They were the envy of the Mediterranean and their seafaring skills were legendary. But who exactly were the Phoenicians, what became of them and what was the secret of their success? A new NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SPECIAL sets out to solve these mysteries through the pioneering work of three very different scientists in "Quest for the Phoenicians," airing on PBS Wednesday, October 20, 2004. Very little is known about this ancient people; their cities, temples and culture were destroyed by the Romans and the Greeks 2,000 years ago. No Phoenician manuscripts survive, even though this culture is credited with the development of the Phoenician alphabet, which influences ours today. In "Quest for the Phoenicians," three renowned scientists, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and oceanographer Robert Ballard, geneticist Spencer Wells and archaeologist Paco Giles, search for clues about the Phoenicians in the sea, in the earth and in the blood of their modern-day descendents. Armed with a revolutionary remotely-operated vehicle, the first robotic deep-sea "archaeologist" capable of deep-water excavation, Ballard looks at ancient shipwrecks along Skerki Bank off the island of Sicily. The film tracks his quest as he deploys modern technology to take a look at the largest collection of ancient wrecks found in deep water.
Meanwhile, Spanish archaeologist Paco Giles excavates a cave at the bottom of the rock of Gibraltar, a site where Phoenician sailors stopped to pray before venturing into the open ocean. And in Istanbul, National Geographic Fellow Spencer Wells collects DNA from a 2,500-year-old Phoenician mummy's tooth, to extract its unique genetic code and compare it with DNA samples collected from men and women from Lebanon to Tunisia. Will he find a match between the lost Phoenicians and these modern men and women? In "Quest for the Phoenicians," these three stories converge to paint a new portrait of the ancient Phoenicians, their accomplishments and their modern-day legacy.