"King Tut" Treasure to Return to U.S. in 2005

Jennifer Vernon
for National Geographic News
Updated 1, 2005
After almost three decades the ancient Egyptian tomb treasures of King Tutankhamun will be making a return visit to U.S. shores.

A new exhibition, "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," (see artifacts from the exhibit, currently in Germany) will travel the U.S. for 27 months starting in June 2005. Stops will include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Florida's Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, and the Field Museum of Chicago. (See ticket information.)

Over 130 funerary objects that have rarely or never traveled abroad before are part of the exhibit. The 3,300-to-3,500-year-old artifacts come from the tombs of 18th-dynasty pharaoh Tutankhamun and others buried in the Valley of the Kings.

The last time artifacts from Tutankhamun's tomb visited the U.S. was from 1976 to 1979. This smaller exhibit featuring the boy king, familiarly known as King Tut, toured seven cities and attracted record numbers—approximately eight million visitors in all.

Messages from the Beyond

The concept for the exhibition was developed three years ago by the Museum of Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland, to mark the addition of its new Egypt department, curator and Egyptologist André Wiese said. During its April-to-October stay in Basel this year, the exhibit saw 620,000 visitors, or an average of 4,500 people per day.

Wiese attributes the public's fascination with these well-preserved objects to what they represent: careful preparations for a vital afterlife. An Egyptian tomb artifact, Wiese said, "speaks from the beyond to us."

Showcased in the exhibition are 50 objects found specifically in Tutankhamun's tomb, among them his royal diadem, or crown; the golden, jeweled container holding his mummified organs; an alabaster sculpture of the boy king; a silver trumpet; and a gilded shrine portraying Tutankhamun and his wife. Visitors also can walk through a replica of Tutankhamun's inner burial chamber, which managed to escape looting by grave robbers.

In addition to viewing objects belonging to Tutankhamun, visitors have a unique chance to see artifacts from notable private tombs found in the Valley of the Kings. Artifacts from this rare subset, Wiese explained, provide "a more comprehensive context" in which to view those from pharaohs' tombs.

For example, the tomb of Pharaoh Amenhotep III's parents-in-law, Yuya and Tuyu, held richly decorated objects such as a gilded jewelry box, a wooden throne embellished with gold and silver foil, and a golden mummy mask—all on view in the exhibition. Until the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter, Yuya and Tuyu's intact burial site was thought to be the most important find in the Valley of the Kings.

Wiese's personal favorite object in the show is a small alabaster ointment jar found in front of Tutankhamun's sarcophagus, possibly placed there to protect the mummy.

The jar, which contained precious oil, shows a lion on its lid, signifying Tutankhamun as triumphant king. Around the base are three heads representing ancient Egypt's major enemies: the Libyans, the Nubians, and the Asiatics. Taken together, Wiese says, the jar symbolizes the young pharaoh triumphing over the country's enemies.

World Tour to Support New Cairo Museum

Originally the "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" was intended for display only in Basel, but word of its popularity spread. Additional agreements were brokered with the Egyptian government allowing the exhibition to travel to Germany and the U.S.

Now showing at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle (Art and Exhibition Hall) in Bonn through next May, the show will arrive in the U.S. in June 2005.

The U.S. version of the exhibition will expand on the artifacts by including related National Geographic photographs and television footage. Part of the proceeds raised from the world tour will be earmarked for the construction of a new antiquities museum in Cairo and for ongoing archaeological and preservation efforts within Egypt, said Terry Garcia, executive vice president of the National Geographic Society's Mission Programs division.

Photographer Kenneth Garrett has seen Egyptian artifacts like those in the exhibit more closely than most, having shot ten ancient-Egypt assignments for National Geographic magazine. The pieces, he said, are unbelievably intricate—especially when viewed with the eagle eye of a camera lens.

"They're just exquisite," Garrett remarked. "The workmanship is incredible." Whether in the U.S. or abroad, Garrett believes exhibit visitors are in for a treat. "It's really quite amazing to be in the presence of those things," he said.

The exhibition's U.S. appearances are made possible through an agreement between National Geographic, Arts and Exhibitions International, Anschutz Entertainment Group LIVE, and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.

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