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Recently I have been learning a lot about ancient Chinese history and am completely transfixed. I read a book about the treasure fleets of Zheng He, the Grand Eunuch during the Ming Dynasty who led, at the time (the early 1420s), the world's largest armada on a series of great voyages around the world, basically mapping the entire planet decades and centuries before the great European explorers. Unfortunately, because of internal strife (and an unbelievably unlucky lightning storm), the government was overthrown and all records of the voyages and discoveries deliberately destroyed, followed by China turning in on itself for hundreds of years, allowing the great European explorers like Columbus and Magellan and Cook to follow in the footsteps of the great Chinese fleets, often using their maps, and then claim credit for their discoveries.
I am still on the keen lookout for any TV or film representations of those great voyages, which immediately piqued my interest in seeing this BBC series about lost ancient cities. Each episode would be entertaining enough to me already, but becomes more so because each lost city is also shrouded in a seemingly unsolvable mystery, like the ancient city of Pyramesse, whose buildings were discovered nowhere near where the foundations were. How could it be in two places at once? And why did these great cities disappear altogether anyway?
These are completely engrossing stories about ancient civilizations that will really open your eyes about how complex and developed the history of mankind is. The evolution of society certainly did not take place over anything even resembling a linear pattern. Great, powerful civilizations rose and fell and were obliterated by millennia of sand, only to be discovered and then remain clouded in mystery for decades more, while the secrets of the cities remained to be solved for decades longer.
I did, I should admit, find it a little strange that, for example, the great city of Pyramesse (considered sort of a "holy grail" among Egyptologists), was discovered in the form of a huge area covered with the massive pieces of buildings, completely out in the open. They could have been seen from an airplane. How did it remain lost for so long?
I am usually not a big fan of seeing the TV recreations of the time periods, because given that they are made for TV they are automatically going to be of lower quality than a film version might be, although here they are generally very well done and present a vivid picture of what those times must have looked like. The only scene in the three episodes I watched that was a little too much was one which showed Rameses in his battle gear. He is riding on a chariot and wearing this goofy, bright blue helmet that not only looks like cheap plastic but also makes him look like a spaceball. Did he really wear such a thing?
At any rate, I will definitely be on the lookout for more of these. It's fascinating and well made, and leaves you with the feeling that there is still so much about human history that remains buried beneath the sand. Highly recommended!
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