Last week I visited the ‘Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures’ exhibition in Manchester with Mary-Ann Craig (video), and well… saw wonderful things, and everywhere, the glint of gold. The moment I marvelled at the recreation of the set-up used to remove Tutankhamun’s sarcophagi from his tomb, any doubts still left about the power of replicas disappeared, and I would strongly suggest you visit the touring exhibition before it leaves the UK.
As any good exhibition (especially one with many students, young and old, in its audience) should, ‘Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures’ starts by putting King Tut in context geographically, and most important on a timeline. Fast-forward to 1922, Valley of the Kings, where we join Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon for the most important archaeological discovery of all times KV62, or Tutankhamun’s tomb.
When Carter started clearing the tomb, he recorded each artefact (more than 5,000 in total), and made sure the most important treasures, and their location, were captured on glass plate (no film yet) by photographer Harry Burton. It is these detailed records and amazing black-and-white captures, that have allowed for ‘Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures’ to be produced, and when entering the recreation of Tut’s tomb chambers, you truly feel you are allowed a peek through Carter’s eyes. (See Burton’s images and the recreation of the chambers in the video below.)
To my surprise, it was not the reproduction of the tomb scenes ‘as was’ that fascinated me most. Most enthralling was the life-size depiction of how Carter managed to, despite the limited space in the tomb, lift the heavy, golden coffins out of the sarcophagus something that is terribly hard to convey in just images or text.
After the recreation of Harry Burton’s pictures as Bob points out, in full-colour and 3D you see high-quality replicas of the pharoah’s burial shrines, his coffins and golden death mask (see King Tut’s mask in 3D and take the quiz to test your knowledge), the canopic shrine and chest, one of Tutankhamun’s gilded chariots and many of the Boy King’s grave gifts the famous ones, as well as some very personal ones. From these, my favourite must be the tiny wooden chair used by the pharaoh when he was just a little child; an object I would have definitely overlooked, were it not for Bob.
Other often underappreciated treasures on display are the recreated coffins of two mummified foetuses (as they were found in his tomb, they are likely to be Tut’s), the trumpets and other music instruments, the beautiful miniature boats and a multitude of ritual figurines with their black, wooden coffins. Until I saw these statuettes all assembled, I did not realise just how many were amassed and repurposed for Tut’s burial.
There is more to be said for the exhibition than that it puts the discoveries made by Carter back in context. It is great to see Tut’s treasures, even if they are ‘mere’ recreations, given the space they deservewhich allows for looking at the artefacts from all angles, minus the annoyance of fingerprint-stained glass.
The impressive set-up does not only provide enough space for the boy king’s treasures, but also for their visitors. It is surprisingly pleasant to read* the detailed information signs without the breath of a dozen sweaty, smelly tourists on your neck.
Overall, a really gratifying visit (not the least thanks to Bob’s excellent tour), and if you are in charge of kids that need to be entertained or educated over the holiday season (or grown-up friends who could do with an introduction to ancient Egypt), DO take them to the Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures Manchester, rather than the Book of the Dead show currently on at the British Museum.
The journey through the afterlife is interesting, no doubt, but Tutankhamun’s replica treasures tell the story as well, with the addition of a personal touch and information and objects from the daily royal life in ancient Egypt.
For tickets, opening times and activity sheets for your kids to use, seetutankhamunmanchester.com. For the Christmas holidays, you can visit ‘Tut at Twilight’, have all your (ancient Egypt) questions answered by Egyptologists present in the galleries, and return home with your very own special Hieroglyphic exhibition mug.
* I am not a fan of audio guides. Although I consider a good narrative essential for an exhibition to be engaging, I do like to explore that storyline ‘at my own pace’, reading the information with objects I find interesting, skipping the parts (I believe) I already know off, or often return to a related object to take a better look. But Bob said the audio guide that accompanies the ‘Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures’ exhibition in Manchester is excellent, so please, don’t let my old fashioned ideas and inability to come to terms with new technology stop you from using it! 😉