It's been almost 30 years since he returned to Egypt, living sequestered in the land of his birth and shrouded in mystery. But for the next two years he will travel to faraway lands and allow millions of fans to witness the return of the king.
Egypt's boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun, has returned to the United States on a four-city, 27-month tour starting in Los Angeles and ending in Philadelphia.
"Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" opened June 15 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and will remain there until the middle of November.
The exhibit includes more than 130 objects that span 250 years. Only 13 of these artifacts are repeats from the last Tut tour in the 1970s, and most have never left Egypt before.
"We felt there was no reason to bring the same show twice. This is so different that it's not even a sequel," said Kathlyn Cooney, Stanford Egyptologist and LACMA co-curator.
These objects represent not only the riches of Egypt but also the transition of the empire's politics, art and religion, Cooney said. "This exhibit has a difference emphasis focusing on context rather than beauty and gold."
Not that the artifacts aren't exquisite. "We just hope that it's less about the stuff, and more about history and culture and what North Africa was about during the 18th Dynasty," she said.
Tutankhamun was a minor king who ruled at the end of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. He was born to the pharaoh Akhenaten and his secondary wife, Kiya, in 1343 B.C., at the height of the Amarna Age. During this time Akhenaten introduced a quasi-monotheistic belief system that replaced traditional religion. He was later declared a heretic, and records mentioning him and his successors, including those of King Tut, were destroyed.
Tutankhamun became pharaoh at age 9 or 10. He reigned for about nine years, restoring the religious and political order his father had temporarily destroyed. He died under mysterious circumstances in 1323 B.C. and was buried in a small, hastily constructed tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where he remained undisturbed for 3,300 years.
"Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" includes 50 major objects excavated from Tutankhamun's tomb each has an individual story and historical significance.
Among the tomb's treasures are series of objects associated with the pharaoh's embalming. The highlight, said Cooney, is a Viscera Coffin that always draws a large crowd. It is one of four miniature coffins used to house King Tut's internal organs. The one on display in this exhibit held his liver.
The mini-coffin is an exact miniature of King Tut's famous golden funeral sarcophagus. People are surprised when they see the mini-coffin in person. The work on it is so fine and detailed that photographs of the canoptic jar easily trick people into thinking it's the full-size sarcophagus, Cooney said.
"It's funny because people are either really amazed because something so small is so exquisite, or they are really angry because it is so small." Because of conservation and security issues, the larger burial sarcophagus never has and never will leave Egypt, she said.
The final room of the exhibit highlights five items associated with Tutankhamun's mummy. Hundreds of articles ranging from jewelry to weapons were found placed inside the wrappings on King Tut's body. Among them was an informal crown featuring the protective figures of the vulture and cobra and a solid gold dagger strategically strapped to the thigh as an aid in fending off villains during the dangerous journey to the afterlife.
Other relics shed light on King Tut's divinity and daily duties.
Two golden statuettes depicting Tutankhamun as the king of Upper and Lower Egypt were among 35 ritual figures of the king and deities sealed inside wooden shrines within the tomb. Both figures stand on black bases holding the symbols of kinship called the crook and flail. The colors and stance of the statuettes suggest rebirth and regeneration.
A small statue shrine found in the antechamber of the tomb depicts King Tut and his wife, Ankhesenamun, in a variety of activities. The shrine is 2 feet high and, at one time, probably was the base for a statuette, though the exact purpose is unknown, Cooney said. "It's unusual because it shows King Tut with his half-sister bride and they are engaged in intimate daily life scenes, which you don't usually see. The craftsmanship is amazing."
People are drawn to Tutankhamun for a number of reasons, Cooney said.
"Its partially about materials. The things found in his tomb really resonate with our society. We're pulled to the wealth and we don't understand why they would bury it away."
Another reason is "people in our culture don't come face to face with death. So we are somehow drawn to people who prepared for it their whole life."
But the problem with Tutankhamun, Cooney said, is that you have hordes of objects and hardly any other documentation.
"We know very little about him historically, but we have all this stuff. It makes you wonder what would we have had in more important kings, if their tombs had not been looted. That's why other items are included. It gives the public context."
More than 70 objects in the exhibit are from other tombs dating to the earlier years of the 18th Dynasty. These include artifacts from King Tut's great-grandparents on both sides.
Among these is a colossal statue of Akhenaten that gives new meaning to the phrase "bigger than life." At more than 5 feet high, only the head of Egypt's most controversial pharaoh remains. The rest of the statue was lost in antiquity whether it was destroyed by officials or the elements is unknown. But, Cooney said, "what we do have is a very striking statue that shows him (Akhenaten) with the typical exaggerated features associated with the religious shift of the time period."
A gilded coffin and mask belonging to King Tut's great-grandmother, Tuyu, represent the riches of non-royal, upper-class burials. The tomb of Tuyu and her husband Yuya was found intact and remained the most celebrated historical find in the Valley of the Kings until Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun. Tuyu and Yuya were the parents-in-law of Amenhotep III, and as such were an unexpected addition to the Valley of the Kings. "We think they were given the honor because their daughter was high queen," Cooney said. "But we're not sure."
Museum curators have worked hard to make sure the Tut experience goes beyond the objects on display, Cooney said. National Geographic images, film footage about the golden age of the pharaohs and information on research into the life and death of King Tut are an interactive part of the exhibit as are facial reconstruction images of how scientists think King Tut might have looked when he was alive.
A separate gallery for children was designed to conquer boredom and confusion. Parents who worry the exhibit will be too much for younger children shouldn't, Cooney said. "We really had children in mind when we created it."
Called "The Pharaoh's World," it is a special area allowing children to physically experience the mysteries of Egypt. Excavation boxes filled with sand-covered scarabs, mirrors decorated with royal headdresses and Egyptian board games serve as hands-on learning tools for children and their families. Other activities include building pyramids, wrapping mummies and writing protective wishes.
"I hope this exhibition brings more questions than answers," Cooney said. "We try to tell the viewer how Egyptologists see things and show that history is not a collection of facts, it's a question of arguments."If you miss King Tut in Los Angeles, you can see it at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from December 2005 to April 2006, The Field Museum in Chicago from May 2006 to January 2007, and The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia from February to September 2007.
Creating a mummyThe ancient Egyptians began the practice of mummification almost 5,000 years ago. The process was supposed to enable the deceased's spirit to reunite with the embalmed mummy and become immortal.
Internal organs were removed and placed in containers called canopic jars. The lids of the jars were topped with the heads of the sons of the god Horus. They offered protection to the organs.
Imsety (Human head) liver
Duamutef (Jackal head) stomach
Hapy (Baboon head) lungs
Qebehsenuef (Falcon head) intestinesBrains were scooped out with bronze hooks through the nose.
EmbalmingAfter organ removal the body was washed with palm wine and spices. The corpse was then packed in natron, a natural salt, for 40 days. The natron dissolved the body fat, destroyed the bacteria and left the corpse flexible and more lifelike. The final process involved pouring tree resin over the body and rubbing the skin with a mixture of cedar oil, wax and gum.
The body was packed with linen, sawdust and sand to give it shape. The final wrapping process involved covering the entire body with large sheets of linen (up to 20 layers) and bandages. The digits of the hands and feet were individually wrapped. A sticky resin was applied to seal the bandages during the process.
Wrapping: 15 daysEntire process: 70 days
The mummy's nest (a series of three coffins) was placed in a stone sarcophagus.
Middle mummy case
Made of wood covered with gold and stones
Tutankhamun's was made of solid gold and weighed 245 pounds
Outer mummy caseMade of wood covered with gold and stones
The maskThe mask of a mummy was meant to protect or act as a substitute head if the real one was damaged. The Tut mask was solid gold with inlaid gemstones.
The curseComment on this story
The rumors of a curse on Tutankhamun's tomb blossomed after Howard Carter's entry on Feb. 17, 1923. The legend has it that Lord Carnarvon (financier of the expedition) was the curse's first victim. Other individuals who entered the tomb died later, adding to the myth.
Carnarvon apparently died from an infected mosquito bite. Mysteriously his canary was eaten by a cobra the same day. The lights in Cairo were said to have gone out. His dog, Susie, supposedly howled and dropped over dead at the moment of his death.All curse connections were later dispelled but treated as real possibilities by the press at the time.
If you go . . .
What: Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd.
When: Through Nov. 15
How much: Prices vary, check Web site for details
Phone: 328-857-6000Web: www.kingtut.org