It’s hard to not think about death when your choice of activity for the day revolves around a sarcophagus. Early on in this distinctive exhibit, you get a chance to see a complete record of pharaohs from a famous era of Egypt’s history. But in viewing vast swaths of history from a distance—knowing that each consecutive name only rose to prominence with the passing of the last—mortality becomes painfully apparent.
Many people believe that attaining sufficient power to make a large impact on the world will keep one’s name living on in history, and if one is remembered then perhaps that person’s time on earth gains meaning. After all, we certainly remember the powerful and influential people of our recent history—our George Bushes and Einsteins, Wright Brothers and Napoleons. However, gazing down at a list of names of Egyptian pharaohs (all of whom certainly had respectable celebrity status at one time) it’s demoralizing to realize that the majority of them are now no more than labels for an unknown character of unknown accomplishments, no matter how great they were to people of their time.
The most famous of the pharaohs, Tutankhamun, is still one of Egypt’s biggest mysteries, his story lost with the passing of centuries. But for once, time has decided to give back a little lost majesty, and now a boy king who was quickly forgotten in the years after his rule has risen to prominence in modern times as a symbol for a society three thousand years past.
His mummy has travelled thousands of miles to our own Atlanta Civic Center, the exhibition’s first stop in its North American tour. The thoroughly professional exhibit at the Civic Center opens with a short introduction to Howard Carter (discoverer of Tut’s tomb) and Tutankhamun. The crowd is then led into a series of spacious, dimly lit rooms full of statues and treasures from many different dynasties during the ancient Egyptian era. The small amount of lighting emphasizes each particular treasure—most of which are encased in glass—while information is offered on LCD screens, through intermittent speaker audio and in plain old writing on the walls. Each piece is described in detail by the plaques on or near it, but those who forked overan extra seven bucks got to hear even more details by way of a companion audio device that contains narration by none other than Harrison Ford.
Later in the tour, you “join up” with Carter and his team at the excavation site just prior to their breaking into the faux-stone entrance to the tomb. You’re then privileged to follow along as he proceeds through the antechamber, treasure room and burial room. Each confined area is filled with Tutankhamun’s personal riches that helped send him into the afterlife. You’ll see the young king’s glass and gold earrings, canopic jars, protective Shabti warrior figurines and even Tut’s golden sandals.
Carter seems to parallel Tut’s own pattern of recognition, being thrust into the limelight for a few years and suffering neglect before finally enjoying renewed interest long after death. Though unfortunately, Carter’s neglect came before his life was over; near his end, he was commonly seen with nothing better to do than hang around the well-known Luxor Winter Palace Hotel in Egypt just waiting for some visitor who might be interested in talking to him.
But today, Carter is inexorably linked with Tut, and it is through his eyes that the King Tut exhibit brings us into Tutankhamun’s world.
The people behind the Tut exhibit create a great atmosphere throughout the whole experience, which is only slightly hampered by security guards dressed all in black, not to mention the occasional trapdoor-like grate you’ll step on underneath the carpet. Still, the place encourages a thoughtful mood. Questions come up like, “Can we accurately understand people in death by the riches they gained during life?” “Should we judge an entire people based on their ruler?” “Did the female pharaohs break down gender roles during their inspirational rule or did they perpetuate them?”
It’s safe to say most people will get a lot out of the couple of hours spent inside the King Tut exhibit. Despite my initial morbid thoughts, what personally resonated the most by the end of the presentation was the emphasis ancient Egyptians placed on life even in the face of death, and I was inspired enough to purchase an ankh necklace to remind me of it. I would hope others got the same out of the experience. The exhibit will be in Atlanta until May of this year, and I’d certainly consider the thirty dollar ticket to this exhibition to be a steal.