Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of The Pharaohs
The entire world was awestruck by the richness of Tutankhamun.
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX., November 2008. Sponsored by National Geographic and Northern Trust.
We are in a small group of eight or nine persons. Everything is dark and quiet. We are slowly making our way into the first exhibit room of the King Tut exhibition recently opened in Dallas. Suddenly we become aware of an increasing sound behind us, like a swarm of buzzing mosquitos a large tour group of women sweep into the room with their audio guides turned up a little too loud. Our quiet contemplation is momentarily broken by the frenzy of moving bodies, the rustling of fabric and whirring of audio guides. It feels like intruders are stealing our tranquility. Gradually some of this group disburses and moves on into the next room and the exhibit hall returns to a peaceful quiet, but the spell is broken and now we are aware we are not on a solitary journey. We are in Dallas with other interested people viewing the grandeur on ancient Egypt in the traveling exhibition of Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of The Pharaohs. This fantastic array of dazzling Egyptian artifacts will be on display through mid May 2009. Atlanta has a sister exhibition opening November 25, 2008 and running through May 2009.
Some 86 years ago, King Tut’s tomb was discovered by Howard Carter.
“On the morning of November 4, 1922, a young boy arrived at the site of Carter’s extensive, previously unsuccessful excavations with jars of water for the workers loaded on the back of his donkey. These jars had rounded bases, and had to be set in the sand to stay upright. The boy was making a hole for the first jar when his hand brushed against stone. Investigating further, he found the top of a step cut into the bedrock. It was the beginning of a stairway…Tutankhamun had been found!”
Over 5,000 objects were discovered in the modestly sized tomb. The world was awestruck by the richness of the find. Many still are. A similar exhibition to this one toured the United States in the mid 1970’s and was immensely popular. People traveled from out of state to the few cities that hosted the exhibit. The collection was modified and is back on the road traveling to two cities per year in the U.S. In 2005, the host museum was open 24/7 the last two weeks of the engagement to accommodate the crowds still wanting to attend.
This edition of the tour features King Tut in the second half of the show, but dedicates the first half to his family. Attendees have the opportunity to get well acquainted with King Tut’s relations before meeting him in the second part of the display. To help with the transition, midway through the exhibit, one may watch old black and white video of the 1922 discovery and first viewing of the site by Lord Carnarvon, the Carter’s benefactor, . This is a treat in itself—seeing the men and women dressed in suits, hats and dark full dresses as they brave the arid, rugged elements to visit the site of Tutankhamun’s burial.
Floating along at one’s own pace, a visitor can detach from the other guests and contemplate the fascinating sights. It is an extraordinary feeling to see ancient Egyptian heiroglyphics dating back thousands of years. I am almost breathless. There are many examples of heiroglyphics because the Egyptions wrote on practically everything they put in the tombs. Small statues of 15” in height have rows and rows of tiny neatly written hieroglyphics. Larger items like chests display hieroglyphics in gold.
An elaborately decorated chest of inlaid gold, wood, stucco, ivory and faience belonging to Yoya and Tjuya, great grandparents of King Tut, is a beautiful example of Egyptian symbols which we may readily recognize from our school days. It features the ankh (life), bull, raven, goose and paddle in turquoise and peach colors.
One of Tut’s half sisters is immortalized with a small quartzite sculture of her head. This is one of Akhenaten’s daughters circa 1353-1336 BCE. She has small delicate features and the face about the size of a woman’s fist, but with an unusual elongation of her skull which is representative of Amarna figures. It resembles a beehive hairstyle made fashionable by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the eye of the ancient artist this Egyptian princess has a beehive shaped head, not hair.
Being a longtime amateur genealogist myself, I particularly appreciate the family tree the Dallas Museum of Art offers in the first room of the exhibit. I scribble it down on paper so I can refer to it throughout the exhibition as necessary to keep the kings and queens and princesses straight in my mind.
In one passageway, two same sized statues of King Tut stand side by side in plexiglas cases. One depicts him as the King of Upper Egypt, the other as King of Lower Egypt but when viewed from the side I make the accidental discovery that the plexiglas acts as a mirror and it looks like there is an endless procession of King Tuts. It reminds me of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Excited by my observation, I feel like a pro making a artistic find of my own. Later on I find four statues in a similar alignment and test my mirrored discovery again. Yes, it’s a never ending line of golden statues.
Encouraged by my success at finding an atypical way of viewing the statues, I circle each case for the rest of the display looking at things from the backside, sideways and even tiptoeing to glimpse a bird’s eye view (not easy for a height challenged person like myself).
Two hours later I emerge from my journey to ancient Egypt to a typical 21st century media blitz with speakers loudly proclaiming speculation as to the cause of the mysterious death of the 19 year old King Tut and graphic video displays of scans run on his mummy. A tacky ending to a dreamlike journey through time.
The Dallas exhibition also features a collection of black and white photographs taken by Harry Burton before anything was removed from the tomb. The photos show the sloppy arrangement of the 5,000 items provided for the afterlife of Tutankhamun. It appears they were placed in each room of the tomb in a random manner perhaps because the Egyptians thought they would soon be in use. But it surprises me. I expect everything to be orderly and neatly organized: ‘Protective statues of gods go in this corner. Dismantled chariots go over there. Food sits near the dishes.’ Instead it looks like the stockpile of cast offs stashed in the corner of an unused garage. Guess some things never change.
Personally I like the timed-entry arrangement for this exhibition. I was there on a slow day (Mondays are great), but I can only imagine the traffic jams on the weekends. It is supposed to assure a 30 minute window for entering the exhibition before the next wave appears.
An ancient Egyptian belief states that to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again. Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of The Pharaohs is an excellent exhibition which brings these historic persons back to life at least for the afternoon. Although the tickets are relatively expensive, it is a valuable adventure and is much more accessible than traveling to Egypt. Stow the passport and make tracks to Dallas and Atlanta instead. Be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time.
So, what do Atlanta and Dallas have in common until May 2009? We may not have winning sports teams, but we surely have a winner in our King Tut exhibits.
Frances “Walk Like An Egyptian” Gilmore