an ancient text a piece of hieroglyphic writing that points to the heavens.
They found a phrase which seemed to read "iron from the sky.
" Narrator: Experts are unsure what the hieroglyphs mean.
Can modern technology help pinpoint the source of the metal? Scientists investigate the chemical makeup of the blade itself.
The dagger is tested using x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, which is a newly developed technique.
Analysis of the results point to a surprising source.
The equipment shows that the composition of the iron in the dagger is of iron, but also nickel and cobalt in exactly the combination that matches the database record for meteoric iron.
Narrator: Iron from inside a meteorite.
It's an extraordinary result.
The riddles written in the hieroglyphs, "iron from the sky," now makes sense.
The metal that was fashioned into the dagger's blade came from space.
Egyptians didn't know how to make iron for themselves.
Due to its rarity, it is revered as a sacred metal.
Naughton: So it's easy to imagine that they would think of a meteorite falling as being like a gift from god.
That would make meteorites very highly prized, and for that reason, they're the kind of thing that the king might well have wanted to claim for himself.
This iron was likely more valuable than gold.
And so to be buried with an iron dagger would have linked TutankhAmun to the gods themselves.
Narrator: If the iron in the dagger arrived in a meteorite, where had it landed? Investigators draw a blank.
In the hunt for a new lead, they search for any other items in TutankhAmun's treasures which may also have celestial origins.
Their attention is drawn to king Tut's breast plate.
Naughton: Inside the sarcophagus is an extraordinary broach made of a kind of yellow gemstone, which has been cut and polished into the shape of a scarab.
This presents something of a mystery because this is a material which we wouldn't expect the Egyptians having access to or being able to work in this way.
So what is it doing here in the tomb? Narrator: The beetle-shaped broach was initially assumed to be a gemstone.
To be sure, researchers test the material using a technique called oxygen isotope analysis.
They discover it's actually a strange type of glass.
The Egyptians did have the technology to make glass, but not with such a clarity and translucence.
Narrator: The chemical composition of the glass matches a material found naturally in one specific area of Egypt a remote region located on the western edge of the ancient Egyptian empire.
This desert is known as The Great Sand Sea.
Cooney: The only way to make glass like this is with extraordinarily high temperatures.
Narrator: Geological surveys of the site suggest these high temperatures could only be the result of a meteor strike.
Naughton: When meteors enter the earth's atmosphere, if they're traveling at the right speed, they explode on impact.
They create a giant fireball of masses and masses and masses of energy and heat.
When it hits the ground, silica in a substance like sand melts immediately and forms a kind of glass, a very particular kind of glass.
Narrator: Experts calculate that the glass in TutankhAmun's broach was made by a meteor strike 10,000 more times more powerful than an atomic bomb, turning a desert of sand into a sea of glass.
A scarab made of this glass is pretty extraordinary, and it was obviously precious to the ancient Egyptians who understood it as a kind of miracle something that wasn't naturally occurring.
It was a very special and rare thing.
Narrator: While the scarab matches the glass found in the desert, experts are still unsure that the iron in the dagger came from this specific meteorite strike.
But one thing is certain.
When TutankhAmun's tomb was discovered back in 1922, archaeologists had no idea that cosmic events millions of years earlier had left their mark on Egypt's most famous pharaoh.
Cooney: One of the most amazing things about the find of TutankhAmun's tomb is that there are objects in there that are literally out of this world.
Narrator: An ancient cemetery filled with animal mummies.
Price: We have these millions of mummified animals, but when we come to scan them, many of them are not what they seem.
Narrator: Now cutting-edge scanning technology reveals secrets hidden deep inside the mummified remains.
Ikram: Sometimes you'll get what you think you will, but sometimes it's not.
We need to get to the bottom of what's going on.
Don't ever judge a mummy by its cover.
Narrator: 2015.
Scientists reexamining a large hall of ancient mummified animals want to see what lies beneath the bandages, but strict government rules mean they're not allowed to unwrap the remains.
Instead, they turn to scanning technology usually reserved for the living.
Nowadays, we can use C.
scans and x-rays to look inside the mummy bundles in great detail.
You can see exactly what's inside without damaging the bundle itself.
Narrator: The mummified remains were originally discovered in the 1960s, unearthed at the ancient temple complex of Saqqara, 15 miles from Cairo site of the oldest pyramid in Egypt.
This was one of the biggest excavations anywhere in the world in the 1960s.
Narrator: Digging under the site, they made a macabre discovery.
Instead, they break into a network of tunnels filled with millions of pots, each of them containing an ancient Egyptian animal mummy.
This is perhaps one of the strangest finds we have from the ancient world.
Narrator: Further excavation revealed more and more chambers, each filled with different mummified animals.
So there were all these different catacombs underground, and each one is dedicated to a different animal.
You have raptors in one, you have Ibis birds in another, there are cows in a third.
Mcknight: We have a cat catacomb, a dog catacomb.
Price: You have jackals, you have falcons.
Each individual section is very much self contained.
Ikram: Millions of animals in the galleries a vast underground zoo.
What were they all there for? Narrator: The ancient Egyptian belief system had many animal deities.
Could these all be votive offerings? Ikram: Votive mummies are the same as lighting a candle in a church where your prayer goes up to the god.
And so a votive mummy is the same as your prayer is taken by this animal straight to the god.
Narrator: Each animal god was thought to have powers that could protect a person from evil spirits or sickness, or act as a guide towards a peaceful afterlife.
Ikram: Ibis is associated with the god thoth, cats associated with the goddess bastet.
So really, all of these animals were associated with some kind of divinity.
Narrator: Saqqara's animal mummies were thought to be perfectly preserved whole animals, buried as offerings to the gods.
But modern investigators have a hunch something is not quite right.
They want to reexamine the mummies to see exactly what lies beneath the painted wrappings.
Now using a hospital C.
scanner, the archaeologists get their first-ever look inside the assorted mummified animals.
They're staggered by what they find.
Sometimes you'll get what you think you will.
It looks like a bird, there's a bird in there.
But sometimes it's not.
Sometimes there's just a bundle of feathers or sometimes one bone.
We expect to find that they contain the animal itself a complete articulated body.
But more often than not, we find that they contain something entirely different natural materials like sand and soil and stones, often with reeds and vegetation in there.
Sometimes there is no bone at all.
Price: About 1/3 contain a full skeleton of the animal we expect, another 1/3 contain part of the animal, and the last 1/3 contain nothing animal remains related.
Begs the questions, what on earth is going on here? Narrator: Experts look for clues in the religious practices that were carried out at Saqqara.
Access to the temples was controlled by priests.
Ancient sources reveal these men were given offerings from visiting pilgrims.
Ikram: This was a vast pilgrimage center, and hundreds of people come and they want to leave an offering to the god.
So they buy, from the priests there, a mummified cat, dog.
Narrator: Pilgrims would buy a mummified animal and hand it over to be buried as part of a religious ceremony.
You give them an offering that you hope they will pass on to the gods and eventually bury in one of the underground catacombs.
Day: There was quite a money making business going on in the temples by selling millions of animal mummies as votive offering to pilgrims who came each year to sacred festivals at each of the temples.
Narrator: With such a high demand for mummified animals, it's likely that rogue embalmers would cut corners.
It is possible in an industry on this scale that some people are using less-than-honorable means in order to make the articles that they are going to sell.
Ikram: Is it that the priests are trying to rip off people? Is it large-scale cheating of the populous? Narrator: But the mystery deepens.
Further investigation of the fake mummies reveals they wouldn't have been cheap to produce.
Price: Analysis using mass spectrometry shows that both the mummies with the animals and the mummies without the animals are made up with the same chemical components.
So, we were able to identify things like tree resins, which were used as a preservative, and bees wax, a variety of plant oils.
We found out that these are resins that are very expensive, that have been imported from what is now lebanon.
Narrator: The investigation has revealed that many of the mummy bundles traded at Saqqara are not quite what they seem.
But for the ancient pilgrims, this may not have mattered.
Maybe the things that we think of as false mummies aren't really false, and they really have the same, if not greater, importance to the ancient Egyptians.
They would have been equally expensive for a pilgrim to buy, and they contain materials that were thought to be sacred in the same way as an actual example of the species.
I think these empty mummy bundles are equally valuable.
Narrator: Modern science has revealed that even 3,000 years ago, there was a roaring trade in fake goods.
The saying "buyer beware" was clearly as valid then as it is today.
The discovery of an embalmers workshop is helping archaeologists solve an age-old mystery.
Day: Do we really know everything about mummification? No, we don't.
Some of it is still a mystery.
Narrator: Ancient embalmers had skills we can't seem to match today.
Johnston: The hair is intact, the fingernails are intact, the eyelashes are intact.
What did the Egyptian embalmers know that we don't? Narrator: Now scientists are trying to identify the precise way that bodies were preserved so well for millennia.
Buckley: We're getting the physical evidence from the place where some of these mummies were actually made.
Narrator: Mummified bodies have been found perfectly preserved even after thousands of years.
Archaeologists are still unsure how the ancient Egyptians achieved this.
Johnston: Whilst Egyptologists have always been aware of mummies from ancient Egypt, we have nothing written down telling us how human beings were mummified.
We have had to do it through trial and error down through the centuries ourselves.
Narrator: Investigators now turn to modern science to look for clues.
Because we have so many ancient Egyptian mummies, then we're able to study them, scan them, do forensic analysis on them, and from that, find out more about the process of mummification.
Narrator: Mummified tissue samples are put through a series of biochemical analyses.
The results reveal a complex mixture of herbs and oils.
It's found that they were using types of plant resins things like juniper, turpentine, and so on.
They would rub things like myrrh over the body to sweeten it and dispel some of the unpleasant smells associated with preserving the body.
Narrator: But the chemical ingredients of these herbs and spices alone are not enough to stop dead bodies decomposing.
There must be some other ingredient that is key to perfect preservation.
Day: The Egyptian embalmers must have seemed like magic men.
They had this incredible power to stop nature in its tracks using methods and substances which they kept a trade secret from everybody.
Narrator: Investigators search for more clues by reexamining the complex rituals surrounding mummification.
Day: The mummification process of an elite Egyptian would have looked quite shocking and quite gruesome.
One of the priests would come forward with a very thin, very sharp obsidian blade, and he would make a slice down the left-hand flank.
Narrator: Organs are removed from the body and stored alongside in special jars.
Could these extractions help in preservation? Internal organs are removed, separated, and put into four special canopic jars protect by deities.
So the jackal-headed god looks after the stomach, the baboon-headed god looks after the lungs, the human-headed god looks after the liver, and the auk-headed god looks after the intestines.
Narrator: By removing the organs, the embalmers appear to have benefited from a very useful side effect.
It was necessary to remove the organs to take out the moisture that lends itself to the decay process.
The moisture in the body is where the bacteria lived, and they start eating the body up.
So they had some sense that you should remove whatever is causing that decay.
Narrator: But extracting the organs and associated bacteria still doesn't explain such perfect preservation found in mummies.
Archaeologists have to cast the net wider.
In the desert tombs of Saqqara, archaeologists make an extraordinary discovery an area where mummification actually took place.
Buckley: We're finding embalmers workshops.
We're finding ingredients there that were clearly involved in some sort of embalming.
So we're getting the physical evidence from the place where some of these mummies were actually made.
Narrator: Inside these ancient workshops, archaeologists find the remains of a special mineral salt.
Chemical analysis reveals its composition.
It's sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium chloride, which is a little bit like table salt plus baking soda.
Narrator: Known as natron, this salt is known to quickly remove moisture from anything it comes into contact with.
Natron is found naturally in the valley of wadi el natrun, 50 miles from the embalmers workshops at Saqqara.
Day: But it was in the middle kingdom about 4,000 years ago that they discovered the magic ingredient of natron.
Narrator: But how was natron used during the preservation process? It was thought that they would pack bags of natron inside the body cavity, and they would cover the entire body in a big pile of natron.
Narrator: When investigators put this theory to the test, they find that the dry crystals did not prevent decay.
They decide to try something different.
A few years ago, a taxi driver donated his body to science.
Narrator: In a controversial experiment, scientists try to preserve the taxi driver's body.
This time, they dissolve the natron salts in water, soaking the body in super-concentrated salt solution.
We found that it is actually possible to preserve a human body in a bath of natron natron in solution super-salty water.
Johnston: After a period of some 40 days, almost all of the moisture has left the body, leaving the body in a leather-like state, like a leather handbag.
You need to time it very carefully, dry the body out, but not too much, so that you leave the limbs flexible and you can move the arms into whatever position you want.
Narrator: It's the breakthrough archaeologists are looking for.
Modern scientific analysis, along with hands-on experimentation, reveals that a concentrated liquid solution of natron was the key component above all others for preserving a body for eternity.
Day: They dried inside the body and out to produce a body completely preserved that in the right dry situation would last forever.
Buckley: 3,000 years old, and they're still looking recognizable.
They were thinking of the long term.
They are masterpieces of the embalmers craft.
Narrator: The Great Pyramid of Giza.
Archaeologists are still puzzled over the ancient builders' ability to construct such a perfectly shaped structure.
Dash: The accuracy of the ancients was remarkable.
It's jaw-dropping.
Harrison: The structure is almost perfect.
It's an incredible feat of engineering.
Narrator: Now for the first time, scientists use laser-scanning technology to accurately measure the size and scale of the pyramid Previously, the pyramid had only been measure with plumb lines and yard sticks.
and search for clues to explain how they could build such a perfectly proportioned stone tomb.
It's beyond belief.
Narrator: 2015.
Engineers from the Giza Plateau mapping project launch an ambitious new survey of the Great Pyramid.
Glen Dash leads the team.
Dash: When you're standing there looking at the Great Pyramid and seeing other people walk up to it as well, inevitably, they do the same thing they stand there and their jaw drops.
They're thinking, "who was the guy that took that stone" and had to put it up there?" Harrison: It's the only one of the ancient world wonders that's still standing.
They managed to build nearly 500 feet high, 3,000 years before christ.
Narrator: Archaeologists want to investigate how this was possible.
What drove them to build a tomb in the shape of a pyramid? Clark: There are several theories about the shape of the true pyramid.
Some think it might be a representation of the benben stone.
Harrison: In Egyptian mythology, the benben stone represents the first piece of land that emerged from the primordial waters of chaos at the beginning of time.
This was how the universe was created.
Narrator: Researchers find many ancient religious sites contain a sacred mound, or benben stone, in their design.
Early temples would have a mound in them, which would be an icon to the mound of creation.
Other temples would have a pyramidal stone.
Narrator: For pharaoh Khufu, the Great Pyramid was built to be his eternal resting place.
It would need to be a perfect, accurately shaped structure to successfully launch him into the afterlife.
The shape of the pyramid traditionally represents the rays of the sun, and the slope represents the way a pharaoh can climb up into the sky, into the heavens, and be amongst the gods.
Der Manuelian: So you're investing in this afterlife.
A staircase to the heavens, if you will.
Dash: The purpose of a pyramid was to provide for the resurrection of the king.
Fundamentally, a pyramid is a resurrection machine.
Narrator: Archaeologists are still puzzled as to how the Egyptians managed such perfection in their construction.
For the Giza mapping project, glen's team used the very latest in laser-scanning survey equipment.
Their goal is to precisely measure the size and orientation of the pyramid.
Dash: We have marvelous instruments today called total stations.
They combine a telescope with a laser beam.
They are fantastically precise instruments.
Narrator: The results astound the engineers.
Dash: The south is longer than the north by about 3 inches.
The west is longer than the east by about 2 inches.
The accuracy of the ancients was remarkable.
It's jaw-dropping.
Harrison: The structure is almost perfect.
It's an incredible feat of engineering.
The pyramid was built with almost perfect accuracy.
Narrator: The Great Pyramid was constructed with a margin of error of just .
So how exactly did they do it? Keep in mind that they built it all with wood, rope, copper, and stone.
They had nothing else.
They Great Pyramid is built to construction standards today.
Narrator: Continuing his survey, glen discovers the Great Pyramid holds more hidden secrets.
Dash: Most people, including archaeologists, when they walk up to the Great Pyramid, they look up.
We walked up to the Great Pyramid and decided to look down.
Narrator: Beneath their feet, the team finds something very strange.
Dash: In the bedrock around the Great Pyramid are all these cuttings.
We mapped 3,000 of them.
Narrator: Hiding in plain sight are the remains of a system of holes.
Glen thinks these were cut into the ground by the builders.
Dash: There are these large holes.
They run parallel to the sides of the pyramid.
We call them post holes.
Narrator: Glen believes the ancient builders slotted posts in these holes at one significant time of the year on the day of the autumn equinox.
The posts would cast a precisely oriented shadow on the ground.
These shadows could then be used as directional reference points to help build the pyramid.
Harrison: The equinox is the only time when the sun will create a straight shadow running perfectly from east to west.
So if they measured during the equinox, this is how they would have got the angles for the pyramid so accurate.
Dash: It turns out to be the simplest possible method.
They stuck a stick in the ground and watched the shadow.
That was it.
Narrator: The shadow lines not only help the builders create a perfect pyramid shape, they also made sure it was correctly oriented.
It was extremely important that the temples were properly aligned, true east to west.
The east is the land of the living, and the west is the realm of the dead.
Narrator: The Great Pyramid was built to represent life, death, and resurrection.
Its construction is testament to the ingenuity of the ancients.
Clear evidence of their understanding of mathematics, engineering, and the movement of the sun.
Dash: They did it with their wood, rope, copper, and stone, and they found some way to do it that was brilliant and robust and simple.
Narrator: A vast cemetery reveals evidence of an ancient tragedy.
Bianchi: Excavations have discovered an appalling number of adolescent children that have died.
Narrator: A devastating event that preyed on the young.
Zink: Their spines are completely rotten.
Their joints are almost destroyed.
Narrator: Can forensic science reveal how and why they died? Were they killed by a disease that still affects us today.
Narrator: 2015.
Archaeologists working at the ancient city of Amarna, on the edge of a vast desert plateau, make a shocking discovery.
Ikram: Excavations have shown that there are all types of people buried there.
Not just the rich and the elites that we knew of, but new cemeteries have been found filled with bodies of the poor.
Narrator: Many of the graves contain multiple bodies.
The size of the corpses suggest most of them died young.
This cemetery is predominantly children.
They were buried with very, very simple things.
There's not just one person buried.
There's quite a few together.
Narrator: The question is, what killed them? Archaeologists already know a great deal about the lives and deaths of the ordinary people of ancient Egypt.
Disease and infection were quite common.
General life expectancy was much shorter than today.
Ikram: So by the age of 30, you were an old man or an old woman.
It was a very fraught kind of existence.
Narrator: Determining how these people in this mass grave died presents a challenge.
No records exist documenting their deaths, so experts need to search for clues.
Studies of bodies from other burial grounds provide valuable insights.
At the University of Manchester in England, scientists discovered a possible cause of death.
14 ancient Egyptian lungs were analyzed.
Tiny microscopic specs were discovered.
These with some particles.
They're breathing in a significant amount of sand, causing lung problems or spiritual diseases.
Even the environment conspires against the ancient Egyptians.
Narrator: The study showed inhalation of sand particles affected Egypt's rich and poor alike, and was almost as severe as modern day car pollution.
We are seeing changes in the lungs where you see that sand was inhaled and it caused inflammatory reaction.
This can go as all kinds of lung infections.
It can compromise the whole immune system, so this would definitely have been a problem.
Narrator: Long-term exposure to sand inhalation can be deadly.
But at the dig site in Amarna, the shear scale of the burials, plus the age of the bodies, makes archaeologists conclude this can't be the cause of death.
The investigation team analyzed the bones from the mass grave in forensic detail.
The results suggest that Amarna's young people were very badly treated.
The bones are really where the history of the body lies.
We are seeing that they used to work very hard.
Even children were being pressed into hard labor.
They appear malnourished.
There's stunted growth.
There's evidence of scurvy, rickets.
They had a lot of bone changes that is typical for somebody who is working almost his whole life.
Narrator: An explanation for this appalling treatment is sought in the history of Amarna itself.
The city was built hundreds of miles from the old capital of Thebes by the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten.
The skeleton suggests the local people were forced to build the city, stone by stone.
Bianchi: One worked until one was physically unable to perform the task that was at hand.
You have a population living in that city that are undernourished and are dying because of poor diet.
Zink: They didn't have enough food to compensate these heavy workloads.
So they were really under a very very severe stress during their whole lifetime, and a lot of them died in a very young age.
Narrator: Analysis of the skeletons unearthed from the mass grave continues to reveal more clues.
Investigators start to notice distinctive marks on the bones.
It appears that many of the young people were suffering from a blood-born infection, a disease still prevalent today malaria.
Some of the lesions in the bones, some of the soft tissue tells us that these people at Amarna suffered from malaria.
And outbreaks of this disease wipes out entire populations.
Zink: It's highly likely that there was an outbreak that killed a lot of people at the same time, so they had to put them together in a sort of mass grave.
Narrator: It all begins to make sense.
For the overworked and starving people of Amarna, malaria would have been a killer blow.
The risk of disease from mosquitos and the ill treatment of the population could also explain why the city was abandoned as soon as Akhenaten died.
Aziz: These are the young people that would have built the city.
The work must have been excruciatingly painful and difficult.
And this cemetery is predominantly children.
It's just very sad.
Narrator: Tombs have been robbed of their riches since the first pharaohs were laid to rest.
People want the important stuff buried in there.
We don't know what's happened to the bodies.
Narrator: But tomb raiders didn't have it easy.
Cooney: There is this mythology that the Great Pyramids are somehow booby-trapped.
Narrator: Now archaeologists are reexamining the inventive ways the ancient Egyptians tried to protect their dead.
They have got very complex and strong defenses, which were incredibly difficult to breach.
Narrator: The ruling elite of ancient Egypt believed they would reach the afterlife only if their mummified body and possessions remained intact.
But how to stop thieves from looting your tomb? When ancient Egyptians are building tombs, they aren't necessarily thinking in terms of booby traps, like you see in "Indiana Jones".
You're not gonna be chased by a boulder.
But they do think about the fact that tombs are raided.
Macca: They built their resting places way down in the base through these long chutes and corridors and labyrinth-themed circuits that you had to get through to find the tombs.
Narrator: Most royal burial chambers had been found defended with carefully constructed security mechanisms.
Some of the features of tomb security include vast, heavy, thick, hard stone portcullises that can be dropped down.
Clark: Some of these were shafts filled rubble, passages blocked with lumps of solid stone, others raising the entrances out of reach.
Narrator: Often, these security measures were built simply to hide the door.
The idea was to prevent the tomb robbers finding the entrance and then getting admission to inner sanctum of the tomb.
Narrator: Experts reexamine one of the best examples of afterlife security at the Great Pyramids.
There is this mythology that the Great Pyramids on the Giza Plateau are somehow booby-trapped, and that when people tried to break into them, that there would be some sort of mechanism that would suddenly kill them.
Narrator: The legend is not far from the truth.
Clark: The burial chamber itself was granite lined, and the entrance to it blocked with three stone portcullises.
Narrator: The physical design of the pyramid could also act as additional security.
Clark: The outside of the pyramid would be covered with a layer of polished tura limestone to completely seal the access point, and it would be very difficult to find.
Narrator: Despite assorted security mechanisms put in place, most sacred tombs were still robbed.
Pyramids and tombs have been looted and robbed since the very earliest days of burying important people in the ground with important stuff.
Clark: Those remains that we do find have been severely damaged by the tomb robbers, who even set fire to the bodies to cover their tracks.
Narrator: So how are so many tombs robbed so regularly? Cooney: It would be roving bands of men who go out in the middle of the night with their torches, break open a burial chamber, opening up coffins, taking out what they can quickly pocket, what they can quickly bring to the market and exchange.
Narrator: It wasn't just the tombs of the elite classes that were raided.
No one was safe.
If times are tough economically, people do what they need to do to survive family members going into their own burial chambers and stealing from their own ancestors.
Narrator: As well as opportunist thieves.
Ancient texts reveal that tomb robbers came from all levels of society.
Cooney: Everybody seems to be involved in this tomb robbing in some way, shape, or form, even the people ruling Thebes at the time the high priesthood of Amun.
The priesthood is systematically going into the Valley of the Kings, tomb by tomb, and pulling out everything that was of value.
Narrator: The discovery of an ancient papyrus, dating from the time of Ramesses XI, gives an intriguing insight.
Senior authority figures are noted in court proceedings, apparently conspiring among themselves to rob the tombs they guarded.
Cooney: There are letters with veiled references to "that thing that I showed you that time" or "that place you uncovered.
" "Keep it sealed until I get there," which is the way people talk when they're talking about something contraband, something they shouldn't be doing.
Narrator: Even with clever security measures in place, there's one group of people who had insider knowledge to bypass the innovative features the tomb builders themselves.
Cooney: They knew the location of every royal tomb.
Not only that, they knew how to get in.
Narrator: It was down to pure luck that a burial site was not robbed of its riches.
Today, it's incredibly rare to find an undisturbed tomb, and that's why our understanding of the details and processes of Egyptian burials and the afterlife are still being revealed to this day.