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Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
Coffinette for the Viscera of Tutankhamun, Egypt (detail). © Andreas F., Voegelin, Antikenmuseum.

CHICAGO.- The Field Museum presents today Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, on view through January 1, 2007. For more than 3,000 years they lay unseen beneath the Egyptian sands: gleaming treasures of gold and semi-precious jewels; statues and chests of breathtaking artistry; magical amulets and articles of ancient life; the mummified body of a young pharaoh.

When the British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered the remarkably preserved tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, he created a worldwide sensation. When the boy king's riches toured the world in 1977, the term "blockbuster exhibition" was born. Now a new exhibition, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, offers visitors a chance to see fabulous new treasures and to enter the world that gives them meaning: 250 years that marked the pinnacle of ancient Egypt's culture, wealth, and imperial power.

As those who saw the earlier exhibition can attest, coming face-to-face with the treasures of King Tut is an encounter not soon forgotten. Visitors to the new exhibition, twice the size of the original, will have an even broader and deeper experience. They'll see more than 130 ancient artifacts—of gold and silver, jewels and semi-precious stones, alabaster and gilded wood—excavated from the tomb of Tutankhamun and other royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They'll learn about life and death in ancient Egypt, and the intimate relationship between the two. And they'll discover what the latest technologies are revealing about how the young king may have died.

Tutankhamun has been organized by National Geographic, Arts and Exhibitions International, and AEG Exhibitions in association with The Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt and The Field Museum. The tour is sponsored by Northern Trust. Its Chicago sponsor is Exelon, proud parent of ComEd.

The Chicago exhibition is the third stop on a four city U.S. tour that includes Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, and Philadelphia as well. Like the original 1977 exhibition, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has generated widespread excitement and record attendance in each of the cities that have presented the exhibition to date.

Howard Carter had spent five years searching the Valley of the Kings for the tomb of the storied Tutankhamun. His funding was coming to an end, but he persuaded his patron, Lord Carnarvon, to support his work for one more season. That was all it took. A few days after digging began again, a young water-carrier put his hand on a stone step.

"It was a spectacular discovery—a tomb untouched since antiquity, its inner sanctum never looted by tomb robbers," says James L. Phillips, Acting Curator of the Near East and North Africa at The Field Museumand Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The only tomb of its era found intact, it was also, Phillips notes, the first major discovery in the age of easy worldwide communication. That, along with rumors of a mysterious curse, helped make Tut the most popular of the pharaohs.

But there is no denying the allure of the treasure itself. More than 5,000 beautifully preserved artifacts were found in Tut's tomb, and the 50 selected for this exhibition—along with more than 70 from other royal tombs—are among the most breathtaking objects of ancient Egypt. Only a few of these were in the original exhibition, and many have never before traveled outside Egypt.

Among the dazzling artifacts on display are a gold diadem, inlaid with semi-precious stones, that graced the boy king's head in life and death; a miniature gold coffin, in Tut's image, that held his inner organs; and a gold dagger, wrapped with his mummy to protect him in the afterlife. A wooden bust shows the king as a young and very human figure, while exquisite gilded statuettes portray him as the ruler of all Egypt. A small shrine of wood covered in gold and silver is engraved with tender scenes of Tutankhamun and his young wife. And most poignant of all is a child-size throne of ebony and ivory inset with gold.

Though less well known, the treasures from other royal tombs are equally spectacular, especially those from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuya, believed to be Tut's great-grandparents. Tjuya's coffin is a stunning sight, covered in a bright reddish gold inlaid with colored glass that forms her broad collar. Another fascinating artifact comes from the tomb of Amenhotep II: a model boat, shaped like the royal barge and painted a bluish green, the color of life reborn. In such a celestial boat the soul of the pharaoh would travel the heavens with the sun god, dying each night and resurrected each morning with the rising sun.

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