Tutankhamun & The Golden Age Of The Pharoahs At The O2 Arena

By Narelle Doe | 16 November 2007
head of a gold Egyptian coffin with striped headdress

Not the funerary mask, but a canopic coffinette of Tutankhamun. Courtesy Andreas F Voegelin, Antikenmuseum Basel and Sammlung Ludwig

For the first time in 35 years, Egyptian treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun are on display in London, once more capturing the public imagination and proving our continuing fascination with all things Ancient Egyptian.

The British Museum’s 1972 show attracted more than 1.5 million visitors and a whole generation was entranced by the golden treasures, gruesome mummies, rumours of royal murder and the curse of the tomb.

It has a hard act to follow but ticket sales have been promising - more than 325,000 people have already bought theirs for Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs - showing at the O2 Dome, London, until August 30 2008.

a gold collar necklace in the shape of a falcon with outstretched wings curling round the neck

Found on the mummy of Tutankhamun, this golden collar is cut into the form of the god Horus. Courtesy Andreas F Voegelin, Antikenmuseum Basel and Sammlung Ludwig

A few eyebrows have been raised at the choice of venue. The former Millennium Dome is not the natural setting for treasures dating back several thousand years, but amends have been made by creating an artificial atmosphere complete with introductory voice-over by Omar Sharif and Egyptian-theme piped music.

It may not have the gravitas of the British Museum but those interested in Ancient Egypt should not be put off - there are, after all, many of the most historically important artefacts in the world to admire.

The exhibition offers rich insights into this lost civilisation, from religious objects of worship to the significance of the River Nile and the Egyptian fascination with cosmetics.

Many visitors will be disappointed that the infamous gold mask of Tutankhamun is not included, deemed too fragile to leave Cairo, but there's plenty to compensate. This show is more about the king beneath the mask than the golden treasure itself.

a multicoloured decoration with a beetle shape in the centre and wing shapes to either side

An inlaid pectoral from within King Tutankhamun's coffin, spelling out his name. Courtesy Andreas F Voegelin, Antikenmuseum Basel and Sammlung Ludwig

Tutankhamun has become famous in death, despite being a relatively minor king during his lifetime. Believed to be the son of Akhenaten and his minor wife, Kiya, he reigned during the 18th Dynasty (c. 1550-1307 BC) when the empire was at its height.

The 18th Dynasty witnessed many of Ancient Egypt’s greatest rulers and most famous characters, from Amenhotep and Akhenaten to Nefertiti.

Tutankhamun reigned for about nine years and was dead by the age of 18 or thereabouts. Although he had been married, the couple had no surviving children – two stillborn babies were buried with the young king. The cause of his death is still a mystery and experts have been unable to discover whether he was injured, ill or murdered.

a golden headdress

The golden diadem was still around the head of Tutankhamun when Howard Carter opened the royal coffin more than 3,200 years after the young king died. Courtesy Andreas F Voegelin, Antikenmuseum Basel and Sammlung Ludwig

Destined to lie undisturbed for eternity, Tutankhamun’s fate changed on November 4 1922 when British archaeologist Howard Carter stumbled upon his tomb.

The tomb had seemingly been completed in a hurry, due to the king’s premature death. It was significantly smaller than others and its location had been lost, therefore protecting it from grave robbers, except for a couple of raids, but little had been taken and the tomb resealed.

Tutankhamun’s name had been all but forgotten in the mists of time. His tomb, too, may have remained undiscovered if Carter hadn’t identified the 'lost king' and started a search for him in the Valley of the Kings.

After months of fruitless excavations, Carter’s team uncovered a staircase leading to a sealed door. With his patron Lord Carnarvon, Carter entered the tomb on November 26. Carnarvon famously asked: “Can you see anything?” Carter replied: “Yes, wonderful things.”

photo of two men packing up a golden Egyptian coffin into a wooden crate

Bringing Ancient Egypt to you - Tjuya's gilded coffin gets packed up for the journey to London. The show's last stop on its international roadshow was Philadelphia. Photo: Miles Kennedy

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs uses inventive design and technology to transport the visitor back into Ancient Egypt. Different rooms look at the Boy King’s life, traditional beliefs, daily life, rituals of death, burial and the afterlife, and the discovery of the tomb.

A highlight is the lifelike reconstruction of Tutankhamun’s head as it exists, commissioned by National Geographic and produced in 2005 using CT scans and the latest forensic techniques.

Aside from this are the 130 Ancient Egyptian treasures, with 50 from Tutankhamun’s tomb. These include the royal diadem – the gold crown placed upon the head of the king’s mummified body – and gold and precious stone inlaid canopic coffinettes that held the king’s mummified organs. Then there are more than 70 objects from other royal tombs dating to the 18th Dynasty.

Purists may tut at the whiff of Hollywood but this remains a fantastic chance to get to grips with the Boy King’s life and behold treasures from the ancient world speaking across the centuries - without travelling to the real Egypt.

See the Visit London website for more information

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