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The Discovery of King Tut is currently on display at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. Egyptologists and skilled craftsmen worked together to depict the exploration and contents of the burial site of Tutankhamun through a combination of film footage, text, and more than 1,000 artifact reproductions. The King Tut exhibit recreates the discovery and importance of the ancient tomb and the mystique surrounding it. Union Station in Kansas City marks the North American premiere of this exhibit which opened April 4 and will run through Sept. 7, 2014.
When archaeologist Howard Carter first looked in the antechamber of King Tut’s tomb, Nov. 26, 1922, he remarked that he could see “wonderful things.” Those riches were only a portion of the treasure found buried with the young pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings. The King Tut exhibit has replicated how the antechamber looked when Carter first saw it. Photos taken at the time of discovery served as a guide to arrange items exactly as they originally appeared. Special lighting resembling candlelight also adds to the ambiance as visitors walk through the first part of the exhibit.
In addition to the entrance and antechamber, the tomb was built with three more rooms: the annex, treasury and the burial chamber. Approximately 5,000 items were cataloged ranging from small keepsakes, jewelry, weapons, boxes of clothing, chairs, chariots, a boat and statues. All these things were to help the king in the afterlife. The original treasures, too fragile to go on a world tour, are on display behind glass in the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo. Fifty craftsmen spent five years making historically and scientifically accurate reproductions of some of these items. This allows Carter’s discovery to be shared with the world as well as preserving the priceless originals.
One highlight of the King Tut exhibit is the recreated items found in the ancient tomb’s burial chamber. A shrine that covered and protected the stone sarcophagus was described by Carter in his writings as “an immense gilt shrine” visible by the light of standard lamps. Inside the sarcophagus were three coffins, stacked one inside the other, which protected the mummy. The original inner coffin was made of pure gold. The coffin reproductions are exhibited separately and show the gold mask that portrays King Tut’s idealized, official portrait. The face of the mummy was also covered with the gold mask with a striped headdress and collar.
The Discovery of King Tut also includes recreated wall paintings from the burial chamber, symbolizing the “House for Eternity.” These scenes depict the deceased pharaoh’s journey beginning with the funeral procession, through the transformation from mummy to immortality, his arrival in the underworld and the renewal of life. Visitors should allow at least 90 minutes to view the entire exhibit.
Tutankhamum’s life history contains several uncertainties. It is not clear who his mother was or whether his wife was his sister or half-sister. He ascended the throne at the age of eight after being the only surviving male heir after the death of his father, Akhenaten. He died at the age of 18. There have been many theories as to the cause of death but the most widely accepted one is that he had a serious knee injury and became ill with malaria. He ruled from 1333 B.C. to 1323 B.C. and was the last of the 18th Dynasty.
The history surrounding the King Tut exhibit is recreated as visitors discover the ancient tomb in a way that has never before been possible in North America. After the exhibit closes in September, it will leave Union Station in Kansas City and travel to the San Diego Natural History Museum where it will run Oct. 11, 2014 to April 26, 2015.
By Cynthia Collins
The Discovery of King Tut – Exhibition Catalog (print)