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Secrets of the Dead: The Silver Pharaoh

PBS // 2010 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // January 2nd, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Roman Martel wonders why the Pharaoh Psusennes didn't have a catchy nickname like King Tut.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Secrets Of The Dead: Lost Ships Of Rome (published February 12th, 2011) and Secrets Of The Dead: Slave Ship Mutiny (published January 29th, 2011) are also available.

The Charge

You see the golden coffin of a pharaoh and you think, Tut. You see the silver coffin of a pharaoh and you think…um, wait a sec…who's that?

The Case

If you are familiar with Raiders of the Lost Ark, you may remember that the Ark everyone was raiding was discovered in the lost city of Tanis. Turns out Tanis was a real ancient Egyptian capital, and the final resting place of the Silver Pharaoh.

PBS brings you their Secrets of the Dead series, guaranteed to make you giggle while its opening and ending credits play. Not sure what they where going for here, but the spooky music and jittery camerawork had me really frightened. Just what was I about to witness, something like a cheesy combination of the horrible America: the Story of Us and Paranormal State. Luckily the credits are the lowest point we hit here.

This episode of Secrets of the Dead focuses on the little known Pharaoh Psusennes I, known as the "Silver Pharaoh" to his best buds. He ruled northern Egypt from 1047 to 1001 BCE, from the city of Tanis in the Nile Delta. Very little is known about this time in Egyptian history, except that it was a period of civil war between the northern and southern kingdoms. Few records survived and there weren't many monuments constructed during this time.

The amazing thing is the tomb of Psusennes I is that it was one of the few completely intact tombs ever unearthed. French archeologist Pierre Montet made the discovery in 1939, just as World War II erupted. In the end, he had to chose between staying in Egypt with his discovery or return to France and his family. He chose the latter, and news of the discovery never caused the stir that Tutankhamun's tomb did.

It's a shame too, because this tomb was a true treasure trove of gold, silver, and precious stones. The artifacts found inside are amazing to behold and there was something even more exciting for archeologists: vital information about this little understood period of history.

The most spectacular find was Psusennes silver coffin, beautifully crafted and virtually intact, which stunned Montet and his team. Turns out silver was a considerably more valuable metal at the time of his death, and so it was only fitting this powerful man had the most expensive burial money could buy.

The Silver Pharaoh goes into more detail, describing the reign of Psusennes, the connection he had to the city of Tanis, the mystery of a lost city built by Ramessess II, and more about Montet's excavation. You get to see many of the artifacts found in the tomb, visit Tanis, and see the tomb itself, as well as more monuments and locales around Egypt that fit into the story. The documentary uses a combination of narration, interviews with archeologists and scientists, and footage and photos from Montet's expedition to flesh out the story.

My only quibble is that the show takes its time getting to the good stuff. The first twenty minutes or so are quite repetitive, as the filmmakers try to pad the running time. The more they kept referring how the Nazi's were stirring up war as Montet was digging away, I began to wonder if they had some spare Hitler footage they were told to use.

PBS provides a decent televised presentation here. The standard 1.78:1 widescreen format shows off impressive exterior shots, showing off quite a bit of detail even in the interior corridors of the tomb. Sound is in Dolby 2.0 stereo, but everything is mixed well. We also get English subtitles which come in handy for the handful of scientists with thick accents. Unfortunately, there are no extras.

Anyone interested in ancient Egypt will find Secrets of the Dead: The Silver Pharaoh worth checking out. The topic is fresh, the presentation is solid, and I learned quite a bit. Just ignore the cheesy opening credits.

The Verdict

Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 84

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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