In June, the annual Tony Awards celebrated Broadway royalty, but the hottest ticket on the Great White Way actually belongs to one of the oldest royal figures to ever sit on a throne. Tut-mania descended on Manhattan this spring when Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs made its debut at the Discovery Times Square Exposition, located on 266 West 44th Street. New York City is the final stop on a world-wind tour that marks the last time the relics of King Tutankhamun will ever leave Egypt.
This is not the first time that the boy king has captivated the Big Apple. In 1979, The Treasures of Tutankhamun (King Tut) exhibition was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has 50 artifacts from King Tut’s tomb, only a portion were shown during 1979 exhibit, as well as 80 additional artifacts from the tombs of his ancestors and other high-ranking notables.
Ever since the tomb of the ancient pharaoh was unearthed in November 1922 by Howard Carter, he has been shrouded in mystery. Who was King Tutankamun? How did he die? Was he murdered? Who were his parents? Tutankhamun was one of the last kings of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. Although, much of his life is still unknown due to the eradication his records and those of his ancestors by ancient Egyptian officials, the world knows more about Egypt’s most popular ruler than it ever has before.
Tutankhamun was the son of pharaoh Akhenaten and Kiya, one of Akhenaten’s minor wives. His birth was believed to be around 1343 B.C. His father created upheaval during his reign by moving the country’s capital from Memphis to Akhetan, now known as Amarna, and banning polytheistic worship in favor for the new, monotheistic religion of Aten. In 1333 B.C., Tutankhamun ascended to the throne at age 9 or 10. At 12, Tutankhamun married his half-sister, Ankhesenamun, Akhenaten’s third daughter by his wife Nefertiti. During his reign, King Tut moved the country’s capital back to the city of Memphis and reinstated polytheistic worship. The boy king also changed his name from his original moniker of Tutankhaten, to Tutankhamun (meaning “the living image of the god Amun”) in recognition of the state’s rejection of Aten. Tutankhamun died from unknown causes in 1323 B.C. while in the ninth year of his reign. He left no successors; the mummified fetuses of two stillborn daughters were found in his tomb.
An X-ray taken in 1968 exposed damage to his skull, which could have been caused by a fall, blow to the head, or during mummification and caused Egyptologists to contemplate the theory of foul play as a cause of death. Recently, the boy king’s mummy underwent a CT-scan as part of a landmark, five-year Egyptian research and conservation project, partially funded by National Geographic, in an effort to inventory and scan all of the known mummies in Egypt. This study debunked theories of assassination as the damage to Tutankhamun’s skull occurred after his death. DNA studies conducted in Egypt further showed that he suffered from malaria and may have died from complications from a broken leg. Although King Tut’s remains lie in a climate-controlled vitrine in his burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings, the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition includes some of these scans as well as the first 3-D replica of the ancient pharaoh created by sculptor Gary Staab.
Along with the amazing, life-like replica of King Tut’s mummified cadaver, the exhibition displays the most splendid collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts anywhere outside of Egypt. Breathtaking…awe-inspiring… jaw-dropping…eye-popping…overwhelming, adjectives that fail to justify the majesty of what is to be discovered after stepping through the doors of the Discovery Times Square Exposition. The antiques along with the narration of legendary actor Omar Sharif via headset intimately transport the patrons into the daily life of the boy king and those in his court. Last month an additional item joined the exhibit, a chariot, which has been permitted to leave Egypt for the first time. Of the six chariots that Howard Carter discovered in King Tut’s tomb, this antique from the Antechamber is exceptional because it is the only one that appeared to be used. The construction of the chariot was lighter and simpler than the other five. There is speculation that it may have been used as a traveling chariot, on the battlefield, or on hunting expeditions. There is also a theory that King Tut may have died after a fall from this chariot.
The ancient Egyptian phrase “forever and for eternity” never felt as palpable to me as it did when I visited Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Perhaps it was the golden sarcophagus or the replica of Tut’s mummy that spurred the feeling, but as I walked through the exhibit I could feel the presence of King Tut. Finally his story was being told like it never has before. I also felt the spirit of Howard Carter, the archeologist that first revealed the pharaoh to us, and suddenly the exposition became otherworldly. It was if a Stargate had been opened and we were all visiting an undisturbed dimension that has no concept of time. A feeling of immense humility overcame me as I viewed the spectacle and glory of a culture that has influenced almost every civilization that has come after it. I realized that with all our modern know how, we can never duplicate the wonder of these relics, which is raison d’être for our continued fascination.
Considering the locale of the Discovery Times Square Exposition, the ticket price for Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs is quite affordable ($29.50 for adults, $26.50 for seniors and $19.50 for children) and part of the ticket sales is helping to fund a new Grand Museum in Cairo. Broadway has played birthed and played host to countless stars, but none is as incandescent as Tutankhamun. This exhibit will remain in the Big Apple until January 2, 2011 when the boy king and his gilded chariot return to Egypt to rest for good. FAMERS do not miss this exhibit. It is an experience that you will take with your forever and beyond.
Photos: Andreas F. Voegelin and Sammlung Ludwig
Slideshow: F.A.M.E NYC Editor