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 Michael Bergeron
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King Tut visits Houston

King Tut visits Houston
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Funny when you realize that the boy who would be king, Tutankhamun, has greater historical resonance than anyone who’s ever lived. Religious figures aside, can you really imagine that thousands of years from now people will be looking at the possessions and mummified remains of John F. Kennedy or Elvis Presley?

As recent as 2005 a DNA sample was taken from the mummified remains of King Tut, and along with other DNA sample obtained from the Valley of Kings it’s the current academic opinion that Tut’s parents were brother and sister.

The exhibit, Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, occupies much of the upper floor at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Law building. It’s a tribute to the recently passed head of the MFAH, Peter Marzio who commissioned this impressive event. The last time King Tut deigned to appear in Houston was in 1962. I’ve talked to several people who can remember the New Orleans stop of the King Tut show in 1977. People who’ve seen the various Tut displays in Cairo, Egypt note how there is a section that presents side-by-side the multiple boxes and sarcophaguses that entombed Tut. A special museum is under construction in Cairo specifically to house the Tut collection and this is probably the last time these artifacts will ever be on tour.

Marzio’s widow, Frances made introductory statements at the media preview of the exhibit and had the best summation of what this event is all about.  “You can’t take it with you, and even it you do, somebody will eventually dig it up.”

At first the journey through the King Tut exhibit covers Egyptian history, with possessions and statues from previous rulers and other historic Egyptian movers and shakers. Along the front of the entrance is a list of every ruler in ancient Egypt, a register that covers the following periods: Early Dynastic, Old Kingdom, 1st Intermediate, Middle Kingdom, 2nd Intermediate, New Kingdom, 3rd Intermediate, Late Period, and Greco-Roman. That’s a lot of kings. Also on periodic display throughout the exhibit are shabti spells, or prayers to guide the deceased through the afterlife.

When King Tut’s tomb was found in 1922 by Howard Carter the discovery was unprecedented. There was a treasure trove that has never been surpassed for the quantity of items as well as the excellent preserved state of the items. The exhibit starts with a short introductory video, narrated by Harrison Ford. Attendees are given a handheld digital device that narrates the tour. We first meet previous rulers in a series of different rooms. One interesting set-up contains the stone hieroglyph decorated casket of a royal cat, the pet of Prince Thutmose, from a cemetery in Memphis.

The tour ends with items from all four rooms of Tut’s burial chamber, the antechamber, the annex, the treasury and the actual burial chamber. A life size facsimile of Tut’s mummy lying in state at the end of the tour (right before the gift shop) reminds one of the transitory nature of life. Here’s a guy who was buried with, among other stuff, a golden pair of foot sandals and solid gold thimble-like tips for his toes and fingers.

Speaking to one of the tour’s organizers, Mark Lach, Arts and Exhibitions International Senior Vice President, I asked him about the veracity of the curse of King Tut. Lach laughed and explained how one prominent London newspaper had exclusive rights to photos from the archeological dig.

Another newspaper, more tabloid in nature had a headline proclaiming the curse of Tut or “the Mummy’s Curse” when the expedition’s main organizer George Herbert, Fifth Earl of Carnarvon died during the excavation from complications resulting from a mosquito bite.

Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs will be on display until April 15, 2012. Tickets for adults are $25.

– Michael Bergeron

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