With the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic unfolding and the madness of the US presidential election only just behind us, one might arguably question whether now would really be a good time to dwell on bygone times and ancient history.
I advocate a different viewpoint, however. Besides the fact that engaging in various kinds of escapist behaviour has rarely been more justified than in this present age of home office and self-isolation, it is always a good time to dwell on ancient history and, in the process of doing so, reflect on the relativity of today’s miseries. Having watched the recently released documentary Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb (2020), I find myself alight with newfound interest in ancient Egypt. But more importantly, the film has provided me with some perspective. The fate of Wahtye and his family -as it is reconstructed by the archaeologists- humbled me deeply and brought home the fact that we should really all show more appreciation for modern medicine and the ways we can now combat health threats.
‘Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb’ is not just an existential wake-up call, however. An important element of the documentary is that its protagonists -both from past and present- are all Egyptian. Thus, the film not only succeeds in telling a wonderful story about spectacular archaeological finds and the hunt for ancient mysteries, but it also serves as a graceful statement of cultural ownership. Interviews are a crucial part in the documentary, and they are particularly superb. The stories of everyone involved in the excavations transcend the purely scientific dimension and bring home the fact that those ancient stories uncovered are also their stories, their heritage.
‘Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb’ is a gem of documentary filmmaking and I recommend it to everyone who is even remotely interested in archaeology or anthropology.