National Geographic Ultimate Explorer host Lisa Ling travels through Egypt as she examines the devastating consequences of tomb raiding throughout the ages. Led by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Ling learns firsthand what the Egyptian government is doing to stop this illegal — yet highly lucrative — trade. Along the way, Ling explores a rare tomb in the town of Abusir that has never been plundered, looking on as archaeologists unearth a 2,500-year-old coffin for the first time.
Ling also travels 6,000 miles from Atlanta to Cairo with an unusual travel companion — a mummy that archaeologists believe is the long-lost remains of Pharaoh Ramses I, founder of the 19th Dynasty. Stolen from an Egyptian tomb in the mid-1800s, Ramses I ended up in a quirky Niagara Falls museum before being purchased by Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum for $2 million. Now, Emory is returning Ramses I to his original resting place, marking the first time that a museum has voluntarily repatriated a significant Egyptian treasure.
The return of Ramses I represents a major victory in Egypt’s effort to reclaim their country’s past and bring an end to 4,000 years of tomb raiding. Since the days of ancient Egypt, thieves have plundered the burial chambers of the pharaohs, carting off priceless treasures and stealing irreplaceable artifacts. For generations, families have subsisted on selling Egypt’s ancient treasures, the secrets of the trade passed on through the ages. Museums, antique dealers and even invading armies have helped themselves to Egypt’s precious antiquities. Today, few tombs remain that have not been touched by robbers, and with each artifact that leaves Egypt, a piece of the country’s rich and ancient history disappears with it.