Chasing Mummies Episode 7: In Which We Actually Get to See Some Really Cool Things

Yes, you read that right: this is a recap of episode 7, because for some reason the History Channel only decided to air episodes 7-10 this time around. Don't worry, I set up a series recording on my DVR, so I'm sure I'll get to recap episodes 3-6 eventually. If you're new to this insane show, read my recaps of episode 1 and episode 2.

I liked this episode for two reasons. First, you get to see some of Egypt's ancient Coptic (Christian) heritage, which most people don't know about. The second reason I'm going to save until the end of this post.

The episode starts out with Zowie Zoe running late to the dig in Saqqara. She takes a minibus to the excavation site, and while she's on her way she talks to her husband on the phone. He wants her to come home but she's still determined to make this work. When she finally gets to work, she's an hour and a half late (oh Cairo traffic, how I do not miss thee). Hawass is busy opening an undisturbed tomb they've discovered, and Zoe naturally thinks this is a great time to talk about her problems with her husband. Hawass is all, "I don't care about your problems, just divorce him and shut up." (Okay, he doesn't say that exactly. But he does tell her to divorce him.) Let's open that tomb, then!

There's unbroken pottery, which is cool, and skeletons, which are even cooler. Let's go crawl around inside a different unopened tomb! This one has ibis mummies. Ahhhh! Why are you all touching them with your bare hands? Contamination! Noooooo!

Further inside the tomb, there are skulls and bones everywhere. The explorers happen upon a very deep shaft, but it's so old and presumably the ground around it is unstable, so they leave. If this segment sounds boring, it's not. I'd be thrilled if I could spend the rest of my life crawling around in tombs like that.

Next stop: the Step Pyramid. I can't believe I lived so close to this thing and never went to visit it. Hawass is checking up on the restoration work. The scaffolding is made of wooden beams lashed together, and if you look at the faraway camera shots, it looks like the pyramid is still being built.

There's no melodrama to be had here, though. I know, let's check up on Zoe! She's upset to have witnessed the (swift) sacrifice of a camel for the sacred Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Even the producer is annoyed that Zoe's upset about what she sees as mistreatment of animals. Maybe I'm weird, but I'm not squeamish to find that a) meat comes from someplace other than a supermarket and b) this is the way life is for millions of people. The producer refuses to get involved in telling these people that they should up and abandon their customs and and centuries-old religious beliefs. Finally he caves and agrees to talk to Hawass, who is baffled that anyone would not understand the concept of killing your food before you eat it. You and me both, buddy.

Zoe and the other intern Derek go to Dashur to see the White Pyramid, built during the reign of Amenemhat II in the late 19th/early 18th centuries BC. Sadly the stone was pilfered long ago and it is nothing more than a pile of scraps. Accompanying them is an archaeologist who specializes in Mesoamerica, so I have no idea what he's doing on a show about Egyptology. Also, maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, but he looks kind of like Joaquin Phoenix wearing Indiana Jones's clothing. Ah, now I understand why he's here.

Our next destination is the Monastery of St. Anthony, which is the oldest Christian monastery in continuous use. Hawass is officiating at the grand reopening of the monastery after 8 years of excavation and restoration. This segment alone makes the episode worth watching. I don't know a whole lot about the history of the Copts, the traditional Orthodox Christians of Egypt, but seeing all this makes me want to learn more.

The archaeologists excavated ancient cells that the monks once lived in and covered them with glass so you can walk right over them and look down. There's also a long dining table and benches carved out of limestone.

Meanwhile, back at the White Pyramid, Not-Joaquin and our Young Heroes are about to climb into a crevice that leads to the passages and burial chambers, which are still intact beneath the mound of rubble. Not-Joachin repeats several times that this is dangerous: it's cramped, it's sandy, there's not a lot of oxygen, it can be a claustrophobic and harrowing experience. This is Zoe's cue to have a preemptive panic attack. The others slide into the crevice and, after some waffling, Zoe wiggles partway in and then begins to whimper and cry. I'm not sure what her problem is - apparently she's forgotten that earlier in the show she was fearlessly crawling around in a dark, cramped tomb. Her issue doesn't seem to be claustrophobia, because she keeps babbling something about being afraid of the dark. Besides, she weighs maybe 120 lbs. soaking wet and the camera clearly shows that she has a whole foot of spare space in that crevice. I was so embarrassed by her performance that I had a hard time watching, like when someone's child has a screaming tantrum in the grocery store.

Unable to hack it, Zoe crawls back out and plops down on a stone. A bemused Not-Joaquin tries to give her a pep talk, but she decides she's had enough. Which brings me to the second reason I like this episode: Zoe quits! For the remaining three episodes, we don't have to witness her acting like a Victorian damsel with the vapors.

The producer drums up suspense by trying to convince us that Hawass will be enraged to find out that Zoe quit. Unsurprisingly, Hawass is relieved at the news. The producer mumbles something about finding a strong lady to replace Zoe. I'm thinking  that's a good idea.

Wow, I wrote this whole recap save a couple sentences over a week ago, and I'be only just now gotten around to posting it. Fail.

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