Treasures Decoded

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Treasures Decoded: Plagues of Egypt
Plagues of Egypt
Season 4  |  Episode 5  |  The History Channel  |  February 6, 2021

The 10 plagues in the Bible's book of Exodus is one of the greatest and strangest stories ever told. A tyrannical pharaoh holds an army of Israelites captive. God orders Moses to warn that ten plagues will sweep across Egypt unless the slaves are released. But pharaoh refuses. So Moses turns the River Nile into a torrent of blood, sends frogs and flies into the Egyptians' houses, blights the livestock with disease and the people with boils; hail, fire, locusts and darkness descend upon Egypt. And still pharaoh refuses to release the captives. Until the final, cruellest plague of all: the death of all first born. Finally, Pharaoh relents, releasing the captives and triggering the exodus of the Israelites to the Promised Land. With its bizarre and bloody catalogue of horrors, the tale of the ten plagues has long been interpreted as a metaphorical story of triumph over tyranny, not an account of historical events. But now new evidence suggests these supernatural events were real natural phenomena, with one single, catastrophic, cause. The hunt for the truth behind the ten plagues takes archaeologists and scientists to the ruins of ancient Egypt's greatest temple, and the crater of a colossal volcano; from cutting edge laboratories to a lost city in the desert, as they uncover evidence of an apocalyptic natural disaster, that rocked the ancient world and may be the true cause of the ten plagues. In London's British Museum, microbiologist Siro Trevisanato has unearthed an obscure ancient Egyptian medical papyrus, that he believes is the key to explaining all ten of the Biblical plagues. According to his radical new theory, ash from a volcanic eruption triggered a deadly domino effect, turning the Nile red and making its waters toxic. Fish died, frogs fled, insects swarmed, and anyone touching the water was afflicted by acid burns, lesions that Trevisanato believes are the Bible's plague of boils. And it wasn't only ash that spelt disaster for the Egyptians.

The 10 plagues in the Bible's book of Exodus is one of the greatest and strangest stories ever told. A tyrannical pharaoh holds an army of Israelites captive. God orders Moses to warn that ten plagues will sweep across Egypt unless the slaves are released. But pharaoh refuses. So Moses turns the River Nile into a torrent of blood, sends frogs and flies into the Egyptians' houses, blights the livestock with disease and the people with boils; hail, fire, locusts and darkness descend upon Egypt. And still pharaoh refuses to release the captives. Until the final, cruellest plague of all: the death of all first born. Finally, Pharaoh relents, releasing the captives and triggering the exodus of the Israelites to the Promised Land. With its bizarre and bloody catalogue of horrors, the tale of the ten plagues has long been interpreted as a metaphorical story of triumph over tyranny, not an account of historical events. But now new evidence suggests these supernatural events were real natural phenomena, with one single, catastrophic, cause. The hunt for the truth behind the ten plagues takes archaeologists and scientists to the ruins of ancient Egypt's greatest temple, and the crater of a colossal volcano; from cutting edge laboratories to a lost city in the desert, as they uncover evidence of an apocalyptic natural disaster, that rocked the ancient world and may be the true cause of the ten plagues. In London's British Museum, microbiologist Siro Trevisanato has unearthed an obscure ancient Egyptian medical papyrus, that he believes is the key to explaining all ten of the Biblical plagues. According to his radical new theory, ash from a volcanic eruption triggered a deadly domino effect, turning the Nile red and making its waters toxic. Fish died, frogs fled, insects swarmed, and anyone touching the water was afflicted by acid burns, lesions that Trevisanato believes are the Bible's plague of boils. And it wasn't only ash that spelt disaster for the Egyptians.

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45:35 | History

Treasures Decoded

Bog Bodies  |  Season 4  |  Episode 7  |  The History Channel

In 1950, three Danish farmers came across a grizzly find - a body, buried in a peat bog. It was a murder, but the police will never catch the killers. This crime took place more than 2000 years ago. The victim was named 'Tollund Man', and he is a so-called 'Bog Body' - a naturally mummified corpse buried in a peat bog during Europe's Iron Age. From Ireland to Russia, hundreds of Bog Bodies have been discovered in these soggy environments on the margins of civilisation. Thanks to the cold, acidic conditions of the bogs and a cocktail of powerful antibacterial chemicals released by plants within the bog - these bodies are incredibly well preserved. Unlike most ancient remains, Bog Bodies can retain their skin, hair, clothing and even the contents of their stomachs, preserved for millennia. They provide a unique window into the past, giving us valuable insights into life... and death... from a time and place with few written records. Many of the bodies show shocking signs of violence, but for decades there were few explanations as to why these people were so brutally killed. Now, using state-of-the-art techniques borrowed from police forensic laboratories, archaeologists are beginning to solve these ancient murder mysteries. It transpires that many Bog Bodies were not unfortunate victims of crime, nor even despised criminals. They were in fact the elite of society and their deaths were most likely human sacrifices. Their deaths were part of a highly ritualised ceremony designed to appease angry gods living in the bogs. We follow an international team of experts as they deploy the latest scientific techniques to unravel the mystery of the world's most intriguing Bog Bodies: Denmark's Tollund Man, Grauballe Man and Haraldskaer Woman. Ireland's Clonycavan Man and Oldcroghan Man and England's Lindow Man. Along the way, they will discover new insights into a crucial period of World History - the Iron Age.

45:42 | History

Treasures Decoded

Shrunken Heads  |  Season 4  |  Episode 6  |  The History Channel

They captured the imagination of intrepid nineteenth century explorers and collectors: decapitated human heads shrunk to a fraction their original size. Displayed in museums and locked away in private collections, there are thousands of these shrunken heads around the world. Where do they come from? How were they made? And most importantly of all - who were they? Now an international team of anthropologists, historians and scientists can finally answer these questions - using the latest techniques in DNA analysis, computer modelling and imaging technology. Their search for answers takes them from the vaults of prestigious museums to the foothills of the Andes, as they learn the secrets of head-hunting from tribal elders and use cutting edge forensic science - to tell the true story of shrunken heads and of the society that created them. Analysing these bizarre artefacts in forensic detail, the team piece together the identities of these long dead individuals - and make some shocking discoveries. There are men, women and, most disturbingly of all, children. And the more they investigate, the deeper they delve into a sinister underworld of fakery, bodysnatching and murder. As the team peel back the layers of myth and mystery, they discover how a Victorian mania for shrunken heads transformed an ancient and isolated ceremonial practice into a murderous international trade. For the Shuar, the Amazonian tribe who mastered this dark art, the consequences were cataclysmic. As victims and perpetrators they lost their lives, their reputation and much of their cultural identity. The Shuar are the only South American tribe to successfully repel the Spanish conquistadors, but since the nineteenth century their proud history and complex culture has been overshadowed by their reputation as head hunters. anthropologist and facial anatomy expert Dr Tobias Houlton is determined to set the record straight.

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