‘Expedition Unknown’ Shines a Light on Egypt’s Iconic Female Rulers

The two-part special uncovers the secret legacies of the ancient civilization's most powerful women.

The Giza Pyramids & Sphinx, Josh Gates, Expedition Unknown

Photo by: Sima Diab

Sima Diab

If you’ve been a loyal watcher of Expedition Unknown, you already know about Josh Gates’ contentious relationship with camels. He doesn’t like them, and they don’t really seem to like him, either.

So considering Josh’s explicit and deep-seated aversion to the species, his appearance on one not even five minutes into the first episode of a two-part Expedition Unknown should serve as a clue that this is probably going to be a particularly epic story.

Premiering Feb. 7 at 9|8c, “Great Women of Ancient Egypt” kicks off one of the most thorough and groundbreaking investigations in Expedition Unknown history as Josh journeys through the land of the Nile to uncover the secrets of the most powerful, and most elusive, women in ancient Egypt: Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra.

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri in Upper Egypt displays many effigies of ancient female ruler Hatshepsut.

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri in Upper Egypt displays many effigies of ancient female ruler Hatshepsut.

The monarchs are arguably three of the most powerful women who ever lived, and yet, they are seldom cited or credited for the incredible triumphs of their time. Why do we not know more about their rule or even about what happened to them after their deaths? Josh meets with historians and explorers across Egypt to clear the dust on the largely unknown legacies of the iconic women, much of which, he finds, have been tainted or wiped clean from the history books (and even statues) by the men they lived with and ruled over.

Many of the effigies of Hatshepsut at the Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahri were damaged after her death, at the order of her stepson.

Many of the effigies of Hatshepsut at the Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahri were damaged after her death, at the order of her stepson.

In the two-part special, Josh and the Expedition Unknown crew snag special access to what could be major clues in the after-stories of both Cleopatra, perhaps the most famous figure of ancient Egypt, whose final resting place has never been identified, and Nefertiti, known as history’s most beautiful queen but who may have also been a controversial pharoah.

Josh Gates gets special access to open the case of the Younger Lady mummy on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Photo by: Sima Diab

Sima Diab

Josh Gates gets special access to open the case of the Younger Lady mummy on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Among the many mysteries of the era of ancient Egypt is the location of Nefertiti’s final resting place. Known as The Younger Lady, this mummy on display at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum has been confirmed through DNA testing to be the mother of ancient ruler King Tut. But many theories also purport that Nefertiti was actually King Tut’s mother — and that the body of The Younger Lady would, therefore, be Nefertiti.

Is This the Face of King Tut's Mother, Nefertiti?

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New Rendering of Ancient Ruler Nefertiti

The body of Nefertiti, one of the most powerful women in the world, has never been found. But thanks to what we know about her marital past and about a DNA match to a mummy in Cairo's Egyptian Museum, we may now be able to put a realistic face to her name.

Photo By: STEVE SCHOFIELD

Great Women of Ancient Egypt

In a two-part special of Expedition Unknown, Josh Gates explores the largely forgotten -- and erased -- legacies of ancient Egypt's greatest female rulers, including Nefertiti, who was the wife of legendary ruler King Tut's father, Akhenaten.

Photo By: Sima Diab

Cairo's Egyptian Museum

A mummy known as the Younger Lady rests in Cairo's Egyptian Museum, where she was confirmed through DNA testing to be the mother of King Tut.

Photo By: Sima Diab

The Younger Lady - Before

Thanks to this DNA revelation, many now speculate that the Younger Lady is, therefore, the body of Nefertiti. With the help of Josh and Egyptologist Dr. Aidan Dodson of Bristol University, artist Elisabeth Daynes -- known for her groundbreaking recreating of King Tut in 2005 -- created a bust of the Younger Lady from 3D scans of her body.

Photo By: STEVE SCHOFIELD

The Younger Lady - After

Daynes then recreated a realistic bust of what Nefertiti may have actually looked like during her rule in ancient Egypt.

No Easy Feat

The 3D scans seen in Expedition Unknown's upcoming two-part special were not easy to procure. But they're groundbreaking in more ways than one: "This is a unique and exciting moment that allows us to look into the past and help restore the dignity of an incredibly significant woman," Josh said. "The bone structure and the features are remarkably consistent with ancient depictions. I believe this is the true face of Nefertiti."

Photo By: STEVE SCHOFIELD

From the Artist

It took artist Elisabeth Daynes more than 500 hours to create the bust. Everything down to the jewelry, handcrafted by designers who work for Dior, took painstaking attention to detail. "This project is very special and very complex," Daynes said. "I worked closely with forensic paleopathologists and anthropologists to determine accurate muscle, skin and soft tissue depth. Everything was meticulously calculated by hand."

Photo By: STEVE SCHOFIELD

More on 'Expedition Unknown'

Get a closer look into the creation of the bust and into the pasts of great female rulers like Nefertiti on the two-part special of Expedition Unknown, starting Feb. 7 at 9|8c.

Photo By: Sima Diab

Josh wraps up his investigation in “Egypt’s Lost Queens” (Feb. 14 at 9|8c) by calling in reinforcements to further examine these theories and dive deeper into the history of how the most powerful women to ever live were essentially erased from history. And because two hours just wasn’t enough to tell the full story, an after-show with the Expedition Unknown crew and special guests will air immediately after each special at 10|9c. Researchers from the episodes will join Josh to expand further on the forgotten histories of ancient Egypt, and the crew will share some insights into their seemingly impossible journey around Egypt (and the world) for answers.

Egyptologist Myriam Seco Alvarez and Josh Gates examine a skeleton at the excavation site of Thutmose III, stepson of the Queen Hatshepsut, in Luxor, Egypt.

Egyptologist Myriam Seco Alvarez and Josh Gates examine a skeleton at the excavation site of Thutmose III, stepson of the Queen Hatshepsut, in Luxor, Egypt.

Catch Expedition Unknown's “Great Women of Ancient Egypt” and “Egypt’s Lost Queens” Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 at 9|8c on Travel Channel.

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