Changing Planet

Amazing Drone Footage of Nubian Pyramids

In a melding of modern-day technology and 3,000-year-old artifacts, a team supported by National Geographic is getting some of the first glimpses into ancient pyramids, temples, and burial sites sprawled across the Sudanese desert.

The part of the site that draws the most attention is the underground burial chamber of a Nubian king who conquered Egypt in 715 B.C., but today the action is far above ground as National Geographic engineer, Alan Turchik, flies a remote-controlled quadcopter camera over the site to gain a broader perspective of the area.

“The best part with the helicopter is I can fly over and gain this connection between all the other burial sites, between the pyramid and the temple, and get an understanding of what that is from the air,” says Turchik.

Turchik is part of an expedition led by National Geographic grantee, Geoff Emberling, the first archaeologist to visit the site in El Kurru, Sudan, in almost 100 years.

On the ground, Emberling is also using cutting edge technology—a remote controlled robot—to excavate caves where no modern human has gone before, but good old-fashioned manual labor proves most effective in breaking through years’ worth of sand, dirt, and rocks. After removing about 250 tons of debris from the site, the team uncovers many artifacts from millennia ago, but Emberling is still left with many questions about the cryptic site.

The mystifying ruins date back to the kingdom of Kush, an empire that lasted for over 2000 years before its disappearance around 300 A.D.

“You don’t really know what happened in the past, and to be able to investigate that … it’s like you’re a detective,” says Turchik, explaining how the excavations slowly chip away at the mystery surrounding this ancient culture.

All will be revealed in the film, Black Pharaohs, which was produced in conjunction with the expedition and is airing on PBS.

To learn more about the excavation at El Kurru, dig through Geoff Emberling’s posts on the National Geographic Explorers Journal blog and read “Black Pharaohs” from National Geographic magazine.

Nora Rappaport is a producer and editor on National Geographic's Science and Exploration Media team. She produces content that highlights the awe-inspiring work of National Geographic explorers around the globe. When not working with her colleagues to inspire people to care about the planet, Nora can be found hanging out with any number of dogs.
  • Elsa Bondar

    My husband Eugene S. Bondar attended a Dig in Sudan in the early nineteen seventies at Christmas. He has interesting stories.

  • Ayman Abbas

    I think this is the first step to unveil the civilization of the Black Pharaohs.
    Thanks National Geographic

  • Steve nelson

    I’m the one

  • Sor

    All of the pharaohs were black with the exception of the Shepard Kings.

  • Walid Saeed

    Woah, bruhhh, this like, drone is all like, showing you this like, really old culture dude, with these totally rad pyramids in the desert man. It, like, gives you perspective n’stuff, y’know, bud? #NatGeoVoices

  • Derrel

    is it hard to introduce drone in Sudan?

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