Egypts Unexplained Files (2019) s01e08 Episode Script

Ramses Forbidden City

1 NARRATOR: Pyramids, temples, tombs-- these ancient wonders promise even greater secrets still to be found beneath the sands of Egypt.
Now cutting-edge science decodes the mysterious land of the pharaohs.
We are gaining an insight into the way the ancient Egyptians lived and the manner of which they died.
NARRATOR: This time, the mysteries behind Egyptian genius.
Can scientists explain bizarre markings in the desert first spotted from outer space? ROSE: The landscapes are like these post-apocalyptic wastelands, like an explosion went off.
NARRATOR: Can a new lab experiment reveal Egyptians as the first surgeons? HARRISON: Do they understand medicine hundreds of years before the Greeks? NARRATOR: And can modern technology shed light on how a Pharaoh's capital city was discovered in two places? NAUNTON: Without the advent of a new scientific technique, we wouldn't be able to understand that story.
NARRATOR: Ancient clues unearthed, long-lost evidence re-examined, precious artifacts brought into the light of the 21st century.
These are "Egypt's unexplained files.
" -- Captions by Vitac -- captions paid for by discovery communications 1939-- the great archeologist pierre Montet believed he found the remains of a great Pharaoh's lost capital-- Pi-Ramesses.
He was kind of dazzled by the statues and the obelisks and the inscriptions.
NARRATOR: Then in the year 2000, the results of a 30-year magnetic scanning project appeared to blow Montet's theory apart.
It shows the location of the city nearly 20 miles away.
How can these two places just separated by miles be connected? NARRATOR: Tanis, in the northeast of the Nile delta-- french archeologist pierre Montet marvels at his incredible discovery at monuments all dedicated to one of the greatest pharaohs of all time.
All around him he sees monuments of Ramesses II.
His name and his image is everywhere.
NARRATOR: For 30 years, it was believed Montet had found the lost capital of Pi-Ramesses, until experts began to question his findings.
He didn't really try to confirm it by looking for pottery, by looking for small finds, which really would tell you scientifically what the date of the site was.
NARRATOR: In the late '60s, archeologists begin to examine the small artifacts from the site.
Astonishingly, none actually date from the time of Ramesses II, instead they're from 1,000 B.
, two centuries after his reign.
Archeologists now ask, "could the great Montet have been wrong?" Some people jump to the wrong conclusion that this had to be that city.
NARRATOR: The search for Pi-Ramesses begins all over again.
For archeologists, the lore of this lost city is irresistible.
A great capital extolled in ancient poetry and named in the bible itself.
LACOVARA: It was a huge city.
It's been suggested 30 square kilometers, the size of manhattan, bigger even.
It's a huge, thriving metropolis-- temples, palaces, obelisks, colossal statues.
It was a monument to Ramesses II's power and might.
NARRATOR: Egyptologists re-examine the evidence.
Montet had just one clue to the location of Pi-Ramesses, an ancient hymn dedicated to the great capital city.
NAUNTON: It just tells us that Pi-Ramesses is on the eastern-most branch of the Nile in the Nile delta.
It doesn't, though, give us its exact location.
NARRATOR: The Nile flows into the mediterranean in northern Egypt.
Here the river delta splits into many branches.
Geologists know many of these have run dry and shifted location over millennia.
NAUNTON: So, when we're looking for the site of Pi-Ramesses, we have to look not only on branches of the river which exist now, branches of the river which might have existed in the past but are now dried up.
NARRATOR: Montet searched along a drained stretch of the Nile, known as the tanitic branch.
He believed this to be the eastern-most part of the delta described in the ancient hymn.
But 30 years later, Austrian geologists study contour maps, they search among the ridges and valleys for evidence of ancient river runs.
They're amazed to discover another dead branch of the Nile delta even further east-- the Pelusiac branch, 20 miles from Tanis, near the modern city of Qantir.
It's 1970, and archeologists begin to dig near the city, uncovering thousands of tiny but crucial clues.
The ceramics found in the area date to the time of Ramesses II.
So, it's really in the shards and the objects of daily life and the little bits that tell you the true story.
NARRATOR: Egyptologists now ask an intriguing question-- could these tiny finds be evidence of the city of Pi-Ramesses, nearly 20 miles from where Montet believed it stood? Then they make another astonishing find.
Most intriguingly of all, we have evidence of a colossal statue of Ramesses II in a farmer's field, and this leads archeologists to want to look more closely at this site.
NARRATOR: It's another clue this could be the site of Pi-Ramesses.
Archeologists need to look much deeper.
They use handheld magnetometers to undertake the largest underground scan in the history of egyptology.
The results are astonishing.
An entire ancient capital city just revealed almost in an instant.
NARRATOR: Networks of ancient streets and foundations of buildings all dating to the time of Ramesses II.
But there's a problem-- if the foundations of the capital city are here in Qantir, then why did Montet discover the great monuments to Ramesses II nearly 20 miles away in Tanis? Once again, long-term changes in the Nile delta could hold the clue.
The branch that Pi-Ramesses was located on-- the Pelusiac branch-- silts up gradually so it eventually makes the site useless, it's not a good port anymore.
NARRATOR: Without a flowing river, the city could not function.
LACOVARA: The harbor was no longer usable.
There was no way for trade to get there and so the city was kind of gradually starved for income.
NARRATOR: Egyptologists believe 150 years after Pi-Ramesses was built, its fortunes began to suffer when the Pelusiac branch of the Nile ran dry.
Experts now propose a novel theory that Egyptians moved buildings and statues 20 miles west to Tanis, the ancient site Montet discovered.
It sounds an impossible undertaking, but experts know the Egyptians had done it before.
They were of course well used to this Colossi of Memnon of Amenhotep III had been taken from the quarries near Cairo all the way down to Luxor.
They weighed 800 tons and that was 400 miles.
BIANCHI: It's not uncommon for egyptologists to find monuments from an earlier period in a more recent context.
The Egyptians were great recyclers.
NARRATOR: Yet this was a recycling project on an unimaginable scale.
Some of the obelisks weigh up to 1,000 tons.
NAUNTON: It would have been involving a very significant part of the population.
It would have been the big event of the time in Egypt.
LACOVARA: We don't know exactly how long it took, you know, they would have probably taken it piecemeal as they were picking over the city.
NAUNTON: It's a phenomenal undertaking, a massive undertaking to move all of that stone that distance.
NARRATOR: This is an almost superhuman effort on the part of the Egyptians, but actually one that would save time and effort.
NAUNTON: The alternative would have been to build from scratch, and that would mean quarrying stone anew and bringing it from quarries, which would have been a long way away, further away from Tanis than Pi-Ramesses is.
It was a lot cheaper to try to retrofit older monuments and you would get it up in a hurry.
NARRATOR: In Pi-Ramesses, it's likely thousands of men were needed to move these great monuments to Tanis to rebuild once again.
NAUNTON: It's a great revivification of a city which becomes great again, just in a different location.
NARRATOR: This astonishing achievement meant that 5,000 years later, it was not Pi-Ramesses that Montet discovered, but a new city built with borrowed stone carried across the desert from the great capital.
Montet's discovery was in fact evidence of how the Egyptians pulled off one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world.
Recent satellite images of Egypt reveal a strange unexplained phenomenon-- giant holes in the ground next to some of the country's most important archeological sites.
And what's really scary is that number of these holes is increasing.
NARRATOR: Scientists rush to investigate.
But what are they? NARRATOR: Satellite technology offers archeologists the latest tool in the search for clues to ancient past.
But these images taken from space in 2012 have baffled the experts.
The landscapes near these archeological sites are like these pockmarked, post-apocalyptic wasteland.
It's like an explosion went off.
Many of the sites end up looking like swiss cheese.
NARRATOR: As they seek an explanation for these deep craters near precious ancient sites, a new and unusual clue comes to light, not in Egypt, but over 400 miles away in jerusalem, Israel.
PAUL: Israeli authorities actually found two Egyptian sarcophagi in an antiquity shop in jerusalem.
NARRATOR: To experts, it's uncommon to see treasure such as these for sale outside Egypt.
It's not unheard of that you would see Egyptian artifacts excavated from Israel, however, a large sarcophagus, that's not typical in Israel.
NARRATOR: The two ancient artifacts have been treated with little care, both were damaged beyond repair.
Investigators believe these treasures have been looted to be sold illicitly in Israel.
The seller may say the item is authentic, that doesn't mean it's legal.
NARRATOR: Could the holes in the desert be evidence of criminals digging for sarcophagi and other prizes of antiquity? Ancient Egypt's riches have certainly always been under threat from thieves.
CLARK: It's a very old practice.
As far as crime's concerned, you could in fact say it's the world's second-oldest profession.
One of the most famous tomb raiders was an italian who operated in the early 19th century.
There was one man, an italian, giovanni belzoni, who was a master tomb robber.
NARRATOR: Belzoni had an unusual set of skills that made him perfect for the job.
COONEY: He was trained as a circus man, and he was actually a crack engineer, also self-trained.
And he was hired by a number of wealthy men in europe to get stuff for them.
NARRATOR: Belzoni earned his reputation by stealing some of Egypt's most impressive artifacts with stunning bravado.
Well, belzoni makes his name initially by removing the bust of Ramesses II from outside the ramesseum and hauling it down the Nile to Cairo for shipment to England.
NARRATOR: Stealing priceless treasures and smashing others in the process, belzoni also brazenly left his calling card at the scene of his crimes.
COONEY: Belzoni wasn't shy about putting his name everywhere he could, and if you're a tourist in Egypt today and you climb into the burial chamber of King khafre, on of the great pyramids on the Giza plateau, you will see the name belzoni as big as possible on the walls.
NARRATOR: The story of belzoni is evidence of the extreme lengths tomb raiders will go to to steal Egyptian artifacts.
The experts now examine the satellite images for the proof of 21st-century grave robbers.
COONEY: When archeologists are using satellite imagery, sometimes if they compare the satellite images from 10 years ago to today, they start to see more holes in the ground that weren't there before.
NARRATOR: Clustered around key archeological sites, these holes are revealed, on closer inspection, to be deep vertical shafts, tunnels dug by modern thieves searching for ancient treasures.
PAUL: So, there's really a race between archeologists who are trying to properly record and excavate and tomb raiders who are stealing artifacts at astronomical rates like we've never seen before in Egypt.
But why is there such an enormous spike in illegal digging? Many believe it's connected to the Egyptian revolution which exploded in 2011.
Civil unrest followed for years.
Experts now believe important sites were ransacked during the chaos.
And sometimes that looting can be a couple of people coming in and digging a hole here or there.
In other cases, that looting is very systematic.
ROSE: As they go in there and they're taking out all the valuable objects, they're destroying the site.
They're causing irreparable damage to that archeology.
COONEY: You see people coming in with Earth movers, with bulldozers to come in and sweep away parts of a site to quickly look for ancient materials they can sell.
NARRATOR: Between 2011 and 2013, researchers recorded an average of 38,000 annual lootings of Egypt's precious archeological sites.
Artifacts are being stolen on an industrial scale to feed a global market.
PAUL: The people buying these artifacts tend to be from wealthier countries so that's countries in the west, like the united states, like the u.
, france, Germany.
NARRATOR: It's a trade that leaves archeologists deeply troubled.
But as long as there are people willing to pay for stolen artifacts, there will always be people willing to steal them.
COONEY: The greatest tomb robbers of all are all of the people who are currently buying them.
When that demand stops, then the tomb robbery will stop.
NARRATOR: Produced to create beautiful art 4,600 years ago, the world's first artificial pigment-- Egyptian blue.
Egyptian blue was extraordinarily important throughout the ancient world.
Incredibly, researchers now believe this material may hold within it the key to revolutionize forensic science.
Could Egyptian blue be used to solve 21st-century crimes? NARRATOR: For the ancient Egyptians, blue was a sacred color.
It has connotations as a color with fertility, with creation, with everything relating to the skies above them.
They wanted to incorporate this cherished color into their art, but there was a problem.
Blue is not available naturally.
It doesn't occur naturally in too many substances.
Reds, yellows are common among different kinds of pigments, but blue is something difficult to create.
NARRATOR: In 2,600 B.
, to overcome this, the ancient Egyptians embarked on a chemical experiment and made a breakthrough.
COLLEEN: I think that we can pretty safely say that the Egyptians were phenomenal chemists of the ancient world.
And they clearly experimented.
Egyptians found a way to create Egyptian blue using substances around them basically-- sand, using copper, calcium.
So, these are very common substances.
NARRATOR: Balls of the mixture were placed into clay jars and put into ovens heated at 1,000 degrees celsius.
The finished product was then thoroughly ground down, and they had the world's first artificial pigment.
It's chemical name-- calcium copper tetrasilicate, the color a striking blue.
The ancient Egyptians were incredibly resourceful, and there essentially was not a problem that they couldn't solve through tenacity and use of the resources at their disposal.
NARRATOR: This vibrant color stunned the ancient world, but now, thousands of years later, it's Egyptian blue's hidden qualities that are exciting modern forensic scientists.
Centuries ago, reliefs like these were once painted with the famous pigment.
The color has faded to the naked eye, but using high-tech infrared cameras under the right lighting conditions, the remains of the Egyptian blue pigment reveals itself in a dazzling luminescent glow.
This paint thousands of years old can show up using a modern scientific technique.
Despite differences in temperature, oxygen levels, lighting conditions, this substance can still be found after thousands of years.
JOHNSTON: The ancient Egyptians in creating this blue color that was so desirous to obtain, they actually stumbled across something that was extraordinarily durable, even if not to the naked eye, several millennia later, would still be detectable.
NARRATOR: 2016-- a team of researchers at curtin university in perth, australia see an opportunity.
Could Egyptian blue's twin qualities of luminescence and durability be the key to solving a long-term problem in the forensic field of fingerprinting? This could then potentially be a game changer for forensics.
NARRATOR: When forensic teams arrive at a crime scene, they dust surfaces with a powder of contrasting color which sticks to the fingerprints left behind, traditional fingerprinting powders, for instance, are made out of plant resins or a kind of soot.
NARRATOR: But these crime-scene teams are facing a challenge.
On particular problem surfaces, the traditional powders are just not working.
JOHNSTON: With modern technology, polymer bank notes, highly patterned surfaces, it's incredible difficult to be able to obtain fingerprints for a number of these surfaces.
COLLEEN: Researchers were intrigued by Egyptian blue, because it might have an application for dusting for fingerprints.
And even in a patterned surface, using Egyptian blue might enable the fingerprints to stand out more in scientific testing than traditional techniques.
NARRATOR: The researchers at curtin university believe Egyptian blue's hidden power-- bright luminescence and an ability to stick to a surface for so long-- means it may have the answer forensic science is looking for.
Following the ancient recipe in the lab, they mix the Egyptian blue compound and then grind it down into microscopic particles.
They dust the Egyptian blue pigments onto fingerprints on a polymer bank note, a surface on which traditional dusting powders can falter.
The surfaces are then illuminated in white light and photographed with a special camera, which can detect infrared rays.
The images are astonishing.
ALTAWHEEL: Even though it's a surface that would otherwise not leave the preservation of a fingerprint.
This particular substance, Egyptian blue, actually left some residue behind.
NARRATOR: The researchers compare the testing methods on soft-drink cans.
First, using traditional powders, and then with Egyptian blue pigment.
It reveals a vast improvement.
Applying the blue pigment to other problematic surfaces including patterned tiles and glass, the prints are incredibly clear.
COLLEEN: It's amazing.
Even though it's not visible to the naked eye, it glows under the near infrared light.
The pigment's quality of exhibiting luminescence NARRATOR: Coupled with its ability to retain this luminescence for centuries demonstrates it could have a major impact in law enforcement.
JOHNSTON: What I find absolutely incredible is the fact that ancient technology through the synthetic pigment, Egyptian blue, is being used now in the 21st century.
ALTAWHEEL: It's kind of amazing to think that Egyptian blue could actually be used to catch criminals very soon.
NARRATOR: In the ancient-Egyptian city of Amarna, Dutch archeologists uncover the skeletal remains of an ancient female, attached to the skull-- a flamboyant, multicolored mass of braided hair.
All of a sudden, she cried out, "look.
They have hair extensions.
" FLETCHER: The body is basically a skeleton and yet the hair survived, and it's styled into these amazing hair extensions.
NARRATOR: The Dutch team are baffled.
How has the hair survived when the bodies have rotted? And what is the significance of the ornate braided hair? WENDRICH: Was this something unique? Was this something that had a special meaning? There are so many mysteries.
NARRATOR: 2014-- and a team of researchers examine this strange skeleton in a grave.
The female body's discovered in literally a hole in the ground, a standard pit grave in the sand.
NARRATOR: The excavation team find this woman's remains are not alone.
They unearth a vast cemetery, countless humble graves filled with the poor.
It rapidly becomes apparent that this woman isn't an isolated incident, that there are others, hundreds of other bodies.
NARRATOR: In grave after grave, they find a similar outlandish hairpiece matted to the skulls of the dead.
Head after head, person after person, woman after woman, had hair extensions.
NARRATOR: Bone experts are called in to examine the skeletons of the women.
They search for clues that might help explain the presence of the hair.
1341 B.
, the city of Amarna is constructed as Pharaoh Akhenaten's eternal capital.
Now forensic archeologists find clues suggesting the city's inhabitants endured a lifetime of hard labor.
From the skeletal remains, it's clear they had a very hard life.
We can see that they had very strong arms, that they had very big muscles.
We can see from their spines, they are damaged, they were carrying a lot of heavy stuff.
A lot of these people had serious health problems.
NARRATOR: These women were the workforce who kept Akhenaten's city running.
In death, the workers are found buried together in a mass cemetery.
They're discovered wrapped in mats and laid in the ground.
WENDRICH: There are just slots excavated in the sands, simple graves where ordinary people from Amarna were buried.
NARRATOR: The bodies are not mummified, a practice restricted to the wealthy elite.
The flesh has rotted away, leaving just bone, yet the hair is perfectly preserved.
It's taken for close examination to a special lab in Cairo.
Researchers want to find out why it is frozen in time.
Tests reveal that the hair has been treated with animal fats.
WENDRICH: If you live in such a dry climate, then you want to put grease in your hair.
And grease was also the way to perfume so everything that smelled nice-- pressed flowers or resins-- were dissolved in fats.
Which has preserved the hair almost perfectly for 3,500 years.
NARRATOR: Analysis of the fats used in the hair reveal it comes from cows and goats.
It appears to have been fashioned into a gel and worked into the hair.
And so they're styling the hair with styling product, which gives an extra layer of protection to the hair itself.
And so these things can survive thousands of years.
NARRATOR: The lab technicians make another astonishing discovery.
The hair used to make the braids appears to come from multiple sources.
The archeologists are finding more people at Amarna with extensions of hair made not only from their own, but of different colors and textures.
WENDRICH: They used hair extensions of real human hair so probably young girls could donate their hair, could sell their hair maybe.
NARRATOR: Examining the braids, the experts note how tightly and neatly they have been dressed.
They conclude this work would have been too intricate to carry out in the final stages of a dying woman's life.
Instead, they believe the process took place after death, in preparation for burial.
WENDRICH: They couldn't afford to be mummified, but they could afford some measures to remain in the afterlife.
NARRATOR: Investigators want to understand the significance of preserved hairpieces for the impoverished women in their graves.
They look for answers in the complex Egyptian burial rituals.
FLETCHER: So, we know that wealthy people are buried in splendid stone-built tombs.
WENDRICH: They're hacked out in the rocks, they are beautifully decorated.
While the rest of the population, the working people, are just buried in a hole in the ground.
NARRATOR: Pharaohs fill their tombs with gold thrones, jewelry, perfumes, and wines.
They want to retain all their riches and bring them to the afterlife.
The only item these poor working women can afford to take with them to the next world are these elaborate hair extensions.
Now, scholars have hit on a final theory to explain why this artificial hairpiece was so crucial for the afterlife.
It lies with the goddess hathor who personified beauty and rebirth.
In the afterlife, it was believed she would help the dead to be reborn.
Hathor was the goddess of femininity but also had a role as a goddess of the dead.
NARRATOR: Crucially, she was recorded in ancient-Egyptian myth for her distinctive and beautiful hair.
FLETCHER: Goddess hathor, a mother goddess figure, who was called "she of the beautiful hair," "the lady of the locs," and so if she spotted you as one of her own, you were set for the glorious afterlife.
NARRATOR: These Amarna women may have been using their only asset to attract the attention of this goddess.
DODSON: It's possible that these women were using hair extensions to allow them to be associated with her in their transformation into the next world.
NARRATOR: Egyptologists now believe the women in Amarna were undergoing this simple post-mortem beauty ritual to be as beautiful as possible for their eternal afterlife.
Hair and beauty were extraordinarily important to the ancient Egyptians.
Where to look you best meant everything.
WENDRICH: People wanted to be beautiful.
They make themselves beautiful in life and in death.
The way they wanted to live in the afterlife, that's the way they were buried.
NARRATOR: The working poor of Amarna did not have the vast riches that filled the great pharaohs' tombs.
What little money they had they used to buy a precious wig, a beautiful headpiece which would see them recognized by the goddess hathor and welcomed for eternity into the next world.
2017-- a rock face 50 miles south of Luxor.
Archeologists are amazed when they discover a collection of giant hieroglyphs, each one 2 feet high.
Why were the hieroglyphs so big? This is almost like an ancient billboard.
NARRATOR: These unique and mysterious signs are some of the earliest ever found.
Over 5,000 years old, they predate the pyramids and the sphinx.
This was really about the last thing we expected we would find.
NARRATOR: The experts' task is to decipher these ancient symbols and reveal this message from antiquity.
What are these hieroglyphs trying to tell us? NARRATOR: 100 feet above an ancient crossroads, by the Egyptian village of El-Khawy.
A team from yale university lead by professor John Darnell examined the earliest hieroglyphs found on this scale.
JOHN: This is big.
It's out in a public space.
It's overlooking these roads.
It's definitely meant to be seen by people from a distance.
NARRATOR: These mysterious hieroglyphs date back to the birth of the entire language at around 3200 B.
Three of them depict birds.
Two large storks standing back to back between and slightly above them we have an ibis.
NARRATOR: Professor Darnell recognizes these symbols instantly.
That arrangement evokes the horizon for the Egyptians-- the two horizon hills with the sun rising in between.
The solar cycle, we feel pretty confident that it's a statement of cosmic power.
JOHNSTON: The solar cycle is the rising and falling of the sun each day.
It affects this life, it affects the afterlife.
Ancient-Egyptian religion at its very core is a solar religion.
NARRATOR: Cosmic power and the solar cycle, the first clues to the meaning of the message on the rock face.
But to the untrained eye, the remaining hieroglyph on the wall is more difficult to decipher.
Armed with the knowledge of early Egyptian iconography and inscriptions, professor Darnell knows he has seen this hieroglyph before.
Back in 1995, the site of gebel tjauti, 25 miles northwest of Luxor, he and his team made another incredible discovery as they scrutinized scratchings in the rocks also dating back over 5,000 years.
The scorpion tableau is a rock art scene with early hieroglyphic annotations.
It appears to date to the same as the El-Khawy inscription.
The scorpion King tableau shows the King, King scorpion, in battle.
NARRATOR: The scorpion King was the first King of the unified upper Egypt.
Beside this figure of the King, a familiar symbol can be identified.
The symbols that were found on the scorpion tableau were very similar to the symbols that were found by yale team.
JOHN: The exact same sign appears in that tableau as well.
NARRATOR: Professor Darnell has a theory as to what this symbol carved into both walls in the same time period actually is.
The sign of a bull's head on a pole.
It is identical.
NARRATOR: A clue to what the bull represents comes in the form of one of ancient Egypt's most iconic artifacts, also dating back almost 5,000 years-- the narmer palette.
So-called narmer palette, which is heavily adorned with images which seem to show the unification of Egypt by one King.
Narmer is depicted as a raging bull that is trampling an enemy and knocking down the walls of the enemy fortress.
So it shows a kind of royal authority taking over the land.
NARRATOR: It's clear that in the Egypt of 5,200 years ago, the figure of the bull symbolized the royal leader.
The bull is a symbol of power.
We can say that the symbol of the bull represents the ruler, the Pharaoh of Egypt.
NARRATOR: Now the world's oldest hieroglyphs of this size on the cliff face at El-Khawy can be pieced together.
And professor Darnell can reveal this message from antiquity.
JOHN: This seems to be a statement that now there's a central authority.
Now there's a focus for religious activity.
Now there's a representative of these cosmic powers on Earth.
The King is showing his absolute authority to subjects.
COLLEEN: What this billboard is advertising is royal power and control.
The King is the one who is actually in charge of the solar cycle, that makes him the god.
NARRATOR: In 3200 B.
, this message was carved in large hieroglyphs into the rock face so that every traveler pausing at these crossroads could be left in no doubt of who was in total control of both the land and the sky that surrounded them-- the Pharaoh.
The discovery of a mummy bearing a wooden toe excites archeologists.
Is this an early form of prosthetic? HARRISON: Do they understand medicine and surgery hundreds of years before the Greeks? NARRATOR: Or is part of a strange burial practice? DODSON: Is this something which was made to wear during her lifetime or is it simply something to allow her mummy to be complete in the next world? We need to sort the magic from the medicine.
NARRATOR: This curious artifact is uncovered in a tomb west of Luxor.
The toe is found attached to the foot of a female mummy and is nearly 3,000 years old.
They found this female mummy with a toe that was made out of leather and wood and it was wrapped around and attached to her foot.
NARRATOR: Many archeologists believe this relic is a symbolic token added during the mummification process to replace a missing toe.
We would assume that these have actually been placed there to complete the body for the soul in the afterlife so that they would have use of that limb.
NARRATOR: Researchers in biomedical egyptology at Manchester university are not convinced.
In 2011, studying evidence of wear and tear on the toe, they theorized that this could actually be a fully functioning prosthetic worn in life.
AZIZ: A few of the researchers from the university of Manchester decided to put it to the test.
They find two volunteers, both of these volunteers have their big right toes missing.
NARRATOR: The technicians construct a replica of the female mummy's wooden toe and attach it to the volunteers' feet.
A series of tests to track their movements begins.
If the toe is functional, this would be the earliest working prosthetic ever discovered.
Will the results of the experiment finally show Egyptian medical knowledge was far ahead of the rest of the ancient world? Could the discovery of a toe on a mummy point us in the right direction? NARRATOR: Egyptologists also examine ancient medical papyri that surfaced in the mid-19th century when the black-market trade in these scrolls was booming.
ROSE: A few of these documents point to Egyptian physicians as possessing far more advanced medical knowledge than we ever thought possible.
NARRATOR: The details within the papyri show that the ancient Egyptians had a deep understanding of the human body.
HARRISON: They show that the Egyptians understood things like the heart pumping fluids around the body.
They understood anatomy.
They understood certain organs.
They understood the human body probably better than any other ancient civilization.
NARRATOR: A document known as the "Edwin Smith papyrus" reveals advanced Egyptian medical expertise.
It's a manual, basically, for trauma victims.
NARRATOR: It shows that Egyptians were using technologies similar to those modern doctors treating body trauma employ today.
DODSON: The Egyptians had a good knowledge of practical medicine-- surgery, particularly to do with orthopedics, bone damage.
If the wound was quite deep, then they would stitch it up.
I mean, they were remarkable at stitching.
NARRATOR: Experts realize ancient Egyptians were using tools that were comparable to those used in a modern surgery.
If you go to a tomb or a temple inside and you see some of these medical equipment, it's the same that we use today, in a lot of cases.
The Egyptians were at forefront of understanding how the human body works.
NARRATOR: Back at Manchester University, the egyptologists want to put this documented medical prowess to the test.
The volunteers are asked to walk on a 10-meter walkway wearing ancient-Egyptian style sandals.
Firstly, with the replica toe attached and then without.
The results are surprising.
They helped both volunteers balance so it definitely could have been used.
The replica wooden artificial toe makes it much easier for the volunteers to walk in the Egyptian-style sandals.
This toe was actually a workable prosthetic.
This was fascinating.
We were amazed by this.
The toe could indeed have functioned as a lifetime prosthesis.
NARRATOR: Experts believed that the artificial toe found on the mummy was used in her daily life to aide her walking.
Also, that is was readjusted for size as she got older.
ROSE: It was there to help her balance and to give her function back.
So what this tells us is that ancient-Egyptian medicine was far more advanced than we ever gave them credit for.
AZIZ: Technologically, scientifically, and medically the ancient Egyptians were really advanced.
And this is oldest functional prosthetic ever found in history.
NARRATOR: This incredible artifact and the clues from the ancient papyri are completely overturning our assumptions about medical knowledge in antiquity.
ROSE: We think about these ancient civilizations, and we tend to think that they're all backward.
No, Egyptians are one of the most advanced civilizations when it comes to medicine.
NARRATOR: 2,500 years ago, far exceeding their contemporaries, the Egyptians were laying down the blueprint for what would become the field of modern medicine.