Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, Franklin Institute Science Museum, Philadelphia PA

photo by Ian Mylott

Earlier this month, the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia opened King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, its exhibit of the treasures of the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. This marks the second time that these items have been displayed in the United States. While Tut's funeral mask, the most famous artifact retrieved from the tomb, isn't part of this exhibit, viewers do get to see most of the stunning assortment of personal, ceremonial, and religious items enclosed with Tutankhamun to accompany him on his journey into the afterlife.

The exhibit opens with a couple of rooms worth of artifacts from the time period immediately preceding Tutankhamun's reign, in order to provide some historical context. In short, Tut's immediate predecessor (and likely father) Akhenaten had replaced the polytheistic religion which had dominated Egypt with worship only of the sun god Aten. Naturally the priests of the other gods didn't care much for this transition and eagerly exerted influence over Tutankhamun, only nine when he ascended to the throne, to restore the old temples to their prominence. These preliminary artifacts took up four rooms, with six further rooms holding the items from Tut's tomb. These items ranged from the really lavish, gilded funerary objects to mundane personal items like a board game called Senet. (Who knew that Tut was a gamer geek?) The degree of lighting varied substantially from room to room. While the exhibit was planned out well enough to avoid significant crowding -- I was at a Van Gogh exhibit at the Met just over a year ago that was much more packed -- but the darkness in several of the rooms made moving around a bit difficult.

Still, given what was on display, any problems with the lighting were minor inconveniences. The artwork, the hieroglyphics, and the great care and expense that went into making all these objects -- tomb discoverer Howard Carter's memorable quote "everywhere the glint of gold" is no exaggeration -- are impressive enough on their own merits, but I had to keep reminding myself that the things I was looking at were made over 3000 years ago.

It's somewhat ironic that Tutankhamun is the most famous of the pharaohs not because of his accomplishments as a ruler, but rather largely because of his lack of accomplishments. He was forgotten very quickly, and as other tombs in the Valley of the Kings were looted, the location of his became inaccessible and was ultimately lost to history. As a result, the fantastic riches inside remained undisturbed for millennia, and now you can see them for yourself. There's so much history, art, and culture contained in the exhibit, even without some of the tomb's most famous relics, that the opportunity to see them is not one to be missed.


digitaldoc said...

Too bad about the no picture rule. I thought that's what those camera cell phones were for!

I remember the last time that Tut's goods came to the US, and it was certainly an impressive exhibition that time as well.

sbeachgal_2001 said...

Hey, nice photo of the steps. Who took it?

smg58 said...

OK Patti, the proper credit has been acknowledged. :-)

topbeagle said...

Hey, I want to leave a comment for Scott too.