Tuesday, November 13, 2007

King Tut Exhibit --- Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

Warning: a rather long post, try not to nod off.

The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

It's not often that the treasures from the tomb of King Tutankhamun are exhibited outside of Egypt but over 130 Egyptian articles, including 50 from this famous tomb were displayed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia between February and September in 2007.

We were lucky enough to purchase tickets to King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs which was a very interesting show, beautifully set up and displayed throughout eleven galleries. The tickets allowed entry at half hour intervals to ensure a relatively uncrowded and organized tour of the exhibits. Even at the end of August these separate slots were still selling out. However we actually managed to be in a time slot which was busy but not sold out so we made our way leisurely through the exhibit.

The painted metal decoration on the front staircase,
attached to each riser

I think most of you are familiar with the discovery of King Tut's tomb by archeologist Howard Carter in 1922. This tomb was by far the best preserved and most intact tomb of a pharaoh ever found in the Valley of the Kings, for ancient grave robbers had usually stripped them fairly clean. A rich storehouse of treasures was discovered by Carter and Lord Carnavon who had financed the 15 year search for this tomb.

Many years ago I read a book about the fascinating story of this discovery and the tale of the so-called curse which followed those who disturbed the tomb. I also visited the Cairo Museum in 1960 and saw the famous gold mask and other items from the tomb displayed rather unimpressively in assorted cases. However now these treasures are treated with great care and displayed with great artistic skill to show to advantage their beauty and value. I am always impressed by today's high standards of displays in museums and this one was especially good.

Image used for advertising the exhibit, taken from the
viscera coffinette of King Tut.

No photography was permitted in the exhibit so apart from the photos of the Institute above the images in this post are taken from here. I have nine pages of notes, written in the half dark as I wandered through this wonderful exhibit but I shall have to trim that somewhat here.

Beginning with a short film narrated by Omar Sharif, the tour began with objects belonging to Tut's predecessors and explanations of their lineage and connections. As for King Tut, his mother is known but his father is not. As we passed from gallery to gallery the displays gave some of the history of Egypt and illustrated daily life of the time, tying in with the objects on display. There was a discussion of the traditional beliefs of the Egyptians, the gods they worshiped and the fact that Pharaoh was an intermediary with them but became a god upon his death.

Beautiful inlaid pectoral of King Tutankhamun on display

The fact that the Egyptians believed in an afterlife and the importance of mummification and burial was illustrated both in objects on display and in large wall explanations including photos from the Valley of the Kings and inside some of the tombs.

Following the history of his predecessors, there was a gallery devoted to Amenhotep IV, whose radical change in beliefs altered the life of Egypt significantly. He believed in a single god, Aten, the sun god, and changed his name to Akhenaten, and moved his capital to Amarna. He also changed the style of art and architecture, building temples without roofs so that the sun could be seen. However his ideas proved very radical, especially for the priesthood. With his wife, Nefertiti, he had six daughters but no sons.

Around 1330 BC, as Tutankhaten and at about nine years old, Tut became pharaoh probably by virtue of his marriage to Ankhsenamun, the third daughter of Akhenaten. However, no doubt under pressure, after a few years he restored the previous religious beliefs and reinstalled the priesthood. He was renamed Tutankhamun and he moved the capital back to Thebes but died at about 19, around 1323 BC, with no living heirs, although two mummified stillborn babies were found in his tomb.

The next gallery included a discussion of the search for and discovery of the tomb. While robbers had been in the outer rooms, the burial chamber was untouched. Carter, on opening the chamber, said, "Everywhere was the glint of gold." On display, there were many items from the tomb used in daily life: mirrors, game boards, vessels, cosmetic containers, chests, even a chair probably used by Tut as a child.

Child's chair with footrest

The mummy was protected by an outer coffin or sarcophagus made of red quartzite and was highly decorated with figures of goddesses, hieroglyphic texts and painting. It measured nine feet long, five feet wide and nine feet high. Inside nested three man-shaped gold inner coffins. Its face was covered by the gold mask and when the mummy was removed from the linen wrappings there were hundreds of pieces of jewellery and amulets included, even a dagger and sheath which was on display here. Some very fine pieces from the mummy were displayed including the pectoral shown above, a beautiful gold falcon collar and a golden diadem with a cobra on the front and a vulture on the back representing Upper and Lower Egypt and which was found on his head below the mask. In this gallery was a spectacular film recreating in three dimensions the sarcophagus and the various coffin layers, as well as a layout depicting the actual size of the sarcophagus.

Diadem with cobra on the front and
vulture on the back.

Since the image used on every brochure and in all the advertising for this exhibit was of the head of this coffinette you may be surprised to learn that it stands a mere 12 inches high but it is a beautiful object of gold, enhanced with carnelian, rock crystal, obsidian and coloured glass. It was one of a number of containers used to hold organs from the body.

Viscera coffinette

The last room of the exhibit told of the various examinations of the mummy using modern day techniques including the 1968 X-ray studies which found several broken ribs and a recent fracture in his left knee.

However, in 2005, CT scans were made of the mummy which concluded that he had died of gangrene after breaking his leg, not that he had been murdered as was previously speculated since there was a break at the base of his skull. It has been concluded that this was probably created during the mummification process. He was thought to be healthy and had no cavities in his teeth although he had an impacted wisdom tooth.

A forensic reconstruction of his face was also undertaken from the CT scans by several teams of sculptors with many similarities between the results.

Recently, on November 4th, 2007, the unwrapped mummy was placed in a climate controlled display case in the tomb in the Valley of the Kings and for the first time it is on show to the general public.

Not everyone totally approved of this move, for example here at Nourishing Obscurity where James also discusses the so called curse. However, Jams O donnell of The Poor Mouth is far more positive about it here.

I cannot truly describe how interesting and comprehensive this exhibit was. It has since moved to London, England and I can only say if you get the chance to see it you will not regret it. An excellent preview of the exhibit is shown on this website.

Once again images of articles on exhibit are from here.

I'm sure your eyes have long since glazed over, however this was as much for me as for you, my dear readers. You will also be pleased to know that here endeth my tale of our trip to the beautiful city of Philadelphia.


Sarabeth said...

No glazing over eyes here. Thanks. I enjoyed the series. I got to travel without leaving my chair.

Josie said...

My eyes didn't glaze over. This was very interesting. I have always been fascinated with Akhenaten, King Tutankhamun's father-in-law. Did you see the exhibit of Ramses when Expo 86 was here? That's the only exhibit I have ever seen of the ancient Pharoahs, and I was impressed. So I can just imagine what the exhibit at The Franklin Institute must have been like.

Eurodog said...

Lovely post, jmb.
The "objets" they recovered in the tomb are absolutely stunning and it is amazing they survived.
I left a message for you on my last post as a reply to your comment.

True Blue said...

JMB: That was terrifically interesting, as in all of your postings. We are going down to London soon to visit eldest Daughter and family so will try and get to see this exhibition. If not,we have a fine Museum here, in the City of Liverpool, so I shall check the Web site to see if the exhibition is coming here too, as is often the case.
Thanks again,

Dragonstar said...

This is one of the things I love about blogging - all the interesting things I can learn! Many thanks for all this.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

How could we nod off when you make it so interesting, jmb? I'd love to be able to see this exhibition for real but the next best thing is to take the jmb tour! What a good idea the staircase decoration is. You have given us wonderful historical detail and great photos. I'm not sure they should have unwrapped the mummy, though.

Janice Thomson said...

What a fabulous post Jmb! Anything about Egypt is fascinating to my mind and this tour of yours was excellent. I can imagine you have memories of this that will last forever. Thanks so very much for this post.

lady macleod said...

fascinating, really just fabulous. thank you for sharing, now I want to go!

Ellee said...

It's just arrived in London, I shall be sure to visit too:


Sir James Badger said...

How's your health, JMB?

Tai said...

Great post! Not glazed over at all, the history is so interesting!

jams o donnell said...

Great post. I'm looking forward to visiting teh exhibition. I went to the last one in the 70s. As for the curse you know that everyone who enters the tomb dies......

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

One theory Moses was in fact an Egyptian Prince who retained Akhenaten's montheist cult in a far flung Egyptian province (Canaan WAS Egyptian at this point).

By this theory, the Jews ARE the ancient Canaanites (Archaeology confirms this to some degree), and there so-called conquerors actually egyptians who changed the story a bit over the years.

Carver said...

I'm sorry the Philadelphia tour is over and you never cause my eyes to glaze over. Thanks for another fascinating tour. I'll look forward to the next wherever it may be.

Dreaming again said...

I saw the exhibit when I was 13, as a 7th grader, 30 years ago. It is something I hope I never forget.

It was really neat to find out that TK also was able to see it that same tour, about the same age. To be able to share that experience is a unique treasure.

It is, a rare gift to have seen the treasures of King Tut.

I would have liked to have seen it as an adult when it came through again, if it comes through near me ... I will certainly go see it.

jmb said...

Hi Sarabeth,
I'm glad you enjoyed Philadelphia with me although I'm sure you've been there yourself at sometime.

Hi Josie,
I have read so many books about that period myself. It was a wonderful exhibit.

Hi Eurodog,
They display everything so well nowadays that the objets do look wonderful. Thanks for the answer.

Hi True Blue,
Do try to visit this exhibit if you get the chance. It's worth it. Lucky you with a good museum. Ours is not great.

Hi Dragonstar,
Thank you for reading and not going to sleep. It was a long post but interesting to me at least.

Hi Welshcakes,
I loved the stairs too. They must have printed the whole thing on metal and then cut it into strips and attached it to the risers. I think they unwrapped the mummy to protect it from the wrappings which were affecting it badly in some way.

Hi Janice,
I think Egypt was a fascinating place in ancient times and have read a lot about it.

Hi Lady Mac,
You'll have to nip over to London to see it now but you would love it.

Hi Ellee,
You can get to go too you lucky thing. Trust me, it's worth it.

Sir James,
And how is yours? You Jams and I can all expect the same results from our writing. Nothing, I hope, but how will we be sure?

Hi Tai,
a very interesting time indeed and it's hard to believe that these things are so old but so well preserved.

Hi Jams,
You get to go too! I'm sure this one will be better than the earlier one because they make the exhibits so much better now. I guess I'd better not go to the tomb.

Hi Crushed,
That's an interesting theory you've proposed there. I wonder if we will ever hear that as a mainstream theory.

Hi Carver,
Well I first saw them almost 50 years ago and I do remember them. I have a slide somewhere I should look out.
I read that th exhibit is going to come back to the USA next year starting with Dallas. Two other stops as well I believe.

Thanks to all of you for visiting and commenting.

jmb said...

Hi PK,
You might get to see them again on their return to the US next year.
It is indeed a wonderful memory that you have. I hope you were suitably impressed, even as a young adult. Imagine TK seeing it too.

Voyager said...

JMB, my eyes did not glaze over at all. Your post brought back memories of this exhibit in Seattle almost thirty years ago. It was thrilling then, and would be again. Thanks for taking us there.

Baron Higham-West said...

You started ths so long ago, JMB, that I've forgotten whether you mentioned the WC Fields quip about Phillie.

Liz said...

He was very young, wasn't he? And two stillborn babies. How sad. What skill and artistry displayed by the crafstmen of the day. And we think we're so clever!

Liz said...

Oh, yes, and there is a photo on my blog just for you!

jmb said...

Hi Voyager,
I wonder why I didn't go to Seattle for the show when it was there. I guess life interfered.

Hi James,
Yep, a while ago. I didn't make the reference to WC then but I remember that you did. I had forgotten it.

Hi Liz,
I think it makes him more real now that they have done the facial reconstruction. He was a very minor ruler in the scheme of things but how famous he became because of his tomb.
The items are amazingly ornate and skillfully made.
I'll be over to check it out.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Kmb- It was first proposed by Freud. A lot of historians DO take it seriously. Myself, I think it fits the facts.

Richard Havers said...

I learned a lot, thank you....

MedStudentWife said...

You really should be writing travel stuff.. books or reviews or soemthing

Glad to see that the storm didn't keep you off ( or off too long). Any damage ?

jmb said...

Crushed, thanks for the info. I think you must have a photographic memory. You are always coming up with this interesting stuff.

Hi Richard,
Glad you enjoyed the post and the images I hope.

I'm just blathering on here. Lots of good stuff out there already.
We didn't have a power outage for once. We almost always do where we live. No damage to our place but lots around. The first big windstorm of the season.


Colin Campbell said...

We have had two smallish Egyptian history exhibits here in Adelaide in the last two years. Very interesting and beautifully presented as you say.

My daughter came up with an Egyptian joke this week. Why was the Egyptian son confused when his dad died. Because his Daddy was a Mummy. Lame but fun.