On a quest to find the best, and most obscure, museum exhibits and explore the secrets they hold, Museum Secrets uncovers the weird, the astonishing and fascinating wonders of the world. What unexpected device did Catherine the Great use to enhance her sex life? Why did Alexander the Great prefer linen armour to bronze?
And how did the falcon hunting of the Habsburg emperors lay the foundations for modern science? Testing out the theories behind the artifacts and visiting the sites they originated from, this series combines pure enthralling history with surprising detective work.
01 American Museum Of Natural History
From dinosaurs to meteorites to the origins of the human species, the American Museum of Natural History houses 32 million objects, is visited by over 4 million people annually, and has a stellar research staff that mounts over 100 expeditions every year.
In this episode, we meet an American farm boy whose love for Africa changed the image of African wildlife from scary to noble. We witness the mating rituals of a 400 million year old crab species whose unique blood harbours secrets crucial to modern medicine, then crack open a dinosaur egg to uncover a clue that overturns a long held misconception about a supposedly murderous species.
We run a relay race through Manhattan to investigate whether Incan knotted strings were capable of carrying encrypted messages, then blast off on a space mission to bring back comet dust that may hold the secret of how life began on Earth. And finally, we follow museum explorers as they capture animals to extract their DNA, to be preserved in the museum’s sub-zero storage facility – a blueprint of life for future generations.
02 National Museum Of Anthropology Mexico
This impressive modern museum, visited by 2 million people every year, tells the story of Mexico from before the Aztec civilization to the Spanish conquest. In this episode, a chemical engineer and some Mexican athletes help us discover whether the rubber ball used on the ancient Aztec playing field contained a human skull. We dive into a watery cave to discover the Mayan path to the afterlife, and then investigate the power of a crystal skull to reveal the secrets of the dead.
We pilot an ancient canoe through Aztec canals to discover why modern Mexico City is sinking, and then discover how a valiant gladiator defeated a score of Aztec warriors armed with the world’s sharpest swords. And finally, we discover how a dress worn by the most notorious woman in Mexican history led to a massacre that changed history.
03 Imperial War Museum London
The Imperial War Museum tells the story of Britain at war, from World War One to the present, through a collection of 10 million items – from guns to planes to medals to cyanide pills – at five locations in England visited by over 2 million people every year. In this episode, we descend into Churchill’s top-secret underground bunker to discover why he was an irreplaceable leader.
We find out how a London housewife became a spy who withstood horrific Nazi torture to protect a vital secret, and then we take cover in a World War One trench as we reveal the story of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose discovery turned the tide of the war.
We meet an aging cold war warrior who exposes dark truths about atomic weapons hidden from the British people for 50 years, then fly above Iraq with British top guns to discover how to stay frosty when enemy missiles lock on. And finally we follow a team of military researchers as they close in on the holy grail of camouflage: how to make a soldier invisible.
04 Museum Pergamon & Neues Museums Berlin
On the famed “Museum Island” in the river that winds through Berlin are the Pergamon and Neues Museums which display some of the most spectacular objects from the ancient world.
In this episode, we pit two skilled warriors against each other to discover why some Viking swords are more deadly than others. We compare an ancient Greek monument with Hitler’s podium to discover the secret power of architecture, and then decipher the code embossed on a golden hat that reveals a Bronze Age wizard.
We gaze at the incomparable bust of Nefertiti with an historian who believes her beauty secret was more than skin deep, then find out how easy it is to make stone statues explode but how hard it is to put the pieces back together. And finally, we find out why the art the Nazis hated is now displayed in an archaeological museum.
05 Kunshistorisches Museum Vienna
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is a treasury of antiquities and weaponry collected by the royal family known as the Habsburgs – a dynasty that ruled much of Europe for 500 years. In this episode, we visit the crypt that entombs many generations of the Habsburg royal family, then meet a geneticist who is attempting to discover how inbreeding led to their demise.
We go hunting with falcons to discover how one Habsburg emperor’s hobby laid the foundation for modern science, then recreate the alchemical experiment that led another emperor to believe that silver could be transmuted into gold.
While learning the proper way to do the Viennese waltz, we discover how a dance craze impacted European history, then recreate a strange piece of ancient armour to find out how and why it was designed to explode. And finally, we meet a detective who takes us on the trail of a thief who stole the museum’s most valuable treasure.
06 Topkapi Palace Museum Istanbul
Once the palace of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul is a vast treasury of Islamic culture, science and weaponry, visited by over 2 million people every year.
In this episode, at the foot of Istanbul’s ancient walls we discover how a Muslim invader bested Christian defenders by using their superstitions against them. In the city’s famed spice market we seek a poison to assassinate a Sultan, and then in the Sultan’s private residence we investigate how a Harem slave rose to rule an empire.
On the sea at the museum’s doorstep we discover how a Turkish admiral got his hands on the lost map of Christopher Columbus, then unearth a forgotten civilization that fought the mighty Pharaohs of Egypt to a draw. And finally, we test Islamic scientific theories to create a working model of the world’s first robot.
07 Metropolitan Museum Of Art New York
New York is one of the most metropolitan and busy cities in the world, and right in the middle of it is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Known informally as the Met, it is one of the world’s largest art galleries.
Boasting over 2 million works from prehistory to the present day in galleries visited by over 5 million people every year, the Met houses artefacts that hide tales of tragedy, madness and even murder.
A suit of armour on display belonged to King Henry VIII. Believed to have been made towards the end of his life, what stories can the armour reveal about the infamous monarch?
08 National Archaeological Museum Of Athens
The world’s most important museum dedicated to the history of ancient Greece, the National Archaeological Museum displays 11,000 exhibits from 7000 BC to the Roman conquest. In this episode, we accelerate an ancient warship to ramming speed to discover why Athenian democracy beat Persian tyranny, then visit a king’s grave to reveal how bogus archeology helped fuel the pseudo-historical ravings of Adolf Hitler.
We suit volunteers in armour made of bronze and armour made of linen, and then shoot arrows at them to discover which is better. (Spoiler: Alexander the Great preferred linen.) We visit the ruins where Plato and Pythagoras secretly imbibed psychedelic chemicals, then go underground to face our fears in the labyrinth that inspired the myth of the Minotaur. In addition, we meet an engineer who has spent a lifetime recreating an ancient gadget called the Antikythera Mechanism to reveal its mysterious purpose.
09 State Hermitage Museum Russia
The State Hermitage Museum is a great example of how the walls itself have their own stories to tell – from its beginnings as a palace of Catherine the Great, to how the museum endured the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War (and how the museum’s cats did not endure the war).The stories in this show included Scythian tattoos, Peter the Great’s macabre anatomy collection, Catherine the Great’s sex life and this odd little painting, which is just a square of black, but is worth a million dollars.
The most interesting piece for me, however, was the story about Rasputin and his mysterious death. The Hermitage owns a portrait of the famous Russian mystic, which they do not display publicly – actually it seems to be kept at the very back of the storeroom. The show goes on to explain the recently developed theory that Rasputin was actually assassinated by a British spy, which I had a vaguely known about, but it did it in a great way and was fascinating to watch.
10 The Egyptian Museum
Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities boasts 120,000 items – the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, including 27 mummies of the Royal Cache and the treasures of King Tutankhamen. in ancient Egypt, the pharaohs and their retinue were not the only ones to consign their bodies to mummification after death.
Mummification was chosen by everyone who could afford it, because ancient Egyptians believed the process was the path to eternal life. They also mummified animals by the millions: falcons, baboons, crocodiles, and many other creatures – pushing some species to the brink of extinction. Why? The secret is revealed in the premiere broadcast of Museum Secrets: Inside the Egyptian Museum.
11 The Louvre
Once a royal palace, the Louvre is now one of the world’s greatest museums boasting 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century, and visited by over 8 million people every year. Jousting is an extreme sport. And on June 30, 1559, the king of France found out exactly how extreme it can be. He took a lance through the eye hole of his helmet. Fragments drove deep into his brain.
But he didn’t die on the field. And why did a sea tragedy drive a young artist mad? On July 5th, 1816, a French passenger ship went aground off the coast of Africa. Of 147 crew members consigned to a life raft, only 15 survived. The Raft of the Medusa is Theodore Gericault’s dark depiction of the sailors’ plight, cast adrift in shark-infested waters.
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12 Royal Ontario Museum
This eye-popping Toronto landmark is a national treasure chest – Canada’s largest museum of culture, archaeology and natural history, containing more than 6 million artifacts, and visited by over a million people every year. We unwrap a tiny mummy to find out how an Egyptian baby died 2000 years ago.
We won’t spill the secret of how the baby mummy died (you’ll have to watch the episode) but we will tell you the secret behind the secret: The ancient Egyptians were not who most of us think they were. You might think, in any museum, the only good bug is a dead bug. But in the ROM, below the public galleries we find insects in the MILLIONS. All very much ALIVE!
13 The Vatican Museums
At the centre of Rome, within the walls of the Vatican, stand some of the greatest museums in the world, displaying thousands of treasures and artworks from the immense collection of the Catholic Church, to yearly visitors that number over 4 million. When did penises become offensive? And who covered them up?
Once, when religious art was young, nudity symbolized purity. But during the Renaissance that changed, and for the first time a naked body was “dirty.” Where did this notion come from? Who started it? And who decided to cover up every penis in the Vatican? The secrets are revealed in the premiere broadcast of Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican Museums.
14 The Natural History Museum Of London
The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. The museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology.
The museum is a centre of research specialising in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Given the age of the institution, many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin.
The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture—sometimes dubbed a cathedral of nature—both exemplified by the large Diplodocus cast that dominated the vaulted central hall before it was replaced in 2017 with the skeleton of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling.
The Natural History Museum Library contains extensive books, journals, manuscripts, and artwork collections linked to the work and research of the scientific departments; access to the library is by appointment only. The museum is recognised as the pre-eminent centre of natural history and research of related fields in the world.