National Geographic Expedition Week

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National Geographic's Expedition Week - Archaeology Viewers Guide

The Pyramids at Giza
The Pyramids at Giza. (c)2008 National Geographic

The National Geographic Society is one of the oldest continuously publishing journals in the world. Founded in 1888, the society has as its main goals "exploration, research, and scientific discoveries.' They are best known among baby boomers for the yellow-bound journals that were stacked in every lucky kid's room, or at least in every American school's library.

Today, of course, they are best known for a series of videos bringing the workings of science to the general public. During November 2008's Expedition Week, National Geographic will air nine new videos produced this year, eight of which are on archaeological topics. This photo essay provides a review of each of those videos, along with links for further information.

Three of the new videos are set at least partially in Egypt, so it seems fitting to use this wonderful photograph of the Pyramids of Giza as a starting point.

If none of the videos described here trips your trigger, National Geographic's Expedition Week includes over twenty separate documentaries, including three videos on King Tutankhamun, and single episodes on the Titanic, Stonehenge, the Whydah, Neanderthal DNA, the Romanovs, the Cosmic Impact theory, the Mars Rover, the search for Amelia Earhart, the Naica Cave, dinosaurs, and the Scorpion King.

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Unlocking the Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid of Khufu, Egypt
The Great Pyramid of Khufu, Egypt. National Geographic (c) 2008

In Unlocking the Great Pyramid, Egyptologist Bob Brier reports on the theories of Jean-Pierre Houdin, an obsessed architect who quit his job and sold his house to live in a tiny apartment and figure out how the Great Pyramid of Khufu was built. The Great Pyramid was built by the architect Hemiunu during Khufu's reign (2589-2566 BC), and its original height was 481 feet tall. There are lots of theories about how this massive structure was built, but all of them have problems.

Houdin speculates that an internal ramp spiraling around the outside edge but inside the structure was built to allow workers to haul the massive blocks into place. If he's right, that ramp is still intact inside the pyramid.

Together, Brier and Houdin take a crack at answering four fascinating questions about the Great Pyramid:

  1. How was it built?
  2. What was the purpose of the 'Great Gallery'?
  3. Did the cracks in the granite blocks of the Pharaoh's burial chamber appear during construction?
  4. What created the "notch"?

As a narrator, Bob Brier has a great deal of vivacity and spirit, scrambling up the pyramid, dragging you along with the story and engaging you in the logical path which investigates Houdin's theories. This is a very compelling story told in a great narrative style.

More Resources

Unlocking the Pyramid will premiere on Sunday, November 16, 2008, 9 pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

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Direct from the Moon

Earth Rise from the Moon, taken by the Kayuga Lunar Orbiter
Earth Rise from the Moon, taken by the Kayuga Lunar Orbiter. (c) 2008 JAXA

I admit, I don't know anything about astronomy, and I haven't seen this video yet--the materials weren't available when they sent me the press package. But the photos National Geographic sent me are so stunning, that I felt I couldn't just set them aside.

This photo is of earthrise over the moon, and it was taken by the Kaguya (Selene) lunar orbiter, launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on September 14, 2007. Direct from the Moon is supposed to show new images and if the photos they sent me are any indication, we should pencil it into our schedules.

More Resources

Direct from the Moon will premiere on Monday, November 17, 2008, on the National Geographic Channel.

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Shipwreck! Captain Kidd and the Quedah Merchant

Investigating the Quedagh Merchant
Investigating the Quedagh Merchant. National Geographic (c) 2008

Captain William Kidd was both a privateer and a pirate: the distinction was an important one, one that ended Kidd's life. As a privateer working for the British, Kidd was permitted--no, no, he was encouraged--to raid ships belonging to certain companies and certain countries. In the late 16th century, he was among the best privateers in the world. But he made a mistake.

Sailing in the Red Sea, he captured the Quedah Merchant, an Armenian-owned ship with multinational backers--including the British East Indies. By stealing her, Kidd became a pirate--but he wasn't aware he had crossed into piracy until he had sailed the Quedah Merchant into the Caribbean. When he discovered what he had done, he scuttled the Quedah Merchant off Catalina Island and rushed off to apologize to his king. Bad idea.

The video Shipwreck! includes Captain Kidd's history and information about the discovery of the wreck of the Quedah Merchant and her cargo off Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic.

More Resources

Shipwreck! Captain Kidd, Official page on National Geographic, November 2008, includes video and more images.

William Kidd bio

Benton, Lauren. 2005. Legal Spaces of Empire: Piracy and the Origins of Ocean Regionalism. Comparative Studies in Society and History 47:700-724

Capo, Fran and Frank Borzellieri. 2006 The Notorious Captain Kidd. pp. 13-18 in It Happened in New York. Globe Pequot. Google books.

Hamilton, Sue L. 2007. Captain Kidd. ABDO Publishing Co.

Skowronek, Russell K. and Charles R. Ewen (editors). 2006. X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. University Press of Florida, Gainesville

Zacks, R. 2003. The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. Hyperion Press, New York.

Shipwreck - Captain Kidd will premiere on Tuesday, November 16, 2008, 8 pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

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The Real George Washington

Reenactment of a Scene from George Washington's Life
Reenactment of a Scene from George Washington's Life. (c)2008 National Geographic

The Real George Washington combines historical research and archaeological investigations at Mount Vernon and Ferry Farm to tease us with tidbits about Washington's life.

Washington was an ambitious man, who had an unrequited crush on his best friend's wife. Not only would he "tell a lie", he was deeply interested in spying and misdirection and used them as wartime strategies. He was a free mason, and he was a slave holder with a nasty temper. His teeth--well, I'll let you see the video for that.

All of that crammed into an hour. Fascinating stuff--but I want to know more. My main complaint about this video is that there is almost too much to cover in the hour allowed--and the video brings up more questions that haven't been answered.

I guess that means the video does a good job of piquing the viewer's interest!

More Resources

  • The Real George Washington, Official page on National Geographic, November 2008, has been taken down.
  • Ferry Farm
  • Mount Vernon

Chadwick, B. 2005. The First American Army: The Untold Story of George Washington and the Men Behind America's First Fight for Freedom. Sourcebooks, Inc.

Morgan, P.D. 2005. "To Get Quit of Negroes": George Washington and Slavery. Journal of American Studies 39: 403-429

Razdan, A. et al. 2005. Digital 3D Facial Reconstruction of George Washington. SPIE-IS&T/ Vol. 6056 60560I-8.

Unger, H.G. 2006. The Unexpected George Washington: His Private Life. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

The Real George Washington will premiere on Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 9 pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

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Lost Cities of the Amazon

Long House and Xingu People at the Parque Indígena do Xingu
Long House and Xingu People at the Parque Indígena do Xingu. (c)2008 National Geographic

In 1541, the Spanish Conquistador Franscisco Pizarro started up the Amazon river looking for the fabled El Dorado--the city of gold. Running out of food, he sent a party ahead, led by Francisco de Orellana and Friar Gaspar de Carvajal. Two years later, Orellana's crew came out on the Atlantic side of South America and returned to Spain.

Orellana and Carvajal had an interesting tale to tell when they returned. They met thousands of people along the Amazon river. They saw great walled cities, met and were attacked by huge parties of people, obtained abundant food. They said they walked on prepared highways that were 60 feet wide. Nobody believed them: and Carvajal's manuscript lay unpublished for 300 years. Even after it was published, scientists thought it was crazy.

The Amazon basin, it was believed, was not able to support cities. The soil was thin and acidic, and the people who lived there in the 19th and 20th centuries were hunter-fisher-himgatherers.

However, archaeological investigation by Michael Heckenberger and Eduardo Goes Neves have revealed that there are, indeed, remnants of ancient cities in the Amazon, and there is fertile ground, and there are highways 60 feet wide.


  • PBS: The Search for El Dorado
  • Buy the Lost Cities of the Amazon, direct from NatGeo.
  • Lost Cities of the Amazon will premiere on Thursday, November 20, 2008, 9 pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. 
  • The information that fully agricultural societies had been extant in the Amazon basin between 0-1500 AD sent a shockwave through the archaeological community, such that the literature won't fit on this page. In addition, Heckenberger and his associates have published widely on the societies. That literature is gathered in an associated bibliography.
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Alexander the Great's Lost Tomb

Ruins of Kom el Dikka in Alexandria, Egypt
Ruins of Kom el Dikka in Alexandria, Egypt. (c)2008 National Geographic

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great spent six months in Egypt, and during that time he conquered the country, had himself named pharaoh and started the Ptolemaic dynasty.

That was rather an amazing feat, really, except, of course, that probably explains why he was called "the Great". One disadvantage to being so important to so many societies is that people tend to want to hang on to your body, especially if you drop dead too early.

If I have one criticism about this video, it's that there isn't a lot of discussion about what is clearly a controversial issue. Each place thought to have been at least briefly Alexander's Tomb is presented in fair detail; but there isn't a lot of argument among scholars about the likelihood of any. But, what can you do in an hour?


Alexander the Great's Lost Tomb, Official page on National Geographic, November 2008, includes video and more images.

Select Books

Chugg, Andrew. 2007. The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great.

Heckel, Waldemar. and Lawrence A. Tritle. 2009. Alexander the Great: A New History. Blackwell

Saunders, Nicholas J. 2006. Alexander's Tomb: The Two Thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror. Basic Books.

Stoneman, Richard. 2008. Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend. Yale University Press.

Alexander the Great's Lost Tomb will premiere on Friday, November 21, 2008, on the National Geographic Channel.

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Mystery of the Screaming Man

The Screaming Man - Unknown Man E at Deir el Bahri
The Screaming Man - Unknown Man E at Deir el Bahri. (c)2008 National Geographic

When "Unknown Man E", as this New Kingdom Egyptian mummy is called, was unwrapped in 1886, the team led by Gaston Maspero were horrified by the expression on the mummy's face and the horrible smell emanating from the mummy. This was very unusual: a properly embalmed body smells something like this:

Something soft and sublime rose up. The fragrance... light, airy, beautiful, lavender-like-but-not, not pungent or redolent or mournful, not heavy with oil or one particular meaty bloom. Maybe chrysanthemums and blue lotus and white lotus. Gregory Jaynes

Current scholarly theories suggest he was one of three things:

  • An Egyptian who was poisoned first and then buried improperly to keep him from a happy afterlife
  • An Egyptian who died overseas and was improperly embalmed by people who didn't know how to embalm him
  • A foreigner who happened to be in Egypt when he died and so was at least partly embalmed in the manner of his people

Sad for the state of mummy movies, scholars don't think he was mummified alive, particularly since they established that his innards were removed before he was mummified.

Still, very weird. Good video. But weird.


Dylan Bickerstaffe. 2005. [The Royal Cache Revisited. Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum 10:9-25 Free download

Grafton Eliot Smith. 1912. Unknown Man E. Catalogue General Antiquites Egyptiennes du Musee du Caire. Imprimerie de L'institut Francais D'archeologie Orientale.

Mystery of the Screaming Man, Official page on National Geographic, November 2008, includes video and more images.

Mystery of the Screaming Man will premiere on Friday, November 21, 2008, on the National Geographic Channel.

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Herod's Lost Tomb

Ruins of Herodium
Ruins of Herodium. (c)2008 National Geographic

Herod the Great (73-4 BC) was an unpopular ruler. Not only was he foisted on his fellow Jews by Caesar Augustus, Herod's character was suspicious and vengeful.

But he was an amazing architect, erecting some of the most beautiful and innovative structures of his day: the three-tiered palace at Herodium, the city and harbor of Caesaria Maritima, the palace at Masada, the Wailing Wall and Second Temple in Jerusalem.

He married ten times, had 14 children--some of whom he had killed off--and, according to the bible, he is responsible for the 'massacre of the innocents', a genocidal killing off of the first-born children of Bethlehem.

After Herod died, in a fairly unpleasant way, his mausoleum was dismantled and the location lost. In 2007, Herod's tomb was re-discovered in the Herodium complex by Hebrew University's Ehud Netzer.


  • Science Daily: Tomb Of King Herod Discovered At Herodium 
  • Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Herodium - King Herod's Palace-Fortress
  • Hebrew University: Tomb Of King Herod Discovered At Herodium by Hebrew University archaeologist 

Books and Articles

Boyce, Joseph I. et al. 2004. Marine Magnetic Survey of a Submerged Roman Harbour, Caesarea Maritima, Israel. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 33(1):122-136

Netzer, Ehud. 2007. The architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 139(3):219-222

Reinhardt, Eduard G. 2006. The tsunami of 13 December A.D. 115 and the destruction of Herod the Great's harbor at Caesarea Maritima, Israel. Geology 34(12):1061-1064.

Richardson, Peter. 2004. Building Jewish in the Roman East. Baylor University Press,

Herod's Tomb, Official page on National Geographic, November 2008, includes video and more images.

Herod's Lost Tomb will premiere on Sunday, November 23, 2008, on the National Geographic Channel.

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Your Citation
Hirst, K. Kris. "National Geographic Expedition Week." ThoughtCo, Aug. 11, 2016, Hirst, K. Kris. (2016, August 11). National Geographic Expedition Week. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "National Geographic Expedition Week." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 11, 2017).