Timewatch: The Pharaoh's Lost City

It's 1350BC; Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten - ruler of the biggest empire in the ancient world - commands his people to move 400 km and build a huge city from scratch to house his new religion.

By: The Timewatch team (Programme and web teams)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Thursday 13th September 2007
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under TV, Timewatch
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Pharaoh's palace Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission

The city of Amarna was the place of the most dramatic upheaval in the 3,000 year religious history of Ancient Egypt and the vision of just one man. Here Akhenaten would shrink the old world of 2,000 gods to 1. He would give his queen - the beautiful Nefertiti - equal status and he would radically change art and society. He set out to create the greatest city the world had ever seen and it appeared he had succeeded. But the pharaoh’s great city would last just 20 years.

For over a century archaeologists have been excavating the ruins at Amarna. But recently a team under the directorship of Prof. Barry Kemp (University of Cambridge) has made a remarkable discovery. For the first time they have unearthed, in a desert cemetery, the skeletons of Amarna’s workers; the people who built and lived in the city.

What these 3,500 year old human remains are revealing, is a city very different to what was previously thought. Far from being a place of plenty, biological anthropologist Prof. Jerry Rose (University of Arkansas) has discovered trauma on the vertebrae of youths in Akhenaten’s city, the evidence of backbreaking work. High rates of Anaemia –particularly in the bones of children - is evidence of a chronic diet.

With unique access to a 30-year long project, using dramatic reconstruction and Computer Generated Imaging, Timewatch reveals the hidden truths of life in Amarna, during one of the most turbulent periods of Egyptian history - the time of the rebel pharaoh.

Take it further: Books

Akhenaten and the Religion of Light
Erik Hornung and David Lorton, Cornell University Press

Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet
Nicholas Reeves, Thames & Hudson

Pharaohs of the Sun
Rita E. Freed, Yvonne J. Markowitz, and Sue H. D'Auria, Thames & Hudson

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