King Tutankhamun, more commonly known as King Tut, the boy-king of Egypt in the 1330s B.C., died a mysterious death. No matter how many tests have been done, no one can determine what happened to him. It is only known that he died young, was buried hastily with an immense amount of wealth, and is now the most well-known Pharaoh in the world. And it’s all because he is one of the few kings whose wealth survived largely intact and safe from the grave robbers who were many times the same people who buried their deceased leader.
Some of King Tut’s wealth has left Egypt, though. It didn’t rest quietly with Tutankhamun. Some of it was stolen, but in 1922 a different sort of grave robber came along; London-born archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tut. The treasure has since been removed, much of it on display in museums. Some of it is even on a tour of North America. It stopped in Denver for a few months about two years ago before making a trip up to Minnesota. Now it is making its final stop in the United States at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. From there it heads back to Egypt, possibly never to return. I couldn’t risk the chance, so I made a quick trip to Washington to bid King Tut a final farewell.
Is Howard Carter really a grave robber? The world’s most famous archaeologist, Indiana Jones, was referred to as one in some of his movies. But The Golden King and the Pharaohs exhibit makes it sound like King Tut might think otherwise, assuming he were alive today to say so. Of course, if he were, he’d be thousands of years old and not looking so hot. But living for him and living for us is really two different things. See, according to the exhibit, the Pharaohs are still believed to be alive if people talk about them. And as far as talking and interest goes, no one would be better off than King Tutankhamun. His memory is second to none, not even Ramses the Great.
The King Tut exhibit at the Seattle Pacific Science Center is laid out in the same order as it was in Denver. So, as the case may be, relics of Ramses the Great (left) and other Pharaohs are on display first. So that means not everything is exactly in chronological order. For instance, the death mask of Psusennes is on display before anything of King Tut’s. And Psusennes reigned in the Twenty-first Dynasty, approximately 300 years after King Tut in the Eighteenth Dynasty.
It was a treat to lay eyes on Psusennes’ death mask one last time. As I said previously, it is easily the most impressive item in the whole display. It is the one that catches everyone’s eye, makes them gasp, and then stop and gape as though their minds were brainwashed by aliens and they just crapped themselves. It really is stunning. Not nearly as much so as King Tut’s funerary mask, but there’s no chance of that leaving the Cairo Museum in Egypt anytime in my lifespan. That’s one I can easily write off seeing again, unless I decide to make the trip back to Cairo.
The Seattle King Tut exhibit, I have to be perfectly honest, was better than what I saw in Denver. Yes, as I said, the same treasures were on display at the two museums. But there seemed to be more space in Seattle than in Denver. Of course, that could be because I waited until the last week to see King Tut in Colorado. So that meant everyone and their grandmother was rushing out to see the exhibit before it left for Minnesota. This time I played it smart and saw it early on, not waiting for the final rush that will surely come at the end of December and the beginning of January, just before it gets boxed up to head home.
Photography was also allowed at the Pacific Science Museum. In Denver we were not allowed to take any pictures of the treasures. King Tut’s wealth, as well as that from the other Pharaohs, could only be remembered with the mind’s eye or through the purchase of pricey postcards in the gift shop. So it was a treat that made the whole trip worthwhile to be able to take my own photographs. I loved it and snapped away without hesitation. Here’s a sampling:
I had to remind myself to breathe and remove the camera from my face. Too often when I travel it gets stuck there, always wanting to get the best picture. But with my own reminder I let it hang around my neck. I ignored the impulse to photograph everything from every angle and instead sat on a bench and just admired the displays and the atmosphere for what they were – amazing. It was so much better the second time through. And no, not just because of the space or the photography. It was also because I had seen it before, knew what to expect, and wasn’t overwhelmed by all of the priceless artifacts.
It wasn’t all about King Tut, Ramses II, or Psusennes, either. Other Pharaohs were also remembered. Heck, even Prince Thutmose’s cat was remembered. Its own little sarcophagus was on display, originally meant for the prince to be able to take it to the afterlife with him. Other highlights included, in order below, the colossal statue of Amenhotep IV, the inner coffin of Queen Meritamun, and statues of Khafre and Menkaure, which both grab guest’s right from the moment the doors open on the exhibit.
After going through and admiring dozens, if not hundreds, of items, King Tut finally presents himself. Upstairs, at the top of a long ramp, the headline attraction finally begins with an explanation of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and how it was found by Howard Carter. From there the guest is prepared and understands what is on display and in what order – the antechamber, the burial chamber, the treasury, and the annex.
The Head of a Leopard is what caught my eye and what I most remembered of King Tut’s treasures in Denver. It was found, as the display says, “in context with robes. Sem priests attached this decoration on their garment when they performed the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony on the mummy of the deceased, to ensure the use of all senses in the afterlife.’” I just thought it looked really impressive. The greater meaning of the religious ceremonies involved with mummification were generally lost on me, even after I later saw the IMAX movie, which, as it goes, should be seen before going through the exhibit.
There were several other items that also really impressed me. But, then again, it’s hard not to be impressed when surrounded by so many priceless artifacts that you’ll likely never lay eyes upon again. They’re all so stunning, especially when put into the context of when and how they were made. Some of my favorite of King Tut’s artifacts, in order, were his tiny canopic coffinette, his canopic container, the fan, and the final item of the whole exhibit – the Emblem of Anubis.
To be honest, though, it wasn’t really the end of the display of King Tut’s treasures. They just make you think it is by sending you directly into the gift shop like a herd of cattle off to the slaughter. There’s more after you make all of your souvenir purchases. It’s a small, yet interesting, display on how the death of King Tut is still trying to be solved through various CT scans and DNA studies. And to end it all is something I did not remember seeing in Denver – a replica of the mummy of King Tutankhamun. So I said goodbye to it all with a nod and a squint as I walked out the door and into the day’s sunshine,, hopeful to return to Egypt some day to see such treasures again and remember some of the world’s greatest kings.