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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Everywhere the Glint of Gold

Title is a quote from Howard Carter as he talked about the discovery of King Tut's tomb.

I'm back from Chicago and my visit to the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum. I don't know where to start when it comes to recounting my trip, but maybe I'll just focus on the exhibit itself for right now.

I went with my dad and one of my cousins. Cathy drove--thank God!--and we arrived at the museum about an hour before it opened. We had tickets for the first time slot. I just about died when I saw it was $15 to park at a museum! I don't remember it being that high when we went to see Cleopatra about five years ago or so. Since it would involve a train, two buses and a walk of several blocks to take public transportation to the museum, you'd think they'd have inexpensive parking to encourage visitors to come down.

Since we beat many of the employees to the museum, we were the first ones in line for the exhibit. People started showing up about 20 minutes later and we all stood around until 9am. Then we went up a flight of steps, rented the audio tour and the adventure began.

Most of the items in the first half of the exhibit were from tombs other than Tutankhamun's, and while they were interesting, they could have been from any exhibit of Ancient Egypt. I did learn that the experts are uncertain if the previous pharaoh--the heretic king--was Tut's father or half-brother.

The second half of the exhibit contained actual items from Tutankhamun. This was more interesting to me, although I'm not sure why. Maybe because from the time I was a small child, wonder always surrounded King Tut in a way that it never touched other pharaohs or important persons.

Most of the items from Tut were small things. One of the most fascinating pieces IMO, was a diadem that he'd worn when he was alive--or so they believe. It features a cobra and a falcon(?) in front. The images are all copyrighted or I'd post a few here, but if you're interested, the official King Tut website has a gallery of images including the diadem.

The other thing I found very interesting was the room where they had the floor marked out, showing the different layers over the coffin. There were like three nested sarcophagi and then five or six other boxes around it. National Geographic did an animation showing the different layers that had to be removed to reach the actual mummy.

They also showed the results of a CT scan done in 2005 and disproved a lot of theories. It seems a lot of the breaks to the bones were done after death, most likely by the archeological team in the 1920s. They also showed that the so-called spine abnormality wasn't something Tut lived with, that curvature was a result of the way the mummifiers had positioned him. That blows a theory I saw on Discovery Channel or History Channel or somewhere that his death came because of this genetic flaw. The current theory is that a severe break to the femur had become infected and killed him. The scan showed that Tut was largely healthy and well-nourished.

The exhibit ended in the gift shop--of course--and while I tried to be good, I ended up buying the official exhibit book (complete with a CD of the audio tour). That was $50! Gulp! I also picked up a DVD of the exhibit for my mom to watch and some postcards. They had gorgeous hand-blown Egyptian glass perfume bottles and I debated buying one of those for the longest time, but decided I'd spent enough. When I checked out, I discovered right I was.

The gift shop was amazing--and not in a positive way. There were King Tut kleenex boxes where the tissue came out of his nose. There were key chains, shot glasses, men's ties, pens, pencils, head dresses, cards, etc. The list of items goes on and on and on. I honestly stood in that store with Steve Martin's King Tut song going through my head, particularly the phrases: "He gave his life for tourism" and "they're selling you." There were a number of items like the tissue box that made me wonder "what were they thinking?" It was simply TTFW--Too Tacky For Words.

My overall impression of the exhibit was that it was interesting, but that it fell far short of the exhibit that toured the US in the 1970s. Okay, so I was really, really young when I saw that, but I remember it being very impressive and so did my cousin who went with me. It wasn't only that the large funerary mask was not there (it won't be allowed out of Egypt any longer), it was that a lot of the impressive pieces were missing and the presentation was mundane. In the 70s, they replicated a pyramid to house the exhibit and that made it like extra cool. I'm not sure this current exhibit was worth the drive to and from Chicago--especially since we did it in 2 days.

My overall rating is go if this is something you're absolutely fascinated by, but don't expect the magic of the 1970s tour of artifacts.