In the Egyptian cosmology, the Pharaoh lives forever if he successfully navigates the underworld. Then his preserved body, and the carefully excised and stored vital organs, all magically reform for an immortal afterlife. And King Tut, whose earthly existence spanned only 19 years, whose name and legacy were vigorously erased by his successor lay entombed with his earthly treasures for three millennia. Now, thanks to the multitude of artifacts entombed to serve his royalty in the thereafter, King Tut has been enjoying a globe-trotting afterlife.
Better late than never! Especially if it concerns the King Tut Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh exhibit at the California Science Center. This show, which premiered in March 2018, will fly off to Europe after its first tour in Los Angeles comes to an end on January 9, 2019. With the crowd long gone, now may be the best time to catch a glimpse of this very special exhibit of ancient artifacts.
The ancient Egyptian aristocrats prepared laboriously for the afterlife. “You can’t take it with you” was apparently not the shared view. The British archaeologist, Howard Carter, conducted the archaeological dig and recorded over 5000 objects in King Tut’s tomb. For this tour, 150 artifacts are on display, and 60 of them have left Egypt for the first time.
The tombs were filled with a broad assortment of richly adorned household objects, official royal objects, statues, figurines, precious jewelry, and more. It may be mystifying for us to imagine the immortal existence believed earnestly by the people over 3,000 years ago, from about 1334 to 1325 B.C. during the 18th Dynasty reign of the New Kingdom.
But what we do know is King Tut's afterlife has taken on the form of a worldwide blockbuster ‘edutainment’ tour to be featured in 10 cities around the globe, and destined to culminate in the year 2022, marking the 100th year anniversary of King Tut's discovery. After which the artifacts will return to a Grand Egyptian museum being built in Cairo, no doubt to enthrall for generations to come.
The tour begins with a multimedia presentation in a darkened room, and then a gate opens dramatically to a room where the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a funerary text written by priests, is used as backdrop for the exhibit. The book consists of magic spells to help the dead journey through the underworld. These incantations were inscribed on tomb walls and sarcophagi. By King Tut’s time, the book’s use was a long established practice. A papyrus scroll containing sections and spells from the Book of the Dead was buried to help the deceased navigate through the underworld to reach a paradise in the form of a rebirth of a pharaoh’s life on earth, but this time, a perfectly immortal one.
One ritual covered at length in the exhibit is the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. The elaborate ritual involved excision of organs and preservation of the body. Of course, the mummified body became a desiccated corpse (not on exhibit), but the handsome gleaming gold face mask, with the golden neckwear, and his arms crossed holding the symbols of Pharaoh, forms an unforgettable visions of the ancient Egyptian royalty.
It is quite a stunning visual experience, to see the artifacts crafted by the ancient nameless artisans who created the exquisite objects of royal significance, and deeply imbued them with their humanity. On display are boldly designed jewelry, encrusted with glass cloisonné, the incredible artistry of a miniature sarcophagus that held the royal’s internal organs. There are also child-sized chairs, a bed, board games, and chests made of ivory and carved alabaster. All crafted with great expertise, the artisans' creativity and design, their expert use of materials in these royal artifacts are joys to behold.
The body has long disintegrated despite the careful preservation process. But these artifacts stacked in the tombs without any protective covers have not disintegrated despite the 3,300 years of passage of time. While some objects, especially made of textiles are ready to crumble under pressure, many of the treasures gleam as if only recently forged. The gilded wood sculptures, the vases, the furniture pieces and jewels are intact and express the talent and skills of a great civilization.
The Wishing Cup of Tutankhamun, made of alabaster and in the shape of a lotus in full bloom, was one of the first items the archaelogist Carter and his team discovered . And on it was inscribed:
May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes,
sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness.
Southern Californians can enjoy the King Tut’s exhibit while it is holding court at the California Science Center through January 9th, 2019. Take your family and out of town guests to the King Tut Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh exhibit at the California Science Center before it leaves Los Angeles for a far-flung place. The exhibit will be a rich cultural experience for all ages and a rare opportunity to see the royal Egyptian artifacts hidden for more than 3,000 years come to life before your eyes.
Irisphere / Author: Jennifer Hyong Un Cho / Photos by the author