Netflix’s Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb review: An enthralling unearthing of ancient Egypt mysteries
The documentary about an excavation mission at a 4,400-year-old tomb strikes gold in delivering a fascinating story that can entice all its viewers.
There are worlds above us and worlds beneath. Netflix’s documentary, Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb, explores the latter with a gripping narrative about an excavation mission at the 4,400-year-old tomb that was discovered near the Djoser’s step pyramid in the necropolis of Saqqara, outside of Cairo, in 2018. The 114-min documentary takes us on a compelling visual tour, as a group of Egyptologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, scientists, and diggers engage in a season-long mission of excavating coffins, remains, mummies, artifacts, and other precious belongings from the tomb of Wahtye. From the moment the tomb is discovered, the researchers are puzzled and curious about its mysteries. Who was Wahtye? How did he die? Whose remains are buried under the tomb? What do the hieroglyphs on the walls say about the story of Wahtye? All these questions get answered in an enthralling fashion.
Director: James Tovell
Cast: Ghareeb Ali Mohammed Abushousha, Hamada Shehata Ahmed Mansour, Salima Ikram, Amira Shaheen
Streaming on: Netflix
Anybody who gets into a documentary about Egyptian archaeology might expect the topography to be a dry, scorching hot desert with a stark yellow tint over it. Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb breaks this notion when it takes you into the streets of Cairo and its farmlands. Just like the road which divides Cairo’s lush green topography to that of the barren Saqqara, the film deals with multiple dualities—like the layers of sand that divide the living and the dead. As the crew leaves their residence in the city to excavate human remains from the tomb, it’s as though they are leaving life and venturing into a kingdom of death, or afterlife, which, of course, is the very idea that possessed the ancient civilisation of Egypt. As archaeologist Hamada says, “It’s a naturally morbid place.”
At one point, the documentary draws parallels between these ancient humans and the very crew enforced to unearth them. Even Mustafa, the foreman of the excavations, feels that the hieroglyphic depictions of Wahtye’s life mirror that of his own, though they are 4,400 years apart. Anthropologist Amira, someone who says that she can sense ‘feelings’ from the bones unearthed, reaffirms this when she says that ancient humans are “exactly like us.” Director James Tovell is particular in using his ‘human’ aspect of the film in driving forward the story of the dead.
The cinematography and the use of music are instrumental in getting you, the viewer disconnected from the proceedings of Egypt, to feel the anticipation and excitement behind an incoming discovery. Moments like the excavation of a mummified lion and a wooden coffin are particularly riveting.
Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb strikes gold with its judicial use of resources and storytelling to deliver a compelling story that has the potential to appeal to all viewers. At the end of the watch, don’t be surprised at all if you are overwhelmed and begin your own digging... on the web.