King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs

Jon and I went to the King Tut: Valley of the Kings exhibit with Jon’s parents, sister and brother-in-law on October 21, 2012. The exhibit is on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington, through early January 2013. I had been excited about going for a while, but we had a pretty busy summer, and we figured that the crowds might die down in the fall when there aren’t quite so many tourists in Seattle. Jon and I were planning to head down to Seattle to see the Calexico show on Friday night (you can read more about that in my previous post), so we decided to just stay another day and hang out with the family and see the exhibit on Sunday. What a great weekend!

The exhibit starts out with a movie in the ante-chamber (that’s a play on words folks, because King Tut’s tomb also has an ante-chamber!) before you are released to go into the actual exhibit. Once you begin there is a big crowd of people, because even though they do a timed entry, you are still entering the exhibit all at once with the other people at your time. Once you are in, you have as much time as you would like to view the exhibit, but there is no food, no bathroom and no re-entry.

The first several rooms of the exhibit contain statues of various pharaohs and advisors from different periods in Egyptian history. Some of the statues are full bodies, some are just heads. They explain how the facial features actually are portraits, which serve as a good representation of what that individual looked like. They can also tell, based on finding a statue that doesn’t look like who is it supposed to be, that the statue was appropriated by a pharaoh for re-use. Basically, pharaohs sometimes took statues of earlier pharaohs, and had their names carved over the name of the previous ruler. I guess ego isn’t something that is new to this world!

They had a sarcophagus (a box that was built to hold a mummy) for a royal cat who had died and was mummified. They did not explain whether the cat died of natural causes and then was mummified, or if the rulers had their pets killed and then placed in the tombs with them. At any rate, the box was carved with all sorts of cat pictures that were pretty neat.

As you get further along in the exhibit, you get to see gold artifacts from both King Tut’s tomb and others. No, you won’t see his death mask (the Egyptian government has decided that the mask is too fragile to be traveling the world and will remain permanently in Cairo now), but you will see lots of beautiful gold jewelry, including earrings, pendants, bracelets and breast plates. There are also gold chalices, and boxes inlaid with gold and other precious stones. The detail on all of it is exquisite, and it is hard to comprehend how they did this beautiful work 3,000 years ago without the metalworking technology that we have today.

Then, you get to King Tut’s “tomb”, or at least this exhibit’s representation of it. King Tut was buried in a very small tomb compared to all the other pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings, and archaeologists believe that it because he died unexpectedly, and they had to use a tomb that was originally meant for another individual of lesser status. But even so, it had four rooms. There was the ante-chamber, the annex, the burial chamber and the treasury. They were all stuffed to the gills with artifacts. The Egyptians believed that the mummies would magically return to life in the afterlife, so they needed to be buried with all the stuff they would need in the afterlife. King Tut’s tomb was no different.

Archaeologists believe that the tomb was robbed twice, but both times were shortly after King Tut was placed there (within months), because the stolen items were oils and perfumes that were perishable. I’m not sure why they would go for oils, and leave the gold, but that’s just me. That must have been some awesome oil! The next pharaoh went on a campaign to try to scrub King Tut’s name from the records, erasing his name off of statues in his honor, etc., and archaeologists believe that this was good for him in the long run, because his tomb was quickly forgotten and covered over. At one point, there were worker’s huts built over the entrance to the tomb, and the inhabitants likely had no idea what they were sleeping over!

So, the stuff, you ask. The exhibit showed some pictures of the items in the tomb, which included a model boat, complete with oars and sails, figurines of animals, furniture, sandals, and jewelry. When the tomb was discovered, they had to be very careful about removing all the artifacts for preservation, and items were piled high on top of each other in a jumble. Removing one artifact could cause the rest to come tumbling down, so it took 7 weeks to clear out the ante-chamber. King Tut’s mummy was not uncovered until a year and a half after the tomb was discovered!

There were figurines in the form of humans called shabtis, which were representations of servants who would magically come to life in the afterlife so the pharaoh didn’t have to do any work. I would love to have a shabti, although I would want it to come to life right away, and deal with the big pile of laundry on my floor.  The mummy’s organs were also preserved in canopic coffinettes and placed into the canopic chest.  The exhibit shows one of the coffinettes, which are made of gold, and inlaid with carnelian and colored glass.  All four have individual decoration.  And they are magnificent!  Oddly, the ancient Egyptians did not see the brain as important, and they discarded the brain during the mummification process.

A wooden box was also in the tomb, and within the box were two tiny coffins containing the mummies of King Tut’s two daughters, both fetuses.  One fetus was about 5 months along, and the other was 8-9 months (they did remove these mummies before sending the coffins off to tour the world).  It is known that Tutankhamen did not have any surviving children, because the throne did not pass to a descendant of his.

I thought the exhibit was excellent, but I wish they would have provided a bit more information on what the items were used for or whey they were placed in the tomb.  I mean some things were obvious, like a bed or a chair, but what did a ewer hold?  And what was a unguent vessel used for?  If you have a chance to visit, you should – and plan on taking your time!  Maybe it drives Jon’s family nuts that I’m always the last to finish, but at least they don’t try to rush me through!

The exhibit didn’t allow photography, so I don’t have any photos to share, but OregonLive has a Photo Essay with some fantastic exhibit photos.  Check it out here.

3 thoughts on “King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs

  1. I find it fascinating to think that the Pharaohs worked so hard to wipe out the memories of their predecessors. That’s probably really telling of ancient Egyptian culture. Unfortunately almost everything I know about Ancient Egyptian History I learned from Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles. Probably not the most unreliable source I could find among children’s literature, but still.

    • I think that part is very interesting too. It seems like a lot of what they did was to try to undo policies that their predecessors implemented. It seems remarkably similar to our current political system! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Farewell 2012 – Can’t Wait for 2013! | Wine and History Visited

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