10 tips for King Tut
It’s still a few days till the Tutankhamun spectacular opens at the Dome – so obviously I haven’t seen it yet. I’m not even one of the quarter of a million who have booked an advance ticket, so I imagine it’ll be a long time before I get in there. But I did catch the -- very similar -- version of the show that has been in the States (that's Chicago on the left). So I think I’m qualified to offer some tips. Or to be precise 5 tips for seeing the show, and 5 things to follow up with afterwards.
First . . . for seeing it:
One: Make a bee-line for the glorious alabaster cup carved in the shape of a lotus flower. Everyone goes weak at the knees about Tutankhamun’s gold. But for me this exquisite piece of stone wins every time. It’s got his name written on it, and it was found just at the entrance to the tomb, probably left there by robbers.
Two: Do some prep before you go. There’s more to this show than treasure, so get into Egyptian history and culture. It’ll help you get your money’s worth. As well as the exhibition’s own glossy guides, my favourites for quickly telling you what’s what are Ian Shaw’s, Ancient Egypt: a very short introduction or John Baines’s, Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt.
Three: Don’t forget Akhenaten. This show goes beyond King Tut (in fact, only a third or so of the objects are his). It has a lot to say about Akhenaten, his predecessor, and possibly father. Apart from the Tut treasure factor, “dad” was a much more interesting type, reigning in the middle of the fourteenth century BC and known for his commitment to monotheism. The art of his reign is really distinctive, eerily naturalistic, as you’ll see in the wonderful head in Gallery 5. Knocks on the head the idea that Egyptian art simply when on being the same for millennia.
Four: Don’t expect to see the big gold mask. The exhibition organisers are quite up front in saying that it was too fragile to travel, but people still come expecting to see it. Partly because the publicity material for the show (as you can see above) uses an image of something striking similar. Actually it’s a vastly blown up version of a small “coffinette”, about 16 inches long in all, which IS in the show – and which originally held the pharaoh’s liver.
Five: Be prepared to come face to face, in a way, with Tut. His mummy has just been unveiled in Egypt and isn’t here. But the last gallery contains his CT scans – and from these they’ve reconstructed his head in latex. It was controversial exhibit in the US. What colour should Tut have been? Many people were convinced that he should have been darker.
But now for some surprising places where you can follow the show up – all in the UK . . .
One: If you want the best view of Tut’s tomb this side of Egypt, then go to Dorchester (honest). This Tutankhamun Exhibition is a complete replica of most of it, launched after the British Museum show in 1972 – to carry on the flame of interest in all things Egyptian. Great place to take kids.
Two: For the real stuff. The British Museum is the obvious place, which is probably the best collection of Egyptian archaeology outside Egypt (don’t ask why). Amongst its other treasures, the BM has a great statue of Tutankhamun making traditional religious offerings to the traditional gods. Up yours to the monotheism of Akhenaten.
Three: The best really old-fashioned Egyptology Museum in the country is the Petrie Museum in University College London (right), started in 1892 by the redoubtable Amelia Edwards – who was behind so much of the beginning of professional Egyptology in this country. It’s due to move into new premises in 2008, so get to see it in its old setting soon.
Four: Another great collection is the University of Manchester Museum. And they have an inscribed stela (or slab) which probably shows Tutankhamun.
Five: A bit of a mystery here. It’s the Myers Museum at Eton College, which has an Egyptian faience plaque showing Tut himself drinking from a lotus cup just like the one in the show. I saw this some time ago at Eton, but their website now says that the museum is permanently closed. If anyone knows what has happened to it, do let us know. Maybe it’s now on display elsewhere? Or is it time to be reminding Eton of their charitable status?