I haven’t seen Forbidden History since 2017, but it seems that the new season has borrowed the brand name and ignorant cable TV barnacle Andrew Gough but otherwise stripped the series of its original purpose in order to refashion it as a formal copy of Ancient Aliens, with Gough in the Giorgio Tsoukalos role. When the series began, it was a showcase for British Top of the Pops presenter Jamie Theakston, who as host traveled the world to track down historical mysteries. Now it is a talking-head show anchored by Gough’s pointless babble and a mountain of b-roll surrounding a couple of single-day on-location local shoots, just like Ancient Aliens. Theakston is gone, and with him anything that made the show unique. It’s almost literally the least common denominator of all the other Discovery and History series, stripped and shorn of anything special, distinctive, or different. It’s Ancient Aliens without the mysticism, America Unearthed without an overriding conspiracy, Rob Riggle: Global Investigator without a personality.
This episode got off to a bad start when the opening teaser had the narrator ask if “something more mysterious” than “ancient civilizations” built the world’s pyramids, followed by Gough lying about our knowledge of why pyramids were built: “If someone tells you they have the answer, they are either delusional or they’re lying,” he says. Naturally, he has answers to sell you, which tells you everything you need to know about how he sees himself.
The episode itself is a case study in deceptive editing. The narrator opens by asking if the world’s pyramids were all planned and produced by a “mysterious common ancestor” civilization—basically Ignatius Donnelly’s vision of Atlantis. Then they cut to archaeologists Klint Janulis, whom we last saw being edited into confirming Rob Riggle discovered the medieval hiding place of Holy Grail. Here, Janulis—who ought to know better by now—is edited into saying that the pyramids are a massive mystery. Lynn Picknett claims that “little” is known about any pyramids, and obviously she has no familiarity with either archaeology or history, for there are plenty of records about pyramids. The Greeks recorded some correct information about the Giza pyramids’ construction, and Sima Qian recorded quite clearly the techniques, architecture, and reasons behind the Chinese pyramids.
“Pyramids have sprung up all over the world. They all are aligned to the cardinal points. They all have a causeway. They all have a mortuary temple. None of them have tombs,” Gough says. Every point he made is wrong. Only some pyramids are aligned to true north. I needn’t remind you that Mesoamerican pyramids have no causeways, nor mortuary temples, or that the Egyptian pyramids are literally tombs, complete with burial chambers. The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids in Egypt even have burial texts written on the walls of the tombs. The Nubian pyramids are also clearly tombs.
Tony McMahon, whom we also saw lying on Rob Riggle’s show and before that on America Unearthed, actually manages to make a real point when he correctly says that everything we just heard is pseudoscience. That will not stop him from promoting it later, however.
The show mentions the recent discovery of a void in the Great Pyramid and describes the pyramid’s various architectural features and literally calls the King’s Chamber the “burial chamber,” in distinct contradiction to Gough’s claim. Naturally, Gough returns to claim that the evidence that Khufu built the Great Pyramid is a lie. The show has art historian Bob Bianchi on to point out that we literally have a papyrus saying the pyramid was built for Khufu. To its credit, the show does let real experts offer scientific analysis, often quite passionately, before dismissing them as wrong or ignoring them altogether. The narrator rejects the actual information Bianchi just provided, for example, and pretends as though it never happened, speculating that the pyramid had another purpose and a “magnificent” lost civilization built them instead. It’s almost as though the scriptwriter and the editor were in opposition.
But the writing does do something that even Ancient Aliens doesn’t usually do. The script describes pseudohistorians as “skeptics” who are asking reasonable questions about missing evidence. This is the same tactic used by climate change deniers, claiming the mantle of scientific skepticism to give false merit to their ideological beliefs. It is also disturbing that the show makes such heavy use of the minor doubt over when during the middle third millennium BCE Khufu lived to argue that Egyptologists don’t really know when the pyramid was built.
This doubt gives room for the show to bring in cable TV bottom-feeder and giant-hunter Hugh Newman to ignorantly spout nineteenth-century drivel from Auguste Mariette, Gaston Maspero, and Francois Lenormant that the pyramids were the work of the Followers of Horus in the pre-dynastic period. Those French eminences mistakenly believed the Inventory Stela to be contemporary with Khufu rather than a Ptolemaic fraud, so they accepted its false claim that the Sphinx predated the Old Kingdom. Newman, ignorant of this history, crudely equates nineteenth century conclusions with forbidden truths. Similarly, he accepts the medieval Islamic pyramid myth at face value and therefore concludes that Nephilim-giants built Egypt’s pyramids. (I have to apologize for accidentally being one of the sources for his boneheaded notion.) He brings in the dumb idea from Ancient Aliens that Robert Bauval’s Orion Correlation Theory of Giza also applies to Teotihuacan in Mexico (even though the pyramids do not align at all, in size or shape), and he argues that the Egyptians traveled to Mexico.
As we move to talk about Teotihuacan, Gough pops up to repeat his false claim that “all” pyramids have causeways and mortuary temples, and when Picknett starts talking about “pharaohs” it becomes clear that the producers of the show are simply mixing and matching quotes without paying attention to which pyramids they are discussing. It’s possible Gough was referring to all Egyptian pyramids but that the producers couldn’t tell the difference, or didn’t care.
Gough and another talking head, anthropologist Karen Bellinger (who has one of the most artificial and over-practiced deliveries I’ve heard on these shows), both claim that we don’t know who built Teotihuacan. Well, they were built by the Teotihuacanos, who were an actual people with a culture and a civilization. At the peak, more than 100,000 people lived in a multiethnic city drawing people in from across its sphere of influence. Their bodies were buried there—including under the very pyramids we are discussing. They were known across Mexico and left evidence of their culture where so far as their influence spread. Gough says that space aliens might have built the city since we don’t know that Native peoples really built the buildings they lived in. Sorry, people of Teotihuacan. You might have lived in the sixth largest city in the world at the time, but you are no match for two space Aryans in a flying saucer.
Unable to find anything interesting to say about Mexico for more than three minutes, the show returns to Gough to let him speculate whether pharaohs were really capable of building pyramids. Janulis correctly explains that the pyramid shape isn’t mystical. It’s the only stable way to build a really tall stone structure. It has to be wider at the base.
Lynn Picknett describes the 1952 discovery of Sekhemkhet’s sarcophagus, which was found sealed but empty within his unfinished buried pyramid. (The sarcophagus was probably ritually closed when the unfinished burial chamber was abandoned.) The show, however, doesn’t realize she’s talking about Sekhemkhet, who was Djoser’s brother or son, so it imagines that she is talking about Djoser himself and wonders why he had a sealed but empty tomb. Gough follows this misunderstanding and adds that no bodies have ever been found in an Egyptian pyramid, but that’s untrue. Fragments of mummies have been found in several pyramids, mostly bits that fell off when they were looted. The medieval Arabs left some accounts of opening pyramid burial chambers and the mummies found therein with their grave goods.
The narrator asserts that “academics” believe all pyramids are tombs—they are not; Mesoamerican pyramids were temple platforms for example—and then claims that “a growing group of people” are taking a courageous stand against the tomb theory. Hugh Newman says pyramids vibrated to “fertilize” the surrounding land, though he admits to not knowing what kind of energy they produced. “Who knows?” he says. He adds that he thinks UFOs seen over the Giza pyramids are remnants of their vibrational energy.
Naturally, this leads to the show promoting Semir “Sam” Osmanagich’s so-called Bosnian pyramids as artificial structures, though the show admits that most everyone else understands that they are natural formations. Osmanagich offers his usual lies about the Bosnian pyramids curing disease through “energy” and Gough alleges that a unified group of teachers spread pyramid knowledge around the world. Osmanagich says that pyramids were too much work to flatter a single man’s ego, so they must have had socialist purposes to benefit whole communities. Surely there is a political angle to his beliefs that is reflected in his egalitarian socialist imagining of the past.
The hour concludes with McMahon asserting that space aliens may have built the Bosnian pyramids and Bellinger delivering an over-scripted line about the Bosnian pyramid claims being good for Bosnia’s economy but not for its academic reputation. It’s so scripted, you’d think it was made to order. Well… It kind of was. Bellinger, Janulis, and Bianchi appear through the offices of Past Preservers, a talent agency for history-themed talking heads, so Forbidden History literally dials up their content from a service. I’ve seen on Twitter that the agency is proud to be associated with shit shows like this, Search for the Lost Giants, Paranormal Egypt, etc.
The show offers no conclusion about pyramids in general and seems to have forgotten about all the other pyramids in the world, from the Maya to the Aztecs to the Chinese to the Nubians. The whole of the pyramid “mystery” is reduced to Giza, Saqqara, and Teotihuacan. All told, it was a disappointing hour, and I hate to say it, but Ignatius Donnelly did a better job making the same case in 1882.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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