Acorn Media // 2009 // 216 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // September 12th, 2010
When someone mentions ancient cultures in Africa, your mind usually goes to Egyptian pharaohs or maybe the mighty city of Carthage. But this continent houses other civilizations just as amazing and not as well known. The mission of this documentary series is to reveal these "lost" kingdoms.
One of the big questions facing archeologists and students of history is how to define a civilization. Can you have a civilization without a written language? The debate will probably never be settled. With the evidence provided in this DVD, I believe you can. Many of these ancient kingdoms in Africa were forgotten because we don't have written records for them. Third party descriptions of these lands and people do exist, but very little from the people themselves.
Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford and his BBC crew jump right in and take us on four separate journeys uncovering these civilizations and searching for influences of these cultures in present day Africa.
The first DVD covers two civilizations. Beginning with the Kingdom of Nubia, lying to the south of Egypt in present day Sudan. The Nubians were constantly striving against the ancient Egyptians. At one point these warriors managed to turn the tables and rule Egypt for a time. Some amazing ruins including unique pyramids and a sacred mountain are explored. Next up, is the kingdom of Ethiopia. Now a predominately Christian nation, the culture claims to have roots going back to King Solomon from the Old Testament. Dr. Casely-Hayford uses architecture from various sites as well as modern customs to trace a lineage back through the centuries. Highlights include a visit to a church carved right out of the side of the cliff and a monastery perched atop a mountain. The only way to visit this is by a climbing a long rope made from goat hide.
The second disc starts with the Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe. In this case the doctor starts on the eastern coast of Africa in Tanzania. Turns out gold was traded from Africa at the island Kilwa Kisiwani to India, China and the Middle East. The crew travels west across Mozambique, and South Africa finding trading posts and other artifacts along the way. The trail leads to Great Zimbabwe, where for first time in over a decade a BBC crew is allowed to enter and film. The final kingdom is called Benin in what is now Nigeria. The doctor examines the images on the famous bronze plaques from this kingdom. This ignites his search for possible inspiration for the artistic style and meaning behind the animals used on in the artwork. His quest takes him to Timbuktu and what may be some of the oldest known pottery shards in the world.
The BBC crew does not disappoint, giving us glorious shots of the ruins and the amazing geography surrounding them. The doctor interacts with many local guides and historians on his journeys. Helpful subtitles appear when accents get a little too thick. Dr. Casely-Heyford is an enthusiastic host, obviously knowledgeable about the subject and eager to learn more. The man jumps right in, traveling to some inhospitable places. He is more than willing to take a hands on approach to exploring. Watch as he attempts the ancient sport of Nubian wrestling or climb that goatskin rope up the side of a sheer cliff. He gets a bit too BBC-British at times, but he comically apologizes for it. The tactic of presenting each episode as a kind of quest seems a little gimmicky, but it does a good job of pulling you into the search.
The show is presented in anamorphic widescreen to maximize the wow factor on the ruins and vistas. The stereo mix gets the job done, with the discussions and voiceover coming through clear and the supporting music rising just when it needs to. Extras include text biographies of some of the important historical figures mentioned, a viewers guide with additional information not included in the program, and text descriptions of the African nations visited in the program.
Dr. Casely-Hayford and his documentary crew have done an excellent job
bringing these forgotten cultures to life. Anyone with a love of ancient
civilizations and the history of Africa should check this set out. Not
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 216 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Viewer's Guide
* Wikipedia: Nubia
* Wikipedia: Aksumite Empire
* Wikipedia: Kilwa Kisiwani
* Wikipedia: Great Zimbabwe
* Wikipedia: Benin Empire