Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs (2007) - full transcript

The grail is not the gold, nor the books of ancient wisdom, but the 3,000 year old DNA of the mummies, which may lead to a cure for malaria.


Ancient land of awe and wonder,

whose people whisper from the desert sands.

For the Egyptians life was eternal.

They searched the globe for ingredients to
proserve their bodies and their immortality.

With knowledge gained from centuries of practice,

a priest's created the finest mummies
the world has ever known.

And now they were on a critical journey.

To return to Egypt with the ingredients
for the mummification of the pharaoh.

Rameses the Great was being prepared for
the next stage of his life,

when his mummy would ressurect in paradise.

But how they were mummified,

where they were hidden, and whether
they may still give life today,

these are the secrets of the pharaohs.

There is a handful of mummies, whose names
were written on their bandages and coffins.

These mummies are people, who did not
decomposed when they died,

because their flesh was preserved by secret methods.

And according to the writing,

these mummies are three of the most
powerful pharaohs that ever lived.

Rameses the Great, his father and his son.

Ruled by pharaohs like Rameses,

Egypt Empire dominated
the Near East for 3000 years.

And in all that time Egypt's gods and
government barely changed.

The Egyptians attributed this to the will
of the the gods, divine order.

Rameses shared his life with queen Nefertari.

Like all Egyptians, they loved life
and wanted to live beyond death.

They thought dying was just
a gateway to the next world.

But if they'd been caught on earth,
their lives would continue in paradise.

So they prayed that their honesty and
offerings would ensure order on earth and beyond.

The Egyptian universe was controlled by the goddess
Maat who governed the world and the heavens.

Even Ra, the mightiest sun god,
obeyed the laws of Maat.

If Maat's order was ever broken,
the sun would not rise,

the moon would no follow,

the Egyptians' mummies would never rise again.

They called the soul or the essence
of each person his ba.

After death your ba faced final judgement.

Your heart was placed on the scales of justice
and weighed against the feather of truth.

If you'd done evil, your heavy heart would tip the scales,
and the Devourer would of annihilate you.

But if you've always been truthful and righteous,
your heart would be feather-light,

your soul would fly to paradise
to reenter your body,

your mummy would come to life in the next world,

a world in which every moment was
like a beautiful day, in this one.

But the preparation of the mummy for
this journey remained a secret.

The Egyptians recorded their
tales of war and death,

their myths and legends,

everything except how they mummified their dead.

Strangely, no complete records have been found,

so when the last priest in ancient Egypt died,
he took the secret to his grave.

Many aspects of mummification remained lost,

until Egyptologist Dr. Bob Brier
patiently gathered the surviving clues.

I was looking at tomb paintings, ancient writings,
temple carvings,

anything that might show the ingredients
used for embalming.

Queen Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri
describes an Egyptian expedition to East Africa.

The Egyptians were getting ingredients for
mummification from all over the known world.

The first mummies were natural,
dried by burial in the hot desert sands.

But when the Egyptians started
to use tombs in pyramids,

the bodies was no longer in contact with the sand,

so they had to preserve the body artificially,

and the art of mummification was born.

To dry the body, embalmers covered it
for 35 days with natron,

a naturally occurring blend
of salt and baking soda.

Ancient embalmers used seven sacred oils,

some extracted from rare trees
they carried home from distant lands.

Hatshepsut's temple shows mounds of
frankincense and myrrh they brought back.

These were key ingredients in mummification.

Over time the Egyptians noticed

that beeswax, pine resin and golden honey
were particularly good at preserving mummies.

These natural antiseptics were described by the
Greek historian Herodotus in his book.

Priests sliced the skin with flint knives, removed
the internal organs like the liver and left the heart,

which they believed to be
the seat of consciousness, in place.

The jackal-headed Anubis guarded the mummy.

His tent allowed arid desert breezes to dry the body.

His priests adorned the dead with gold
and perfumed them with frankincense and myrrh.

With the ceremony of the opening of the mouth,
the mummy would breathe and speak in the next life.

The priests chanted powerful spells
as the mummy was wrapped.

And with the declaration of innocence,
that the person did not sin in this world,

he and his mummy would be reborn in the next.

We knew about the religious rituals but there
were still gaps in the mummification procedure

that I could only fill in
by creating a modern mummy.

So I teamed up with a colleague, anatomist Ron Wade,
and, using the body donated to science,

we performed the first human mummification in the
Egyptian style since the time of the pharaohs.

For 20 years scientists have tried to extract
usable DNA from Egyptian mummies without success.

More than a decade later, if we can get DNA
from any part of our modern mummy,

it will tell us where to look in ancient mummmies.

I'm not an DNA expert, but working with
Dr. Angelique Corthals, a specialist in this field,

we took samples of skin, muscle
and bone from the modern mummy.

What makes it so difficult to extract DNA from mummy?
Is it the passage of time, the 3000 years?

Or is it the combination of time and
chemical effects of mummification?

DNA is the blueprint for all life.

Sand and air are lifeless
because they contain no DNA.

DNA is the magic ingredient.

For where is DNA, there is life.

This instruction manual is written
in a 4-letter code.

You rearrange this 4-code letters and you get
endless possibilities to make a living organism.

So a beetle and a bee, a bird and a man,
have the same components in every cell.

Just rearranged and in different lengths.

DNA changes slightly with every generation
and these changes are recorded.

So by comparing their DNA, we can tell how closely
plants and animals, including people, are related.

DNA can even tell us what diseases
ancient mummies suffered.

Some diseases like malaria are caused by
parasites invading the body.

Some of these parasites have left traces
of their DNA in the mummies.

Many ancient Egyptians died from malaria
just as millions of people will this year.

Like all life, diseases like malaria
evolve over time to survive.

Because malaria parasites reproduce very fast,
their DNA evolves quickly.

Thousands of generations of malaria have lived
since the pharaohs ruled.

I want to compare an ancient malaria with
its modern descendant. Ancient DNA with modern DNA.

The differences may point towards a cure,
and millions of lives could be saved in the future.

These tests will give us the answer.

Perhaps the DNA held in mummies like Rameses
will help to cure people today.

To advance our research, Dr Corthals has traveled
to Egypt to see the latest mummy dig site.

She's visiting Dr. Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt's
antiquities on his excavations at Saqqara.

In early times, only the pharaohs' bodies were made
into mummies and buried in their pyramids.

Later more people were mummified.

First, the other royals, then the nobles,
and by the time of Cleopatra, the middle class too.

So during Egypt's history, literally,
millions of mummies were made.

For scholars like Dr. Hawass these mummies
are windows to ancient Egypt's past.

Many of these mummies still lie beneath the ground,
awaiting the call to paradise.

Rameses believed his body would
come to life in paradise.

He knew he also lived as long
as people remembered him,

as long as they said his name.

So he built monuments to himself and
to his beloved Nefertari.

The gods demanded that the pharaoh
keep Egypt safe and rich.

So on the bank of the river Nile,
at Egypt's southern border,

Rameses constructed Abu Simbel,
a warning to the barbarians beyond.

Maat, divine order, was maintained for centuries.

As I was looking for clues to mummification,
I became involved in the lives of the pharaohs.

You visit their tombs and temples, translate their encryptions,
you can't help but wonder about them as people.

I'm viewing Rameses as a person, but you have to
remember, Rameses was viewed by the Egyptians as a God,

responsible for divine order in the universe.

What kind of king was Rameses?
What kind of man?

Rameses was the pharaoh of the Exodus.

This may be the only face from
the Bible we will ever see.

When I first looked at his mummy, I remember
thinking about all the things Rameses did.

Rameses personally led his troops into great battles.

3000 years ago he signed the oldest known peace treaty.

Rameses built more temples up and down the Nile
than any other pharaoh.

Sure it took 20 years to carve Abu Simbel out of
the mountain, but Rameses ruled Egypt for 67 years.

He had plenty of time to build.

For a 1000 miles throughout all of Egypt,
Rameses built temples to please the gods

and ensure that divine order prevailed.

He intended to be remembered.

Because the ancient Egyptians believed
that the memory of a good man lives forever.

But accounts of Rameses' deeds were lost to history,

because no one could read the ancient Egyptian texts,
the hieroglyphs on his temple walls.

And then in the 19th century scholars
finally cracked the code of hieroglyphs.

A massive inscribed tablet,
the Rosetta Stone, held the key.

The buildings and papyrus scrolls came alive.

Only a few dozen people could read the hieroglyphs.

And one of the finnest translators
was an american Charles Wilbour.

With the unlocking of the secret code,
a passion for Egypt, Egyptomania was born.

And ever more adventurers arrived on Egypt's shores
to search the sands for hidden tombs.

But when adventurers entered the pharaohs' tombs,
there was a mystery.

They found paintings of the pharaohs,
their gods and their mummies everywhere.

Anubis, god of mummification,
protected them after death.

Painted food and drink fed the mummies.

The night sky kept watch over the sleeping pharaohs.

Work on the tombs continued until
the pharaoh was buried,

when craftsmen stopped
what they were doing and left.

But though these tombs were made for kings,
not a single pharaoh's body remained.

Where were the royal mummies?

No one knew.

Tombs have been robbed for thousands of years.

In ancient Egypt, workers built
the tombs in the good times,

and robbed them in the bad.

After the great reign of Rameses
there had been many hard years,

so the royal tombs were raided.

But in the eighteen hundreds tourists would pay
more for antique souvenirs than they would for gold.

Master thieves trusted Egypt's rare
rainstorms to reveal hidden tombs.

When water quickly disapears into the ground,
it could be emptying into a tomb below.

Ahmed and Mohammed Rassoul were experts
in this dangerous profession.

And now they've made a discovery
that would change history.

People of all sords, locals and
foreigners, rich and poor alike,

were trading in goods from mummies' tombs.

Like other code-breakers, Charles Wilbour knew,
no pharaoh's mummy had ever been found,

but that some unusual artifacts had
recently appeared for sale in Egypt.

These objects bore the names of kings.

The Rassouls could not read the hieroglyphs
on what they found, but Wilbour could.

What he was being shown was
freshly stripped from a mummy.

And the cartouche, the oval encircling the name,
meant that these were the wrappings of a king.

He asked the brothers to take him to the tomb.

The gleaming new house told him that
brothers had come into some money recently.

There were only two ways to earn a living here.

Farming and tomb robbing.
And sudden wealth didn't come from farming.

It was a beautiful tomb,

but not royal.

Wilbour had to leave Egypt soon.

He pressed the brothers
to tell him the tomb's true location.

They were suspects already.

And police judgement would be rough
if they didn't cooperate.

In desperation he offered "bakshish",
a bribe for the truth.

Wilbour went to investigate
the Valley of the Kings himself.

In early Egypt pharaohs built
their tombs in pyramids.

But the gold in the pyramids was a magnet for thieves
who plunder them soon after they were built.

So the pharaohs moved their tombs hundreds of miles
south down the Nile to this hidden valley.

Eventually, this, too, was robbed.

Inscriptions at the entrances told Wilbour

which tombs have been brief
holding places for the royal mummies.

But the trail went cold.

And why had relics from different
kings and queens, spanning centuries,

appeared on the market suddenly at the same time?

All he knew for certain was that
what he'd bought in the market,

had wrapped the mummy of a pharaoh
for three thousand years.

Until now.

Wilbour wanted to save a pharaoh's tomb.

He tried to persuade the brothers
to tell him where it was, one last time.

Wilbour had to leave. And Egypt's
heritage lay in the balance.

The brothers had left him no option.

Emil Brugsch was a top antiquities
official in Egypt at the time,

and another code-breaker.

This was the pharaoh's tomb.

But it was unlike any tomb ever seen before.

Dozens of mummies, all royal.

The Pharaoh Tuthmosis I.

And his successor, Tuthmosis II,

husband to Hatshepsut,
Greatest Queen ever to rule,

Builder of Deir el-Bahri.

And the finest obelisks in Egypt.

His son, Tuthmosis III, Great Warrior King,

Builder of an empire and the temple of Amun.

Rameses III,

whose legacy stands at Karnak and beyond.

Seti I,

Brilliant General, who commissioned exquisite
temples at Abydos and Thebes,

and his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

And the father of this man,
Rameses the Great,

his temples at Luxor and Karnak endure.

Abu Simbel still guards Egypt's southern border.

His name lives on.

These were the men and women who built Egypt.

And so it was that the pharaohs began their journey
out of the darkness and into the light,

fulfilling their wish that their names
be said and they might live on.

Four decades later, Howard Carter would find
the near-perfect tomb of the boy king, Tutankhamen.

But the greatest cache of
royal mummies in history, 40,

including 12 pharaohs, had left
the Valley of the Kings forever.

These mummies traveled 400 miles
north to Cairo, where they lie today.

Years later the tomb collapsed.

But the mummies had been saved
and may yet yield their secrets.

The samples from the modern mummie's skin,
muscle and bone have shown

that the skin and muscle didn't contain DNA.

But the bone did, four times more DNA than ever
extracted from an ancient Egyptian mummy.

Now we know where to look for DNA in
ancient mummies, in the bones.

The DNA held in mummies like Rameses the Great
may yet provide cures for diseases today.

Some might call it luck that the ancient priests
hid the pharaohs' mummies,

that robbers didn't destroy them and that
they escaped annihilation in the collapsing tomb.

The Egyptians would call it divine order, Maat.

But now we may be on the cusp of another wonder.

The pharaohs' mummies have meant
different things over the centuries.

For the ancients they were a source of hope,

for the robbers the source of wealth,

for scholars the source of knowledge.

But finally perhaps the mummies
will fulfill their destiny,

to sustain the gift of life.