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Sacred Sites - Season 1 · Episode Guide

Episode 1 · Sacred Sites: Ireland

Why did the ancient Irish people abandon worship of the Earth for worship of the Sky? Combining history, mythology, astronomy, science and archaeology, this documentary looks at how celestial phenomena influenced religious practice and sacred sites in Ireland, thousands of years ago.

On February 15th 2013, a huge meteor streaked across the skies of Russia at a speed of 18km per second. Fragments of the rock broke off and exploded with deadly effect, shattering the windows of thousands of buildings in the city of Chelyabinsk and injuring hundreds of people. The meteor itself exploded with the force of 30 Hiroshima bombs. Witnesses described how they were transfixed by an unearthly light and a terror that ‘felt like the end of the world’. Afterwards, there was an upsurge in religious practice, as the city’s residents crowded into churches.

Could a meteor or comet have had an even bigger effect on people’s beliefs in ancient times? Dr Patrick McCafferty and Professor Mike Baillie of Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland have spent years studying the relationship between meteors, comets, sacred sites and religion.

They and other experts believe that over the past 5,000 years, events in the sky helped to motivate great changes in religious practice in Ireland and other parts of the world. This thought-provoking and visually stunning documentary explores the religious and mythological significance of Ireland’s most hallowed sites. Traditional archaeological studies of these sacred places offer only a partial understanding of their purpose. To get closer to the truth, we need to study the sky just as much as the earth.

Episode 2 · Sacred Sites: Oracles

At Delphi and other ancient Greek oracles, the gods spoke through a priestess or priest, offering cryptic visions of the future. New scientific evidence suggests that these visions were caused by powerful elemental forces – seismic activity and magnetism.

For a thousand years, the oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece was one of the wonders of the known world. This was the most famous of the oracles where the gods spoke through a priestess or priest, offering cryptic visions of the future. But were these really the words of the gods, or were there even more powerful elemental forces at work? In the 1990s, an archaeological team discovered an extraordinary link between the prophecies and seismic activity beneath the surface of the earth. Featuring lavish UHD 4K footage and drone aerials of ancient sites in Greece and Turkey, this episode explores this astonishing story, and reveals how seismic activity and magnetism still give rise to sacred sites in the present day. The documentary features fascinating contributions from leading experts in archaeology, geophysics and neuroscience.

The program opens at Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in central Greece. Thousands of years ago, powerful rulers and humble peasants alike came here to hear the prophecies of the priestess of Apollo, the Pythia. But what really inspired her words? Archaeologist John Hale has discovered that Delphi is situated directly above two intersecting fault lines where light hydrocarbon gases rise to the surface. He believes that the Pythia inhaled these gases, causing her to go into a trancelike state and utter cryptic words. Many other ancient oracle sites were also situated over fault lines, like the incredible Temple of Apollo in Didyma, Turkey. A more sinister oracle is found at Hierapolis in central Turkey: the Plutonium or Gate to Hell, sacred to Pluto, the god of the underworld. The Plutonium was a deadly place. Any human or animal that passed inside died. For many years its true location was hidden, but in 2013 archaeologist Francesco D’Andria found it, and discovered the real reason for its deadly effect: once again, the shrine is located over a fault line, but this time the gases that emerge are lethal.

Many modern sacred sites are also located near zones of seismic activity. New scientific research shows that supernatural apparitions at these places could be related to earthquake lights, luminous phenomena that appear in the sky before earthquakes. These luminous effects are caused by electric currents along fault lines, which create magnetic fields. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger explains that the mystical feelings people experience at these places may also be caused by magnetism. Persinger has created a device known as the ‘god helmet’, which artificially stimulates the brain with a weak magnetic field. Wearers of the helmet claim to have religious experiences. Could it be that the brain itself is the most sacred site of all?

The documentary features spectacular location footage and drone aerials filmed at sacred sites in Greece and Turkey. Leading experts including Dr. Giuseppe Etiope of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Rome and Dr. Joanne Day of University College Dublin provide expert commentary and insights. The documentary also features the participation of the present-day Greek pagan group YSEE.

PRODUCER / DIRECTOR – Stephen Rooke WRITERS – David Ryan, Niall Murphy EDITOR – Mick Mahon DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – Michael O’Rourke COMPOSER – Ray Harman NARRATOR – Eric Meyers

Episode 3 · Sacred Sites: Egypt

The amazing sacred sites of ancient Egypt reveal their makers’obsession with death and the afterlife. But the recent discovery of a 4,000-year-old leather manuscript suggests that the ancient beliefs could have more to do with life than death.

rom the mighty Pyramids of Giza to the shadowy tombs of the Valley of the Kings, the sacred sites of ancient Egypt are perhaps the most impressive of any ancient civilization. These amazing places show that the Egyptians were obsessed with death and the afterlife. They mummified the bodies of the deceased and supplied them with the Book of the Dead, a collection of spells that would help them on their fearsome journey through the afterlife. Filmed in stunning UHD 4K, this documentary reveals that the Egyptian obsession with death could mask an even more astonishing reality. In 2015, Egyptologist Wael Sherbiny unearthed a 4,000-year-old leather manuscript at the Cairo Museum. This remarkable discovery could change everything we thought we knew about religion in ancient Egypt.Our journey begins at the most famous of all Egyptian sacred sites– the Pyramids of Giza. The Pyramids were built as tombs for the Egyptian pharaohs, and they acted as a link between the people, their gods and the afterlife. Over the centuries, the Egyptians classified their beliefs about the afterlife into a great collection of spells: the Book of the Dead. These prayers and incantations enabled the dead to survive the terrifying creatures and tests of the afterlife, and many of them were recorded on the walls of pharaohs’tombs in the Valley of the Kings. But before they could enter the afterlife, the dead had to be mummified. Mummification was followed by an elaborate funeral, and an incredible ceremony known as the Opening of the Mouth – events that are vividly depicted in a newly-opened Egyptian tomb. The Opening of the Mouth was once thought to be simply symbolic, but cutting edge analysis of mummy skulls shows that it was preceded by a physical and violent process.

The passage through the afterlife involved encounters with demons, supernatural creatures that either were good or evil. With the help of the Book of the Dead, the deceased could survive these creatures and pass through the gates they guarded. Theirjourney culminated with an ominous judgement known as the Weighing of the Heart. If they passed that test, they could reside in the Field of Reeds, the Egyptian afterlife.

Much of what the dead were believed to experience in the afterlife was powerfully rooted in real-world experience. Now, a new discovery at the Cairo Museum may explain why that was. Egyptologist Wael Sherbiny has discovered a 4,000-year-old manuscript that predates the Book of the Dead. It reveals that the afterlife beliefs actually had their origins in the everyday lives of the people, and rituals that took place in a temple, not a tomb.

As alien as the ancient Egyptian religion may seem to the modern mind, it embodies a basic morality that is surprisingly familiar. The documentary features spectacular location footage filmed at Egypt’s incredible sacred sites, as well as stunning drama re-enactments shot in the famous Ouarzazate film studios in Morocco. Leading experts including Professor John Darnell of Yale University, Dr. Mariam Ayad of the American University of Cairo and Dr. Zahi Hawass provide expert commentary and insights.

PRODUCER / DIRECTOR – Stephen Rooke WRITERS – David Ryan, Niall Murphy EDITOR – Cara Holmes DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – Michael O’Rourke COMPOSER – Giles Packham NARRATOR – Eric Meyers

Episode 4 · Sacred Sites: Templars

For over seven hundred years, Europe’s most famous military order has been cloaked in mystery, myth and many conspiracy theories. A recent discovery at the Vatican Secret Archives may at last reveal the truth about the Knights Templar.

In 1096 AD, a bloody struggle for control of the world͛s most sacred site led to 200 years of holy war. Known today as the Crusades, this conflict saw the rise of a legendary military order, sworn to protect the faithful – the Knights Templar. The Templars became vastly wealthy and powerful across Europe – but in the 1300s, the king of France attacked the order, accusing them of corruption, blasphemy and heresy. Many Templars were imprisoned, tortured and executed, but their powerful and mysterious legacy endures to this day. Illustrated by vivid and exciting drama re-enactments, this UHD 4K documentary explores the story of the Templars at their spectacular sacred sites.

The documentary opens at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Knights Templar set up their headquarters in 1118 AD. The order was founded nearby at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed site of Jesus͛s tomb and the most sacred of all Christian shrines. Fighting alongside the Crusaders in their war against Muslims for control of the Holy Land, the Templars were the elite military unit of the day. But they were also shrouded in mystery, and the documentary investigates Templar symbolism and numerology at one of their mightiest fortresses, the Convento de Cristo in Tomar, Portugal. The order quickly became powerful across Europe, amassing huge wealth and vast estates, such as the magnificent Cressing Temple in England.

The documentary moves on to explore the trials of the Templars and the accusations that they engaged in controversial practices at their initiation ceremonies, at places such as the atmospheric Temple Church in London. In the church͛s circular nave, Templar recruits took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. But there was also a second part to the initiation, and this was highly secret. It seems that initiates were required to deny Christ, spit on the cross, and worship a strange bearded head.

The program delves into the dramatic theory that this ͚head͛ may actually have been the Shroud of Turin, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus. Some believe that a 750-year-old wooden panel at the Church of St Mary in Templecombe, England, was part of a box that contained the Shroud. Other theories center around the skull of John the Baptist: could a skull fragment now held in Amiens Cathedral, France, have been the Templars͛͞head͟? Scientific analysis of ancient bones discovered near Sozopol, Bulgaria suggests that there could be a basis for the theory. But there could be another explanation for the trials of the Templars and the strange accusations that were levelled at them. In 2002, Dr. Barbara Frale discovered an extraordinary document in the Vatican Secret Archives. Written during the height of the Templar trials, it could lay the conspiracy theories to rest once and for all. The documentary features spectacular location footage and drone aerials filmed at Templar sacred sites throughout Europe and the Holy Land. Leading historians and archaeologists including Professor Helen Nicholson of Cardiff University, Professor Tom Higham of Oxford University, Dr. Edward Coleman of University College Dublin and Dr. PhilSlavin of Kent University provide expert commentary and insights on the most mysterious military order of all.

PRODUCER / DIRECTOR – Stephen Rooke WRITERS – David Ryan, Niall Murphy EDITOR – Jim Dalton DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – Michael O’Rourke COMPOSER – Ray Harman NARRATOR – Eric Meyers

Episode 5 · Sacred Sites: Chaco Canyon

The desert valley of Chaco Canyon was once a great sacred site and the heart of a sophisticated Pueblo Indian community. But when climate change struck Chaco around 1100 AD, some may have resorted to human sacrifice and cannibalism.

In the remote desert valley of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico stand the remains of an incredible ancient city and pilgrimage center. Centuries before Columbus, this place was one of North America͛s greatest sacred sites and the heart of a sophisticated Native American civilization. Around 1100 AD, this mysterious community fell asunder, ravaged by climate change and drought. Archaeological evidence reveals that in their struggle for survival, some resorted to violence and murder. But there are signs of something even more shocking. Driven to desperation, some may have done more than just kill their enemies. Featuring superb UHD 4K location visuals, compelling drama re-enactments and contributions from leading experts, this documentary explores this fascinating story.

The story of Chaco Canyon begins thousands of years ago. Communities of hunter-gatherers roamed Chaco from as early as 6000 BC, but it was not until around 500 AD that the Canyon͛s inhabitants settled down and began to construct buildings. Over the centuries that followed they erected huge stone complexes like the mighty Pueblo Bonito, containing hundreds of rooms and great ceremonial spaces known as kivas. Powerful rulers or priests oversaw this building boom, while guarding secret ceremonial knowledge, such as how to use the extraordinary ͚sun dagger͛ spirals on Fajada Butte, which mark the equinoxes and solstices. Archaeological discoveries, like the unusual cylinder jars now held at the Smithsonian Institution͛s National Museum of the American Indian, suggest that the rulers of Chaco borrowed some of their knowledge from a powerful civilization far to the south – the Maya of Mesoamerica.

Remarkable rock art points to amazing occurrences in the skies over Chaco during the 11thcentury AD: the appearance of a huge burning star in 1054 AD, followed by a magnificent comet twelve years later. Tree-ring dating shows that the people of Chaco constructed many new buildings in response to these events, including the awe-inspiring kiva of Casa Rinconada. Through breathtaking location footage and evocative drama re-enactments, we show how the Canyon͛s rulers used this place for a display of eerie ͚kiva magic͛, where a ͚visitor from the underworld͛ appeared before the ordinary people of Chaco.

This was a way to awe and intimidate them, ensuring their continued obedience. But the rulers͛power was built on fragile ground, and when climate change hit the region soon afterwards everything changed. Evidence from timber samples shows that Chaco was afflicted by a series of severe droughts from 1090 AD towards. Desperate for water, the Canyon͛s inhabitants fled to the new settlement of Aztec Ruins, some sixty miles to the north. But this place, too, was hit by drought, driving the inhabitants into the wild. The standards and supports that held the society together began to fall apart, and violent incidents took place across the region. According to controversial new evidence, some did more than just murder their enemies. At Cowboy Wash in southern Colorado, archaeologists discovered signs of a cannibalistic incident that happened around 1150. But was this motivated by hunger or religion? The documentary features spectacular location footage and aerials filmed at Chaco Canyon and other amazing sites in the American Southwest, as well as hard-hitting drama re-enactments. Leading experts including Dr. Wirt Wills of the University of New Mexico, Dr. John Kantner of the University of North Florida, Dr. Gwinn Vivian, and Pueblo Artist and Historian Porter Swentzell provide expert commentary and insights.

PRODUCER / DIRECTOR – Stephen Rooke WRITER – David Ryan EDITOR – Jim Dalton DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – Michael O’Rourke COMPOSER – Ray Harman NARRATOR – Eric Meyers

Episode 6 · Sacred Sites: Petra

The magnificent rock temples of Petra and Hegra hold a remarkable secret. Were these places centers of a lost matriarchy, in which women enjoyed unrivalled power and privilege?

In the rocky highlands of Jordan and the shimmering deserts of Saudi Arabia lie the remains of two incredible cities – Petra and Hegra. A people known as the Nabataeans constructed them two thousand years ago, carving astonishing tombs, temples and sanctuaries out of the very rock. Much of the story of the Nabataeans has faded from history. But these tombs and temples hold profound secrets about their way of life. Ancient inscriptions and new discoveries suggest that women wielded unrivalled power in the lost kingdom of the Nabataeans.

This documentary explores this remarkable story at the sacred sites of Petra and Hegra. From humble origins in the deserts of Arabia, the Nabataeans rose to prominence around the time of the birth of Christ. They controlled the lucrative trade routes that linked Africa and Asia with the Mediterranean, and built Petra, their capital city, at the intersection of these routes. Lavish 4K UHD location footage and stunning drone aerials explore the great sanctuaries of Petra, such as the ornate Treasury, known to millions of Indiana Jones fans, and the gigantic Monastery, looming on the sandstone cliffs to the west of the city. The documentary investigates how a recently-discovered solar alignment at the Monastery reveals the power of the goddess al-Uzza. Excavations have revealed that she was worshipped nearby at the Temple of the Winged Lions, and her name evokes a time when women had far greater power than they enjoyed in other parts of the ancient world. This is confirmed by the discovery of ancient papyrus showing that Nabataean women could buy and sell property.

Further evidence of this is found in the lost city of Hegra, deep in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Nabataean men were often absent for long periods owing to trade, which allowed females to become canny businesswomen and leaders in their own right. Ancient inscriptions on the rock-cut tombs of Hegra show that some Nabataeans traced their descent through the female line, and other inscriptions show that Nabataean queens could hold great power. Such conditions were virtually unknown in other ancient societies such as Greece and Rome.

The program also explores the decline of Petra following an earthquake and great flood in the 4th century AD. These events foreshadowed the coming of two powerful new religions – Christianity and Islam. In 447 AD, Petra’s Urn Tomb was consecrated as a Christian cathedral. Christianity was now the official religion of the Roman Empire, and in this new patriarchal world order there was little room for powerful women. And when Islam swept through the Middle East some 200 years later, it demoted the goddess al-Uzza to a mere angel, a daughter of Allah.

The documentary features the participation of leading experts from a range of disciplines, including archaeologist Glenn Corbett of the American Centre for Oriental Research, astrophysicist Juan Antonio Belmonte, and historian and photographer Jane Taylor. Other contributors include Jordanian archaeologist Khairieh Amr, Hannah Cotton-Paltiel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, John Healey of the University of Manchester, Aida Naghawi of the Amman Numismatics Museum, and Bedouin tribeswoman Manal Mohammed Salem Alfakeer.

PRODUCER / DIRECTOR – Stephen Rooke WRITER / RESEARCHER – David Ryan EDITOR – Jim Dalton DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – Michael O͛Rourke COMPOSER – Giles Packham NARRATOR – Eric Meyers