All that glitters really is gold when you’re an Egyptian pharaoh.
Gold sandals, gold statues, gold jewelry. They are some of the 130 artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun and other Egyptian sites on display starting Thursday at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center.
For the next seven months, you can see that gold, masks and even a sarcophagus for a beloved cat in the exhibit “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs.”
King Tut, as he’s better known, never saw most of the glorious treasures sealed in his tomb 3,335 years ago in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, the exhibit’s creative director Mark Lach said Wednesday. The Boy King died at 19 from unknown causes and was hastily (by pharaonic standards) buried.
It has been more than 30 years since a King Tut exhibit reached Seattle. A show similar to the current one toured the United States several years ago, but didn’t make it to this area.
This new show has an almost entirely new selection of treasures and more than twice as many artifacts as the 1970s show, which drew long lines of people from around the region. The tomb, discovered by British archeologist Howard Carter 90 years ago, yielded thousands of artifacts.
The discovery captivated the world in 1922, influenced art and architecture for years, and is still considered the world’s greatest archeological discovery – all because Tut’s tomb, unlike most of his royal family’s tombs, wasn’t plundered.
“That’s why the discovery of the intact tomb was so important to Egyptologists,” Lach said.
Tut’s mummy was returned to the tomb after study and remains there.
Tut didn’t accomplish much during his short reign.
“King Tut would have probably gotten lost in the pages of history if not for this find,” Lach said.
About 60 visitors at a time begin their tour of the exhibit by entering a small foyer and viewing a two-minute introductory film narrated by Harrison Ford, who played fictional archeologist Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and other movies.
Visitors then amble through 10 galleries, the first few of which contain artifacts from various other periods of ancient Egypt. Tut’s treasures come at the end.
The beginning of the show is impressive, although the highly stylized statues and stone heads are cold, their expressions impassive.
Eventually, the exhibit begins to show a different side of the inscrutable Egyptians. A 3,500-year-old black stone statue of Senenmut, a high official in the court of Hatshepsut, holds and protects the young Princess Nefrure.
A statue of the priest Kai from 2,500 B.C. depicts his tiny son and daughter with their hands grasping his legs, the son bringing his other hand pensively to his chin. The nude boy is painted brown; the daughter is a lighter color and wearing a sleeveless gown.
The show also contains the practical: A limestone latrine seat from the palace of Amarna, circa 1372 B.C., has a narrow, keyhole-shaped slot for royal business.
Ancient Egyptians were clearly cat people. A stone sarcophagus as big as a doghouse once contained the remains of Thutmose’s pet cat, circa 1410 B.C. Carvings show the cat in life as well as mummified. Also carved on the cover is a mouse, perhaps to remind the feline of a favored activity in life – or its job in the afterlife.
In another gallery is the first image of Tutankhamun – and it’s a whopper. The 10-foot statue once stood in his mortuary temple. Aside from its size, the sculpture is remarkable because it retains hints of its original paint.
In a gallery called “Pharaoh’s Gold,” visitors get the first look at the precious metal, which the ancient Egyptians believed to be the skin of their gods. In the center of the room sits a solid-gold mask that glows so brightly it seems to be lit from within. The roughly 2-foot-high mask once covered the head of Psusennes I, who lived about 1000 B.C.
The final section of the show is devoted to Tut. A short film relates the discovery of the tomb and ends with the command, “Now enter the tomb of Tutankhamun.”
The Tut galleries reflect the four rooms of his tomb (annex, antechamber, treasury and burial chamber), and each holds some of the relics discovered in them. One of the first objects Carter found was Tut’s bed, and that also is one of the first objects visitors see. The white painted wooden bed has feline feet.
A small ivory game box with nine playing pieces sits in a display case. It’s one of Lach’s favorite because it humanizes the young Tutankhamun, he said.
“You can imagine the Boy King playing this with his family. They probably let him win every time, considering he’s the King,” Lach said.
Beauty mixes with the gruesome here. A canopic jar top carved from calcite into a likeness of Tut is painted with lipstick and eyeliner. The jar was used to hold Tut’s internal organs after mummification. A beautifully rendered tiny coffin created in the same style of his mummy’s coffins once contained his stomach.
Small statues made from a variety of materials fill one case. Tut’s jewelry – necklaces, rings, earrings – are on display. So are his golden sandals and the intricately detailed finger and toe caps found on his mummy. The gold covers even have fingernails and toenails.
Out of the roughly 130 artifacts in the exhibit, 50 are from Tut’s tomb. But if visitors are looking for the iconic solid-gold funerary mask – the highlight of the 1970s blockbuster show – they’ll have to go to Cairo to find it. Egyptian authorities say they’ll never allow it to leave the country again.