To explore their Victorian view of Egypt, our heroes make use of an illustrated 1851 map of “Egypt, and Arabia Petraea,” which I have provided below. They wrongly claim that this is an archaeological survey map, when it is in fact a decorative map of Egypt intended for The Illustrated Atlas, a gazetteer published in 1851 with historical and modern maps of the world.
The actual content of the episode is much less ridiculous than the Hancock-inspired rhetoric that surrounds it. Our hosts, either ignorant, deceptive, or both, travel to Egypt in search of the so-called Dynasty 0, a popularizing term for the kings of the Naqada III or protodynastic culture that immediately preceded the First Dynasty. But, unable to look at facts on their face, out heroes ask what “secret wisdom” allowed Naqada III kings to give rise to the Old Kingdom of Egypt. This presupposes a secret strain of Atlantean-style wisdom, in the manner of Hancock and his ultimate source, R. A. Schwaller de Lubitz. But it has nothing to do with the actual archaeology of the protodynastic period. The very term Fornal and Ruprah use—a “lost civilization”—implies much more than the evidence supports.
At Abydos, Fornal and Ruprah meet with Moamen Saad, the director of scientific research at Karnak for the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Together they visit the Temple of Seti I at Abydos and the mound-like grave associated with King Scorpion I, though the show misidentifies him as the first pharaoh of Egypt, though he is conventionally described as the first king of Upper Egypt, not a pharaoh of the united kingdom, an honor usually bestowed on Narmer (possibly identical with Manetho’s Menes).
Our heroes assert that the “first pharaohs”—and here they are unclear what kings they were actually referring to: upper Egypt, united Egypt, etc.—were foreign to Egypt and came from “the land of the gods.” I am not aware of foreign rulers at so early a period, and I wasn’t able to find references to any, unless they are speaking in very general terms about Stone Age migrations into the Nile Valley. My guess, though, is that they are making a sidelong reference to Victorian ideas about the Shemsu Hor (Followers of Horus), as channeled through Graham Hancock. To find the kings’ imagined homeland, however, they visit the temple of Hatshepsut and look at a hieroglyphic inscription recording an expedition sent to the land of Punt, which they call the “land of the gods.” However, the Egyptian term was Ta netjer, which I understand to refer to a singular god, the Sun God, because it was east of Egypt, the land of the sunrise. Our heroes rely on Victorian and Edwardian literature to misidentify Punt as the “land of the gods” (plural) and therefore the ancestral homeland of the Egyptian kings. While older Egyptologists like E. A. Wallis Budge and Flinders Petrie held this view, it has not been the current interpretation of either Punt or Ta netjer for decades.
While the show presents Hatshepsut as being the first to seek Punt, in reality, there are many records of Egyptian visits to Punt going back to at least the Fifth Dynasty. Our heroes call the hieroglyphic description of the expedition to Punt a “map,” though it is not a map. They have a very strange view of maps.
Much of the second half of the episode involves our heroes hunting for evidence of Egyptian voyages to Punt. Diving into the Red Sea, they visit a modern shipwreck and then some ancient amphorae. They hear about an ancient port on the Red Sea that the Egyptians used for travel around the Horn of Africa. An artifact found at the port said “Marvels of Punt,” though this runs us into the logical problem I highlighted a few paragraphs ago: Finding what dynastic Egyptians called the land of Punt does not imply finding the “civilization that gave rise to Egypt” as our heroes claim. I have no problem with them locating Punt in Ethiopia, where the trade goods attributed to Punt are found naturally, but the hosts of this show never actually provide evidence that the Punt of pharaonic trade was ever considered the homeland of Egyptian civilization.
In Ethiopia, our heroes visit what they are told is the 3,000-year-old Great Temple in Yeha and hear that there was a smaller temple underneath the current one that might date back 2,000 or 3,000 years further. The Temple at Yeha is Ethiopia’s oldest structure, but it is not exactly what the show describes. For one thing, it was built neither by people from Punt nor Egypt. Conventionally, it is ascribed to about 700 BCE or slightly later, on account of its similarity to structures on the other side of the Red Sea, in the Saba’ region (today’s Yemen) popularly known as Sheba. The temple belonged to the Sabaean moon god Almaqah, and artifacts prove the connection to Yemen. I have not been able to find a scholarly reference in the major academic databases to the discovery of an older temple underneath. The archaeology of the site ties it closely to the Arabian Peninsula, not to Egypt, so our heroes perform some rhetorical sleight of hand to try to make the Arabian-style building into an Egyptian temple. An Ethiopian archaeologist they speak with makes an absurd claim that the entire monumental core of the (imagined) early Kingdom of Punt from 4000 or 3000 BCE got swallowed up by the Earth, leaving only the original of this Sabaean-style temple.
Fornal concludes the episode—and it’s never clear why Ruprah rarely gets to speak and never in voice-over—by repeating the false idea that Punt was the original homeland of the Pharaohs and then finishes by asserting on the strength of this Arabian-style temple that the kings of Egypt learned all their architectural secrets from Punt. Why they needed to wrap a rather straightforward search for the land Egyptians called Punt in a vaguely Hancock-style “mystery” about non-native pharaohs and “secret wisdom,” I can’t imagine, except that the Science Channel wouldn’t accept a program that focused on science instead of fantasy.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.