HISTORY King Tut returns to America after 26 years
Tit for tat, Tut is still tops as his new exhibit showcases more treasures.
Pharaohs may never have found the glorious afterlife they were expecting, but one thing about ancient Egypt is eternal -- the popularity of King Tut.
The Boy King -- and his bling -- return to the United States 26 years after his treasures dazzled 8 million museum visitors and created a new category of cultural event: the museum blockbuster.
Even by today's over-the-top standards, the Tutankhamun collection is staggering. This time, curators of "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" are packing displays with more than twice as many gold and jewel-encrusted artifacts from the world's most celebrated archaeological discovery. There are 50 objects from the pharaoh's tomb and 70 more from the graves of his noble relatives. All the artifacts are at least 3,300 years old.
Tut on tour
The exhibit opens June 16 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the artifacts will be on view through Nov. 15. It then tours Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Chicago before heading to Philadelphia, where it will be on display at The Franklin Institute starting in February 2007.
Nothing from the sensational 1970s show is repeated. That means there is no gold mask bearing Tut's unblinking, iconic likeness. Instead, the display concentrates on smaller wonders: Tut's gold serpent crown; the bejeweled dagger found resting by his mummified hand; and several tiny shabti -- tool-bearing statuettes buried with the King that were to work for him in the afterlife.
For a generation of Americans weaned on Game Boys and "CSI" TV dramas, the exhibition includes such high-tech flourishes as the recent 3-D reconstruction of Tut's face with its familiar overbite and weak chin. Curators also will project digital scans of Tut's mummy that demonstrate he was not killed by a crushing head blow, but perhaps from a broken left leg and subsequent gangrene infection.
It also includes new research adding depth and rich context about the Nile civilization, archived photographs of the 1922 tomb excavation and a precise replica of the burial chamber beneath the sun-baked Valley of the Kings.
It's the best show that Hollywood and science can offer, and given the public's appetite for celebrity and sequels, its success is inevitable. The tour started in Europe where crowds lined up for blocks. With ticket prices as high as $30, Egypt expects to reap $40 million for its ambitious preservation and antiquities programs.
However, for all its glitter, the new show raises a tart question among some experts.
Aren't we tired of Tut?
Egyptologists complain there are other magnificent Egyptian treasures that go virtually unnoticed by the public. Other pharaohs were far more important historically. And the silly legend of a curse striking down British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team that unearthed these riches was debunked long ago.
Tut through the times
Yet Tut is the only pharaoh that most Americans can name. To some experts, celebrating Tut is like studying American history through the lens of Franklin Pierce's presidency, or appreciating cinema by watching Macaulay Culkin movies.
"There's a possibility of Tut tunnel vision," says Mark Rose, executive editor of Archaeology magazine. "It's sort of a shame that he is brought out again as the be-all and end-all of ancient Egypt."