Off to see the golden boy

Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs exhibition is on display in Seattle from 24 May 2012 to 6 January 2013.

Yesterday afternoon, my family and I checked into the Pacific Science Center in downtown Seattle to suss out the King Tut travelling exhibition from National Geographic.

Steeped in the fascinating and mysterious Egyptian ancientology, the exhibition walkthrough was a visual spectacle, showcasing over 100 artefacts from the tombs and temples of King Tut. Before I indulge you on the exhibits covering his (over) glorified death, here’s a brief lowdown on the life of the 19-year-old teenage-Pharaoh.

Following the death of his alleged pharaoh father-Akhenaten, prince Tutankhaten ascended the throne at the age of nine. As Pharaoh, he was the chief leader of the state, religious institutions and the military and also served as an intermediary between humans and many Egyptian divinities—a pretty big ask from a nine-year-old brain!

Not that a pharaoh would have cared for public sentiment, King Tut, guided by two court officials, restored the pantheon and directed attention to the god-Amun, changing his name to Tutankhamun in the process. He reigned all but nine years, dying at 19 and tragically bringing to the grave the precise circumstances that led to his death.

Speculation has it that he was the child of incest and may have suffered consequential diseases that led to his death.
Believed that after death, pharaohs truly become gods, the divined legacy of King Tut surfaced straight after the ‘discovery’ of his tomb, which was allegedly in near-perfect condition and news of which sky-rocketed his funerary cult the world over.

Ever the doubting Thomas, I’m a little sceptic about the veracity of some aspects of the exhibition. While the boy king’s body has been uncovered, some things remain entombed in mystery…

Are all the exhibits really those in King Tut’s tomb?

Winged scarab pectoral

The artefacts certainly seem to be in pristine condition, which is bizarre considering they’re supposed to be dated around 1323 BCE. Sure, they were probably elaborately entombed, but remember thieves had pilfered a number of his burial artefacts, which were then re-arranged over 3,000 years ago and reportedly untouched until British archaeologist Howard Carter’s team excavated them.

The exhibits featured in the Antechamber were of a lavish nature, which while expected of a pharaoh’s funeral estate, is most unusual in this case.

King Tut’s golden mask. Image Source: Steve Evans

Pharaohs spared no expense to protect their mummies and establish enduring funerary cults to preserve their memory. But one of the info panels in the exhibition alludes to the fact that “his early death led to a hasty burial in an atypically located and small, almost undecorated, tomb”.

Given the burial haste, it’s a mystery how they also organised a series of elaborate paintings on the four walls of his tomb, set up life-sized statues of Tutankhamun flanking a sealed doorway and entombed his mummy in 4 shrines, a sarcophagus and 3 coffins.

“It was laid within four huge gilded wooden shrines, each inscribed with protective magical spells, a fabric pall with golden rosettes, and an outer stone sarcophagus. Inside, two gilded wooden coffins and a solid golden coffin provided additional security.”

How conclusive is modern science?

Image Source: Maggie Bartlett, NHGRI

To date, various anthropological, radiological and genetic investigations have been done on the ancestry of Tutankhamun, his physical condition and possible causes of death. X-rays of the mummy in 1968 and 1978 collectively revealed egg shell thinning and two loose bone fragments in the skull, suggesting foul play. The examinations also revealed a bent spine.

These findings were both dismissed after a full body CT Scan in 2005, which showed no evidence of a bent spine or an area on the back of the head that showed any partially healed injury. They showed Tutankhamum to be in a healthy state with no indication of childhood diseases.

Later in 2010, a study which included initial DNA test results, revealed the young pharaoh had necrosis and suffered malaria. They also identified the two other mummies in Tutankhamun’s tomb as his parents but further tests on the mummies indicated they were both females and likely to have been his daughters.

These high tech forensic findings are fascinating albeit a tad inconclusive.

Who really discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb?

Howard Carter opens the innermost shrine of King Tut’s tomb. Image Source: The Times, 1923

In my opinion, Howard Carter’s team only uncovered what someone else had long discovered. There is an apparent exnomination where a Western individual was recognised at the expense of what was likely to be many other nameless individuals that earlier chanced on the tomb.

A case in point would be Carter’s unnamed ‘water boy’, who found the steps leading to the tomb.

So many questions, so few answers—some of which beckon further questioning. But that’s the hallmark of an interesting exhibition.

All credit to National Geographic, Pacific Science Center, a band of thieves, Howard Carter’s team of excavators, all the Egyptians who labour to ensure a pharaoh’s ancestry is interpreted favourably and golden boy-King Tut himself.

In the Treasures of Tutankhamun, a collection of artefacts toured the US back in 1976 while the Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs exhibition premiered in 2008 and will leave the US for good in 2013.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kiat Teng says:

    Interesting share, Danny! There will always be an air of mystery in archeological finds, I guess.

  2. Danny says:

    Thanks Kiat Teng! I guess you’re right about the ‘air of mystery in archeological finds’. And therein lies their charm and lure. 🙂

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