A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Twenty-five years after his first world tour, Tut has once again left Egypt. In Bonn, second stop of the exhibition "Tutankhamun: The Golden Beyond--Treasures from the Valley of the Kings," images of the miniature coffins that held the boy king's viscera adorn the sides of taxis, his name is postered along shopping streets, and Tut stickers direct subway riders which line to take to the exhibition hall where the artifacts have been on display since last November. "The Golden Beyond" has been hugely popular in Europe--it drew about 4,500 visitors a day during its six-month stay in Switzerland last year--and understandably so. The exhibition is a triumph, bringing the most famous archaeological finds in the world to a new generation of pharaoh fans, and adding depth and context for those who saw the sensational exhibition of the 1970s. It opens in the U.S. at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on June 16 (through November 15), renamed "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs."
However, it's not all about Tut. He's only one facet of a show that is far more wide-ranging, and much larger, than the original. Here, 50 of the 130 objects on display are from Tut's tomb (minus his famous funerary mask, which is not allowed out of Egypt), while the rest come from other Valley of the Kings burials discovered between the late 1890s and 1922. Their inclusion sets Tut's tomb in its historical and achaeological context, providing an overview of the kinds of objects found in sepulchers from the 18th Dynasty (1550-1307 B.C.), the "golden age" of the show title.
Most of the artifacts have never been out of Egypt before. Superb examples from pharaonic tombs are on display, such as a wooden boat from Amenhotep II's sepulcher, but the burials of especially favored commoners from the valley are included as well. In particular, the tomb of Tutankhamun's common-born great-grandparents, Yuya and Tjuiu, is among the stars of the show. Tjuiu's objects include one coffin, a canopic chest, and a gilded mummy-mask, allowing for comparisons between royal and noble tombs.
The remaining part of the show is dedicated to Tut's tomb, with a focus on objects that are small and exquisite rather than big and showy, as was the case in the original exhibition. A small ivory box, glorious in its simplicity and workmanship; a golden shrine and signature canopic "coffinette," displayed so that its interior can be seen; and a solid translucent glass headrest are among the unsung treasures of the tomb.
One nice touch is the addition of huge enlargements of excavation photographs, which allow visitors to see the artifacts in situ. Another is a full-scale re-creation of the burial chamber based on a floor plan made during Howard Carter's excavation. These features make the exhibition far more than a blockbuster with beautiful objects, but one with real archaeological integrity.
In December, the exhibition moves to the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale (through April 2006). It then travels to the Field Museum in Chicago (May 2006 to January 2007) and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (February to September 2007). Later that year, the U.K. gets its turn at London's Millennium Dome.
Aidan Dodson is an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol and author of The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt.
Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of current exhibitions.