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What do Tyrannosaurus Rex and King Tutankhamun have in common -- besides the fact that they’re both dead? They’re the stuff that dreams are made of, and are beloved by children throughout the world.
Otherwise why would there be all this brouhaha over the new exhibit of Tutankhamun And The Golden Age Of The Pharaohs at the Discovery Channel’s museum in Times Square (226 W. 44th Street)? It just opened this April 23, 2010, (and runs until January 2, 2011).
The Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park both have displayed huge collections of ancient Egyptian junk, going back halfway to the Ice Age.
From 3150 BC, when the Scorpion King (played by Dwayne Johnson in the movie) took the newly established throne in 31 BC, and after Cleopatra VII (played by Elizabeth Taylor) was overthrown by the Romans, Egyptian royals commissioned vast quantities of the glittery and garish stuff -- which have been filling up museums throughout the world.
But King Tut is special. His tomb was found intact (one of only three out of hundreds), and there was that curse that everyone’s heard about. Supposedly, everyone who was there when it was opened in 1922 dropped dead. Yes!
That’s because it was opened 90 years ago and most people didn’t live that long back then. The story of Howard Carter’s discovery of Tut’s tomb is iconic. Everyone’s heard about it, and it is just the thing to fire up the imagination of eternal six-year-olds everywhere.
There’s glamor to grave robbing of this kind, and none of it is more glamorous than this.
The Discovery Channel set up this museum a few years ago to show artifacts related to its various shows, and has done well enough to keep itself in business. Some of the artifact collections such as those dredged up from the Titanic, are glamorous, and that’s what keeps the institution running. But it really doesn’t have the gravitas or prestige of New York's Metropolitan Museum or the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Of course they don’t charge you to get in (that hefty price on the sign at the front of the Met is a suggested donation, you can pay a penny and they have to let you in), and the reason for the traveling exhibition is to raise funds for a brand new museum outside of Cairo, which costs a ton of money. Still, Dr. Zahi Hawass, who for all intents and purposes owns ancient Egypt, is furious that this particular show is being shown in a “sideshow exhibition hall.” Although he didn’t put it that crudely, He blasted the sponsors right there on the dais for not getting a better venue.
Rarely have I ever seen anyone denounce the people footing the bill in what is usually a gratuitous exhibition of backslapping and advertising. But Hawass, who manages to show up on every single TV show that even mentions ancient Egypt, is major star.
There are plenty of other Egyptologists out there, but he’s the official face of the science, and as such he can say whatever he damn well pleases. After insulting his hosts for the venue, he talked about getting back stolen artifacts. Fat chance.
Since the time of Howard Carter, the Egyptian government has been very vigilant about keeping the good stuff for itself. But before that, they didn’t really give a shit about their pre-Islamic heritage and for the 125 years after Napoleon Bonaparte’s visit, they couldn’t get rid of the stuff fast enough. Besides, some of the stuff was taken a very long time ago. For example, the obelisk in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome has been there since the time of Emperor Caligula.
Isn’t that beyond the statute of limitations?Most of the artifacts are not from King Tut’s tomb. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities has brought along quite a few really nice pieces that have been sitting around the basement of the national museum back in Cairo, in order to put everything in context, then we get to the good stuff: The grave goods of Tjuya, Queen Nefertiti’s mother. Now she and her husband, Yuya, whom some believe was Jewish, was buried in a tomb which has also remained mostly intact; the mummy case, furniture and other items are really cool. These are in fact, the best part of the exhibit, and the craftsmanship is impeccable. They really knew how to make stuff back then.Then there’s king Tut’s daughter, who died as a baby. They have her on exhibit too.
I know this is kind of gross, but museums have always displayed mummies. Mummies have been used as a seasoning in foods, a pigment for painters, and kindling for locomotives. Besides, these people were pagans. If you object to that, please remember that a number of dead popes are displayed in glass cases in St. Peter’s Basilica, and Lenin’s corpse is on there for all to see in Moscow.The highlight of the exhibit is a “coffinette” designed to hold Tut’s liver. It was stolen from Tut’s older brother Smenkhkare’s tomb by Tut’s successor Ay in order to save money, and is in fact a portrait of him. It’s kind of strange that the face on the poster saying King Tut NYC isn’t actually King Tut, which is, in its way, perversely fun.
Click here to learn more about King Tut's return to New York City: http://www.kingtut.org/home
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Tutankhamun And The Golden Age Of The PharaohsApr. 23, 2010 - Jan 2, 2011Discovery Times Square Exposition, New York226 W. 44th Street (Between 7th & 8th Avenues)888.9tutnyc (888-988-8692)New York CityAlso on Exhibit, or Will be on exhibit:
King Tut The Golden King and The Great Pharaohs Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)Toronto, CanadaNov 24, 2009 - May 2, 2010 Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of The PharaohsDenver Art MuseumDenver, COJuly 1, 2010 - Jan. 2, 2011Pre-register for tickets to the Rocky Mountain West premiere of King Tut! All pre-registrants will have the opportunity to purchase tickets before the general public.
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