Nova (1974–…): Season 40, Episode 5 - Building Pharaoh's Chariot - full transcript

A team of archaeologists, engineers, woodworkers, and horse trainers join forces to build and test two highly accurate replicas of Egyptian royal chariots.

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NARRATOR: Egypt-- one of the great
civilizations of antiquity.

It was here that
one of the world's

first writing systems
was developed

and where vast monuments
in stone were built.

Then 1,000 years
after the Pyramids,

another technological revolution
took place:

a revolution in warfare.

The chariot arrived.

Over the next few hundred years,

the pharaohs of ancient Egypt
pushed back their borders

and built a mighty empire.

Egypt's New Kingdom Empire

was the greatest empire
that the world had seen.

It really was
on a massive scale.

NARRATOR: Was the chariot the Egyptians'
secret weapon,

giving them a crucial lead
in the arms race?

Were there innovations built
into the Egyptian chariot

that gave them an edge?

BELA SANDOR: If you gave this
to a modern designer,

they could not do any better.

NARRATOR: Now a team of experts will work
from 3,000-year-old clues

to rebuild a replica
of an Egyptian chariot

and test it in simulated battle.

Imagine 1,000 chariots.

It would be like Armageddon
coming to you.

NARRATOR: Recreating the pharaoh's
chariot, we'll test the claim

that this was the weapon
which built an empire.

"Building Pharaoh's Chariot,"
right now on NOVA.

♪ NOVA 40x10 ♪
Building Pharaoh's Chariot
Original Air Date on February 6, 2013

== sync, corrected by elderman ==

Major funding for NOVA
is provided by the following:

In about 1,550 BCE--

more than 1,000 years after
the building of the Pyramids--

a new age dawned in Egypt.

This was a golden age
of Egyptian power and wealth

known to historians as
the New Kingdom.

Over the next 300 years,

the Egyptians built the largest
empire the world had ever seen.

It's a period known
for the astonishing treasure

of Tutankhamun.

A time when the Ancient
Egyptians constructed

many of the mighty temples
which can still be seen today,

3,500 years later.

But at the dawn
of this golden age,

Egypt was a country
beset by enemies.

When a new young king, the
pharaoh Ahmose, came to power,

northern Egypt was occupied by
a foreign people from the East

known as the Hyksos.

What happened next
is recorded in a tomb

cut into a rocky hillside
in a settlement called El Kab.

This tomb contains an account
written by a soldier

who fought
in the pharaoh's army.

Here, this man
is telling the story

of his military career
and his life.

These hieroglyphs tell

how the young soldier
followed his pharaoh

as he drove the Hyksos
out of Egypt.

The account also highlights
a remarkable fact:

the Egyptians now had a new
and devastating weapon:

the chariot.

And the exciting thing:

in this text,
he's actually describing

how he fought alongside
the king's own chariot.

And we see the sign
of the chariot here,

one of the earliest images
we have of the chariot

in Egyptian writing.

In the years that followed,

chariots appear everywhere
on tomb and temple walls.

And inscriptions alongside
the chariots

relate how Ahmose
and other New Kingdom pharaohs

went on to build
the most powerful empire

the world had ever seen.

As they overcame Kushites,
Nubians, Canaanites and others,

their empire stretched
from Sudan

up into what is now Turkey.

So was the chariot the key to
the Egyptians' military success?

In old Cairo, a team of experts
has come together,

hoping to uncover
the chariot's secrets.

Drawing on the skills
of expert craftsmen,

they plan to assemble
and test

what may be the first accurate
working Egyptian chariot

to have been built
in thousands of years.

Carriage-maker Robert Hurford,

who has built Roman and Assyrian
chariots in the past,

will be in charge
of construction.

It's a very complicated

The wheels are very odd.

The yoke is very difficult,

first to make
and secondly to make work.

NARRATOR: Robert has teamed up
with equine expert Kathy Hansen,

who thinks the harness
for the horses

was a vital component
of the chariot.

I've done a lot of studying,

and I think we know
how they built their harness

and I think I know
how they trained their horses,

so now we have an opportunity
to put that to the test.

NARRATOR: For military expert Mike
Loades, this is an opportunity

to explore the chariot
as a weapons system.

We know chariots
were used in battle,

but we don't exactly know how.

So we need to test it,
we need to drive it,

shoot the bow from it,
so that's what's exciting.

This is undiscovered territory.

NARRATOR: The team's first task
is to find local craftsmen

who can help them
build the chariot.

It's made of wood, so their
priority is a skilled carpenter.

Abdou Mohammed is said to be
one of the best in Cairo.

HURFORD: I've got this model
that we've made...

NARRATOR: Robert has brought
with him a model

to demonstrate what he is trying
to achieve.

This is quarter scale,

so you multiply
everything by four

and you've got
the real thing.

Many of the parts are curved,

and Robert will have to find
another workshop

where the wood
can be bent into shape.

But this is where
most of the chariot

will be built and assembled.

And they're obviously made
that way for a reason...

NARRATOR: Abdou has never tackled
anything like this before.

It's a new idea,

and he will try to prove
that he is a good student.

Abdou, I look forward
to working with you.

NARRATOR: The team has only eight weeks
to complete the chariot

before Mike returns to test it.

Their goal is not
just to build a chariot,

but to understand what might
have given the Egyptians

a military advantage.

This new war machine
was not invented in Egypt.

These engravings reveal
that chariots could be found

hundreds of years earlier
in nearby lands.

The Egyptians, meanwhile,
were fighting on foot,

using sleds to pull heavy loads,

and then, as now, relied on
donkeys for personal transport.

Horses appear
to have been unknown

for much of Egyptian history.

HARVEY: Around about 4,000 BC,
we know that people were

probably domesticating horses
and creating the first chariots

in places as far away
as southern Russia.

And over time, that moves west

into Syria, Lebanon
and up into Turkey.

And the Egyptians felt
they had to get a hold of it

in order to compete
on the world stage.

NARRATOR: When Egypt first obtained
the chariot,

it was probably quite basic,

with a body that
could carry two people

supported on an axle
with two wheels

and a central pole.

And there was a harness
which allowed the chariot

to be pulled by two horses.

But however basic,
for the Egyptians,

the chariot was
a revolution in warfare.

And building it required
ancient skills

which are hard to find today.

In a Cairo suburb, Robert and
local organizer Magdy Rashidy

track down one of the few
steam benders in the country.

The owner, Mohamed El Salam,
and his son Walid

show Robert
around their workshop

where they make chairs,

bending the wood
by saturating it with steam

to make it supple.

Robert demonstrates again
what he's trying to achieve

using his model, and shows them
the parts which need bending.

So that's a piece
and that's a piece...

NARRATOR: Shaping the pieces
won't be easy,

but Mohammed seems confident
he can adapt his equipment.

He'll need to work fast
to meet their schedule.

They seem enthusiastic,

anxious to get it done.

NARRATOR: Robert based his model
on published descriptions.

But to understand
how the Egyptians

transformed the chariot,
he'll seek advice from a man

who has been investigating them
for many years.

Here from the University
of Wisconsin,

engineer Bela Sandor has been
studying some of the chariots

found among the treasures
of Tutankhamun's tomb,

now in the Egyptian Museum
in Cairo.

They were found in 1922
by archaeologist Howard Carter,

who carefully reassembled
and restored them.

Sandor has been looking closely
at their design,

trying to work out
how the Egyptians

improved their new war machine.

The first time
I saw these chariots,

I just walked through
like most of the tourists,

barely looking at them.

Two years later, I came back
and I started realizing

that there was more to these
than just primitive structure.

After years of careful analysis,

Sandor has concluded that
the Egyptians

transformed a machine
that was slow and cumbersome

into one that was fast
and maneuverable.

His calculations
have convinced him that

this is the world's
first high-performance vehicle,

with high-tech wheels,

parts which function as springs,

and shock absorbers,

even a device to stop it
from rolling over.

He now believes that the chariot

was the pinnacle of ancient
Egyptian engineering.

SANDOR: If you gave this
to a modern designer,

with computers and formulas,
they could not do any better.

NARRATOR: Kathy Hansen believes that
the technology of the harness

was also a vital part
of the chariot's success.

She's in the Cairo museum

looking for clues
to how it was put together,

like this ancient bronze
horse bit.

Mostly she has to rely
on depictions

of the harness in action.

No one knows exactly how
this system of straps worked

to pull the chariot.

She will have to depend on her
own expertise to puzzle it out.

HANSEN: It looks theoretically
like the Egyptians

did all of the things necessary
to create a functional harness.

The proof will be in when we
actually design the harness,

hitch it to horses
and drive it.

NARRATOR: Robert now wants to select
the woods he'll use for the chariot.

The ancient chariot builders
used a range of imported woods,

including ash and elm.

But visiting local timber yards,
he sees no sign of these.

He looks instead
at some of the local woods.

Although much of Egypt
is desert,

in the fertile areas
of the Nile Delta

there are plenty of trees
to be found.

Robert thinks that a local wood
like mulberry might be good

for building the bent parts
of the wheel.

It's a good substitute for ash.

Mulberry is quite springy,

which is nice,
it's what we want.

But for the pole and the body,

he settles on
an imported wood: beech.

It's a reliable
close-grained hardwood,

suitable for bending
and similar to elm,

used by the ancient builders.

Before Robert starts building,

he's now arranged to meet up
with engineer Bela Sandor,

who has identified some
remarkable design features.

One of them is the joint
above the axle,

which the main pole fits into.

Sandor believes this apparently
simple socket was probably

one of the ancient Egyptians'
most brilliant ideas.

SANDOR: We are looking at a fantastic
marvel of ancient engineering

because it has
more than one function.

NARRATOR: Sandor maintains the
joint was deliberately left loose,

allowing the pole
to move back and forth.

This makes the floor frame flex
and act as a shock absorber,

giving a more comfortable ride.

But the design has a second
important function.

To prevent rollovers
of the axle.

NARRATOR: Sandor thinks the
pole was made flat at the end

so it could engage firmly with
the socket, like a screwdriver.

Now the pole resists
any tendency of the axle

to rotate and tip
on uneven ground,

helping to keep the chariot

This simple-looking joint
is a key detail

for the chariot
Robert is building.

We'll have a look
at the whole thing...

NARRATOR: Robert has now learned
enough to instruct the carpenters

on how they can make a start.

Abdou's first job is
to make the floor frame.

Robert takes particular care

to explain the importance
of the socket.

HURFORD: Not in the corner,
we want that corner.

Yeah, that's good.

NARRATOR: They can also start
to fashion the wheel hubs

and shape the axle.

The task of building the chariot
is now underway.

That one's too tall.

I need short ones.

Kathy is now looking for horses

and has also enlisted
some local help.

14 hands, 140 centimeters.

NARRATOR: She has teamed up with
Sayed Maksoud, an expert horseman.

Together, they travel round
some nearby horse farms.

She's looking for small horses
like the ancient Egyptians used,

and they must run well together.

She finds a mixed pair--
one brown, one black--

that she thinks will work well
as a team.

Trot, trot, trot.

Oh, yes.

NARRATOR: As a precaution, Kathy and
Sayed also choose a reserve pair:

two very similar
gray stallions.

All four horses are brought
to the Saqqara Country Club

on the outskirts of Cairo,

where they need to be trained
in just one month.

The grays are put
into the same corral

to get to know each other.

Stallions can be aggressive,
and two powerful horses

could quickly smash the chariot
to pieces.

The early signs
are not promising.


But Sayed believes
they will settle down.

Although work is well underway,

Kathy and Robert
still have much to learn

about the design
of these ancient chariots.

The Valley of the Kings
is behind the ridge.

They travel down to Luxor,

Egypt's capital city on the Nile
3,000 years ago,

to see what secrets
they can glean.

On a hilly ridge on the west
bank of the river are the tombs

of ancient nobles and officials.

Each tomb is richly decorated

with scenes of life
from thousands of years ago.

Robert, look!

HURFORD: I think this
thing's amazing.

That's a beautifully drawn

Look, you can see your thong

through your lynch pin.

The little details.

They're going to be
so helpful to us.

Yeah, yeah.

For Robert and Kathy,

the paintings and reliefs
are like blueprints.

They provide a wealth of detail
which gives them a real insight

into the chariot's construction.

It's clear to them both
they have a challenge ahead

if they're to bring the chariot
back to life.

The paintings also show
chariot building,

with craftsmen shaping the wood

to make the frame
and other pieces.

The area in the middle,
where you've got spokes, wheel--

and there's the pole up the top
there and the yoke--

those are the steam-bent parts
of this chariot.

It's almost a manual
of how to do it.


(tapping and hammering)

NARRATOR: And this is
one of the few places

where Kathy can study
the harness.

Here is where your holdback
strap comes down

and your breastplate,

and here are the rounded pads
that were early,

and there's your top
of your neck fork,

and you can clearly see
the nosepiece.

(horses neighing)

NARRATOR: The information
gathered from images in the tombs

and the Cairo Museum
is invaluable,

and Kathy is now ready
to take her design

to one of Cairo's
harness makers.

She has drawn a plan and made
a model of how it should work.

(speaking Arabic)


NARRATOR: The Egyptian harness
is unlike any modern harness.

It uses a pair of neck forks

combined with breast straps
to create a form of collar

which the horse then pulls
from its shoulders.

She thinks the horses were
attached to the chariot

by binding their neck forks
to a yoke,

which was lashed
to the chariot pole.

The harness also includes
a bridle,

designed, she believes,

to keep the horses' heads down
and their weight back,

making the chariot
more maneuverable.

That's the theory,
but will it work?

The first step for the harness
makers is to cut out the leather

following Kathy's design.

Back in the Luxor Tombs, Robert
and Kathy are still hunting

for clues about the chariot

The paintings reveal
how the chariot evolved

as the Egyptians perfected
their new war machine.

The first major change is
in the position of the axle

and the wheels.

They start centrally
under the floor,

but gradually they move

until eventually
they are right at the back.

This shift reveals great
mechanical insight,

and Bela Sandor thinks
he's worked out its advantage.

If the axle is somewhere
in the middle of the platform,

it creates for a harsh ride
because the driver is standing

directly on a stiff,
bouncing axle.

Moving the axle back

has a dramatic impact
on the suspension system.

It shifts the driver's weight
forward onto the pole.

The wooden pole
now flexes up and down

and begins to act like a leaf
spring on a modern vehicle,

which softens the ride.

In the tombs, Kathy and Robert
spot another key development.

At first, all the wheels
had just four spokes,

and all the early Egyptian
chariots were the same.

But that began to change.

Soon, they were building
chariots with eight spokes.

So why did they abandon
the four-spoke wheel?

In this position,

all of the weight is borne
by this single spoke.

But as soon as the wheel rolls,
that same weight will deform

the unsupported arc length
of the rim.

And then it comes back up again,

so the axle is moving up
and down and up and down.

The human body cannot
tolerate this.

NARRATOR: The Ancient Egyptians'
solution to this problem

was to stiffen the rim

by increasing the number
of spokes to eight.

But this also made the chariot
heavier, reducing acceleration.

So they tried six spokes,

and this apparently worked
so well,

they stopped experimenting.

But the most unusual thing
about the wheel

is the way the spokes
were constructed.

Each spoke is actually made up

from two V-shaped pieces
of wood.

To make the wheel, these
V-spokes are glued together

and glued around
the central hub.

The V-apex makes it stronger
and more durable.

NARRATOR: Robert is eager to put his
newfound knowledge to the test.

He's never made a wheel
like this before,

and bending the V-shaped spokes
to the correct angle

could be tricky.

The steam benders
have adapted their machines.

But they soon discover
that making the spokes

is more of a challenge
than they'd realized.

Their machines can't cope; the
bend is just not tight enough.

The problem is that

they haven't thought this out
before they did it.

They need to get the arms
of the bender

up at a different angle.

They try again,

adding wooden blocks
to make the bend tighter...

So you can't do it.

...without success.

After a complete rethink,

they come up with a way
of bending the spokes manually,

just like their ancestors
used to do.

I think that's good.

This is just the right shape,
and at last we got there.

Well done.

After the spokes,

they tackle the rims
of the wheels.

They're getting into the swing
of doing it all manually now,

although it's not as easy
as it looks on the tomb walls.

But they've lost a lot of time.

Next day, the steam-bent parts
for the wheels arrive

at the carpenters'.

Robert can start
to assemble the wheel

with the carpenter Abdou.

They lay out
the newly bent spokes.

We've got several things
to worry about.

One of them is that
the spokes run in line.

NARRATOR: After clamping
the spokes together,

the next step is to shape
and fit the hub.

It's a complicated process,

and completely different
from making a normal wheel.

There are no joints between
the V-shaped spokes and the hub;

just pressure and glue.

I don't know how strong
these wheels will be at the end.

They must have been
strong enough;

they made them for hundreds and
hundreds of years in this way.

NARRATOR: Back in Luxor
at the Temple of Karnak,

Robert and Kathy are meeting
Egyptologist Stephen Harvey

to find out
about a special chariot

that was built around 1,450 BCE

for one of Egypt's greatest
warrior kings, Tuthmosis III.

The story of his military
campaigns is inscribed

on the walls of the temple.

Although some of this
may be propaganda,

few would dispute
that he conquered

many surrounding territories.



(horn blowing)

A major victory was at Megiddo,

in the north
of modern-day Israel,

where Tuthmosis was fighting
an alliance of Syrian rulers.

The battle is recorded
in great detail here.

And the pharaoh, we're told,
led his army in a chariot

of shining electrum,
an alloy of silver and gold.

You can see here

we have a representation
of the chariot,

and it just says there,
"a chariot worked in electrum."

Electrum, silver, gold-- these
materials would all be used

to express the wealth
and the power

and the symbolic value
of the chariot.

NARRATOR: This shining chariot
was the war machine used

when the Egyptians
were carving out their empire.

Kathy and Robert agree that
this would be the ideal chariot

on which to base their replica,

the chariot they plan to build
and test in simulated battle.

HURFORD: I think it's quite inspiring
that we should try to make one

along the lines of the biggest

and the most aggressive
pharaoh of those days.

Why don't we make one

that could have been
Tuthmosis III's?

NARRATOR: They go to the Cairo
Museum to look for clues

to what the electrum chariot
might have been like.

This chariot body was found

in the tomb of Tuthmosis III's
grandson, Tuthmosis IV.

The front panel is built

from layers of wood,
linen and gesso,

a mixture of gypsum and glue,

and was originally
decorated in silver.

It would have looked stunning,

and they want to model
the electrum chariot on this.

But while at the museum,
they learn of an amazing find

which could provide
vital new information.

In the endless attics and
cupboards of the Cairo Museum,

the leather parts
of a New Kingdom chariot

were recently rediscovered.

The leather
is now being restored

by a team led by Andre
Veldmeijer and Salima Ikram.

This is the only harness
that anyone, including Kathy,

has seen from ancient Egypt.

We have two of those

and they both have
the same decoration.

Are they offset

so like one could go
on one horse on the outside

and one go...
(chuckling) yeah.

NARRATOR: This chariot had a
front panel made of leather,

and Robert is particularly

in the way the panel
was attached.

A drawstring threaded through
the leather would have kept it

in place and allowed them
to easily remove it.

Here's a drawstring.

That piece, for example,

was used to tie it tightly
to the framework.

If it's got
a drawstring through it,

it means it's removable,
doesn't it?

Yes, you can change it.

NARRATOR: Robert is so intrigued
by the removable leather panel

that he decides to make
two chariots instead of one.

He will make the pharaoh's
chariot as planned

with an electrum panel

and another with just
a lightweight leather panel.

In the carpenters' shop,

Robert and Abdou have now
assembled several wheels.

Bela Sandor takes a look.

He believes this design
is inherently stronger

than a wheel with normal spokes.

Robert is worried that
with nothing but glue

connecting the spokes
to the hub,

the wheel could break apart
in tight turns.

I hope we've left enough,

but of course
it's all untried.


At the Saqqara Country Club,

Bela and Robert decide to put
the wheels to the test.

Their idea is to check
their strength

by towing a complete axle
assembly behind a Jeep.

HURFORD: We're doing no more
than 30 kilometers per hour

but perhaps not absolutely
flat out

on the sharpest of the turns.

NARRATOR: Robert wants
to make tight turns

of the kind they expect
the chariot to do.

If the hubs have a weakness,
this should reveal it.


Three barrels of sand
strapped to the axle

simulate the weight
of a driver and an archer.

The wheels and the hubs seem
to stand up well to the test.

It's only a stone,
it's only a stone.

That's not actually what
we're worrying about, is it?

I think he has

a couple
of beautifully built wheels;

they were very, very good tests
for a short period of time

on a reasonably rough ground.

I feel a lot more satisfied now

that we're going to get away
with using it

as hard as we intend to.

NARRATOR: Meanwhile,
the steam benders face

their biggest challenge so far.

They have to bend the main pole
of the chariot,

which at eight feet

is longer than anything
they have ever bent before.

Its size requires a new
and bigger steam chest...

and a new jig to bend it.

What makes this really tricky

is the complicated "S" shape
that it must be bent into.

After four hours, the beech pole
is removed from the steam chest.

They have just a few seconds

before the wood becomes
less pliable.

The first attempt
does not go well.

There is a severe fracture
in the bend of the pole.

3,500 years ago,

the Egyptians were turning
these out by the thousands.

These modern craftsmen
will be happy with just two.

They'll have to keep trying.

(translated): We have had
to make new equipment,

and now we have to adjust it.

That's the problem.

NARRATOR: Next morning, the best
of the poles they've produced

and some body sections

are delivered
to the carpenters' shop.

But there are still some cracks.

We've got a small one here

and a severe one there,
which is halfway through.

We've had a lot of trouble
with all this steam-bent stuff

and we now really are
up against it.

NARRATOR: Most of the other
parts are now almost ready,

but they cannot be assembled
without a usable pole.

Robert, who now has two chariots
to produce in a week's time,

is under enormous pressure.

While he waits for the steam
benders to try again,

he decides to see
if it's possible

to repair the damaged pole.

Kathy is also up against it.

The harness
that she has designed

has been finished,

but the first fitting
reveals some problems.

I'd asked him
for ten centimeters here,

and he gave me 11.

I'm worried about this
point of the shoulder;

if we drop them this low,

it's going to hit the point
of the shoulder here.

NARRATOR: The harness is too big; it
will have to go back for adjustments.

But she's happier
about the bridle.

It includes a bit
she's had specially cast

based on the ancient bit
in the museum.

It's an integral part
of the bridle

and is fixed to a low noseband.

Kathy believes this keeps
the horses' heads down

and their weight
on their back legs,

making them more maneuverable.

This is based
really a lot on their artwork.

We have nothing in modern terms
that is even close to this,

and it looks to me
like it's going to work.

NARRATOR: By now Robert has
successfully repaired the damaged pole.

And it can be planed and shaped.

The finished pole fits perfectly
in the box joint.

If the theory is right,

this should improve
the ride of the chariot.

All the parts
for the first leather chariot

are finally ready

and can be lashed together
with rawhide-- uncured cow skin.

This, in fact,

is your Bronze Age substitute
for nuts and bolts,

so it wants to be tight.

NARRATOR: Robert also weaves
rawhide strips to make the floor.

Then there is
a crucial drying period

where the rawhide shrinks,
tightening the whole structure.

There is no time to lose.

He has just two days before
testing is scheduled to begin.

Next day is a big moment
for Robert and Abdou

at the carpenters' shop.

The first chariot
is finally ready.

Just 24 hours before they are
due to start testing the chariot

as a weapons platform,

it is taken by truck
to the Saqqara Country Club.

For the first time,

horses and chariot
will be brought together.

But almost immediately
there's a problem;

Kathy is unhappy
with the lashing of the yoke,

which she feels is too rigid.

I can't do that to the horses;

I just can't do that
to the horses.

HURFORD: There are degrees
of freedom in that.

I yanked on that; there is
no rotation front to back.

What I've got to have
for the horses is this.

We already talked about this.

Because if one
of them goes forward,

he's going to hit
his shoulders.

But if... you've got
a certain degree.

I know, and I can tell
you for a certainty,

that if we let that lashing be
loose at any point in this,

the pin will break

and the lashing will work
looser and looser and looser.

If it's not loose,
you get rebellion in horses.

So how did they solve it?

NARRATOR: Robert and Kathy
have reached an impasse

and can only agree to disagree.

HURFORD: We're not so much
at loggerheads over this

as anxious that our own
particular aspects of it

should work properly.

HANSEN: To me, the yoke and the
neck forks are part of the harness.

To Robert they're
part of the chariot,

so you slash them down hard...

so nothing wiggles.

And, you know, it's just
a difference of viewpoint.

Before testing begins,

Robert fixes the new
leather panel to the chariot.

He's based it on the one
he saw in the museum,

and he's worked out how
to attach it with drawstrings.

Then it's time to see how
the harness and chariot work.

Kathy agrees to try it
Robert's way

with the yoke firmly lashed
to the pole.

Nobody's ever really
done this before.

It will be interesting to see
if it actually works.

Kathy, I was expecting more
padding underneath these forks.

I was expecting
more padding

underneath these forks
as well.

It will come inshallah.

Despite Robert's concerns

about the padding under
the neck forks, they go ahead.

They use the smaller
and less powerful gray horses.

It soon becomes clear that the
neck forks are sliding back.

HANSEN: I don't like where
that neck fork is now.

The horses seem uncomfortable

and one kicks out
at the chariot.

Robert believes it's because
the harness is not tight enough

to hold the neck forks
in position.

Kathy thinks that's not
the function of the harness.

The harness doesn't
hold anything.

Well, what's it for?

The harness is
to provide draft.

So when they're in draft,

hopefully it will
hold them there.

But at the walk,
it's very little draft.

But I mean... it's
because the neck forks

aren't fixed in the harness.

NARRATOR: The second pair
of horses is harnessed

and they too become unsettled.

Robert is becoming fearful
for his chariot.

If they pull the chariot
to pieces

because we've only
half-finished the harness,

it's wasting
an awful lot of time.

So I'm a bit troubled
at the moment.


NARRATOR: Although the leather
chariot is now ready,

Robert still has
another one to complete.

For weeks, the steam benders
have been struggling

to make the pole.

They are steaming the wood
for six hours now,

and they finally produce a pole
with a near-perfect bend.

As soon as it arrives
at the carpenters' shop,

Robert and Abdou can finish
building the electrum chariot.

It is now at an advanced stage
and it only remains

for the wooden panel to be
shaped and fitted

and for all the parts
to be assembled.

When it's completed,

the chariot will be taken
to a specialist team

that is standing by
to decorate it.

Next day, the time has come
for the planned tests

with weapons expert Mike Loades.

They take the leather chariot to
Dahshur, a short way from Cairo.

Dahshur has a reeded lakebed
on the edge of the desert,

in the shadow of the Bent
Pyramid and the Black Pyramid.

I can support that
with one hand.

I mean, two men could
carry this, couldn't they?

NARRATOR: Because the chariot is so
light, the team is hoping it will work

on the range of surfaces
found here, even on soft sand.

Mike, an experienced charioteer,
is the first to try it out.

But the harness is still
causing problems.

As before, the yoke forks

are not staying
in the right position

and the horses are
in obvious discomfort.

Again they kick out
at the chariot.

Ee-yah! Come on!

NARRATOR: Mike is becoming
increasingly frustrated.

And you see this is
the problem that we get.

As soon as one horse jibs
a bit and it digs in

and then that yoke comes off,

you need three or four
people to come in

to lift the yoke up
and put them back in.

You cannot have that
on the battlefield.

This is not
a military set-up.

We are already putting in
extra bits of strapping,

and it's now looking like
a lash-up.

NARRATOR: Kathy agrees to tighten
the neck forks to the harness

as Robert had urged.

(clicking his tongue)

Good lads, good lads.

NARRATOR: Almost immediately
there's an improvement.

They're going much better.

NARRATOR: Tightening the neck
forks seems to be working

and Mike is getting a much
better response from the horses.

Only by building a chariot
and testing it

could they have found this out.

So we're on a learning curve.

It's going fairly well
and we just move on.

NARRATOR: There must
be mountainous terrain

where a chariot would be
of limited use.

But the team
now try it successfully

on compacted rocky sand...

on soft sand...

uneven hilly ground.

They even take it
into the lake itself.

I think it's coming better
and better for sure.

NARRATOR: The team is even
able to put the chariot

through a maneuverability test

to assess how well it can
perform the tight turns

that they think are critical
to its success as a war machine.

It's clear the ancient
Egyptians succeeded

in designing a fast,
agile machine.

Although the harness still needs
some adjustment,

the experiment is yielding real,
concrete results.

I'm very impressed,

I'm very impressed.

It's a bit of ancient history
coming to life.

(clicking his tongue)

NARRATOR: Next day, the
team is keen to find out

just how fast
the chariot can go.

To help keep the harness
and neck forks

securely in place,
the grooms add more padding.

Now they're confident they can
take the horses up to a gallop

and measure the speed
in miles per hour.

That's 21, 22, 23 and 24.

It's 24 now.

Horses gallop full out,

with a jockey, about... 26.

So they did really well.

And then the key test:

how stable is it
as a platform for archers?

Mike wants to find out
how difficult it is

to hit a target
from a moving chariot.

He approaches a simulated line
of infantry.

LOADES: The first thing we're trying
to find out is how easy is it.

That chariot is superbly made,
superbly designed.

The suspension is terrific.

NARRATOR: Just as everything
seems to be going so well,

a problem.

One of the grays
has kicked out again,

managing to get its leg
on the wrong side of the pole,

tripping and snapping the pole
in half.

Just as we were making the turn,

this horse got its hind leg
over the pole

and got stuck and straddled,
and was just panicking

and it just snapped the pole.

So we're done with that
for today.

NARRATOR: Now the second chariot
needs to be finished urgently.

Mike is already planning
the next day's tests.

LOADES: I don't think
it makes a great deal

of military sense to run along
a line of men like that.

I think it would be suicide.

I think what makes
more military sense

is what I would call
a wheeling charge.

I think the chariots
would come up this line

and about here, probably about
30 yards out from the enemy,

they would start
raining their arrows in

as they went round here
at the gallop,

so they're exposing themselves
for a limited amount of time.

I would like to try
that theory tomorrow

if we can get a working chariot.

Fortunately, back in Cairo

the electrum chariot
is nearing completion.

A team of experts has added
a layer of gesso--

calcium carbonate, glue
and water-- to the wooden panel

which has cut-outs
to reduce the weight

like most Egyptian chariots.

They are now sculpting intricate
patterns onto the panel,

like this vulture,

a deity whose wings offer
protection to the king.

They are also applying
gold leaf and electrum

to the body and the wheels.

Most of the chariot needs
decorating in much the same way,

and it will be a big task
to finish it for the morning.

They'll be working
through the night.

Early the next day, the chariot
is delivered to the test site.

As it's carried
out of the truck,

the team can see
for the first time

how the full battle chariot
of Tuthmosis III

might well have looked,

resplendent in gold
and electrum.

As it stands gleaming
in the desert,

it proclaims the name
of Tuthmosis III

in the form of a cartouche.

And on its pole,

the chariot carries the gilded
figure of the falcon-god Horus

with the sun disc, symbol of
the pharaoh's god-like status.

Sayed hitches the horses
and, slowly at first,

puts the chariot
through its paces.

But Mike is eager
to test the chariot

as it might have been used
in battle.

I get an upgrade.

I have now got
the wonderful electrum chariot.

This is very exciting.

NARRATOR: Mike's testing the idea that
the Egyptians developed new tactics

to take advantage
of their improved chariot--

riding hard at the enemy

and turning swiftly away
while firing their arrows.

The demonstration is convincing.

The speed and agility
of the chariot

allow it to perform
the tight turns

that would have given
the Egyptians

a crucial military advantage.

You've got a grin
from ear to ear.

Well, that was super fun.

It's working as it should.

We're making thundering charges,
bearing down on the enemy.

Tight turns and away.

That was the Egyptian
battle chariot in anger.

I found the use of the cut-out
to anchor my knee in

really made sense of the shape
of these cut-outs.

The platform was
an organic balance center.

It became part of my body
working with my knees and hips.

It just felt like
an extension of the body.

NARRATOR: This war machine that
the team has managed to build

is the weapon which spearheaded
Egyptian advances for centuries

from the time of Tuthmosis III.

200 years later, chariots
like these were still in use.

They took part in what might be

the biggest chariot battle
in history

when Ramesses II
battled against the Hittites

at Kadesh in western Syria.

The Hittites were
the new rising power

based around modern Turkey,
and the story of the battle

is recorded on the walls
of Luxor Temple,

recounting that thousands
of chariots were involved.

But by now the Hittites
had developed

an advanced three-man chariot
of their own.

Both sides claimed victory,

and many military experts
have concluded

it probably ended in a draw.

Perhaps in the chariot arms race
the Hittites had caught up,

and their chariots were now
a match for the Egyptians',

bringing Egypt's military
dominance to an end.

But seeing the chariot in use
has left the team in no doubt

of its role in the Egyptians'
earlier success.

The sight of it,

the speed,
the dust, the thunderous noise.

It would be like the gods
attacking them.

We did find out things.

As well as being an immensely
practical hit-and-run weapon,

it was also a very powerful
psychological weapon--

the splendor, the noise,
the dust clouds.


The chariot represents

a huge turning point
in military history,

and the Egyptian chariot
is really key

among these ancient

NARRATOR: Over the last three
months, the team has succeeded

in their aim of revealing
secrets of the Egyptian chariot:

how it was built
and how it was used in war.

They've established a wealth
of new information.

This is like an alpha test.

We just have to see what works
and what doesn't work

and try to rediscover

how the ancient Egyptians used
those systems and equipment.

We knew at the beginning

that this was very,
very, very complicated.

And I think what we've got is
more or less the right thing.

HARVEY: Tests like this
are hugely valuable.

It's only through
replicating them

and testing them
under various conditions

that we can really understand
what exactly it was

that the ancient people achieved
and how they did it.

== sync, corrected by elderman ==