In a melding of modern-day technology and 3,000-year-old artifacts, a team supported by National Geographic is getting some of the first glimpses into ancient pyramids, temples, and burial sites sprawled across the Sudanese desert.
The part of the site that draws the most attention is the underground burial chamber of a Nubian king who conquered Egypt in 715 B.C., but today the action is far above ground as National Geographic engineer, Alan Turchik, flies a remote-controlled quadcopter camera over the site to gain a broader perspective of the area.
“The best part with the helicopter is I can fly over and gain this connection between all the other burial sites, between the pyramid and the temple, and get an understanding of what that is from the air,” says Turchik.
Turchik is part of an expedition led by National Geographic grantee, Geoff Emberling, the first archaeologist to visit the site in El Kurru, Sudan, in almost 100 years.
On the ground, Emberling is also using cutting edge technology—a remote controlled robot—to excavate caves where no modern human has gone before, but good old-fashioned manual labor proves most effective in breaking through years’ worth of sand, dirt, and rocks. After removing about 250 tons of debris from the site, the team uncovers many artifacts from millennia ago, but Emberling is still left with many questions about the cryptic site.
The mystifying ruins date back to the kingdom of Kush, an empire that lasted for over 2000 years before its disappearance around 300 A.D.
“You don’t really know what happened in the past, and to be able to investigate that … it’s like you’re a detective,” says Turchik, explaining how the excavations slowly chip away at the mystery surrounding this ancient culture.
All will be revealed in the film, Black Pharaohs, which was produced in conjunction with the expedition and is airing on PBS.