LONDON: A lone workman picks through soft rubble, lit by a ray of light from above as he delicately sifts through the sand and debris. His mattock clinks on something and he calls to his colleague, who joins him in the pit, brushing away the sand to reveal a small statue. It’s an astonishing discovery. Except that you have to wonder how contrived the setup is, given that the camera crew is already down in the pit with the two men, zooming in on their expressions of wonderment as the dust, which has remained undisturbed for centuries, lifts into the air.
There are a lot of moments like this in Netflix’s “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb” documentary, as a small team of Egyptian archaeologists uncover a tomb that has been untouched for 4,400 years, leading to a glut of further discoveries and some staggering breakthroughs with regards to ancient Egyptian culture. And while some of these moments – as well as a slightly forced narrative about the team racing against the end of the season – appear cultivated to sprinkle extra drama on this remarkable film, they are easily forgotten when the filmmakers, led by director James Tovell, focus on the team, and their connection to Egypt’s ancient history.
Despite being blessed with no shortage of incredible moments of discovery, “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb” is at its most remarkably moving when the local workforce and experts are given the opportunity to explain just how and why this history resonates so intently. Whether it’s digger Ghareeb sharing a rest break with his son, Dr. Amira Shaheen being moved to tears as she tries to empathize with long-dead Egyptians, or foreman Mustafa finding kinship with his ancestors in their use of the same tools, it is these human interactions, and the palpable excitement of the exhausted workers as treasure after treasure is pulled from the sand, that linger longest in the memory. And those special examples of human connection that make it easy to forgive the more contrived moments.