Review: King Tut - Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh

Because it seemed beyond our purview, Hollywood Gothique was not planning to review King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, currently on view at the California Science Center. To our surprise, the exhibition feels like a template for a haunted attraction. Do not misunderstand: the tour is not frightening; however, with its emphasis on theBook of the Dead, it offers a de facto tour through Egyptian mythology of the afterlife.

King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh Review - Into the Afterlife

King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is presented in two parts (three if one counts the IMAX film playing next door to the museum). Part II of the tour, situated on the ground floor, focuses on the historical aspects of Tut's ten-year reign and of Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb. Part I, on the other hand, is a magnificent collection of artifacts discovered in the Boy King's tomb. Some of these represent idealized depictions of Tut's life, but most of them are tools and resources that were believed necessary for the dead to navigate the dangers of the underworld in order to emerge into paradise.

Part I begins with a short film on a curved screen, providing a nearly 180-degree view for the standing audience, which sets up the rudiments of ancient Egyptian beliefs. Then patrons proceed into a series of rooms containing various artifacts: lamps, weapons, shields, even an ancient game board. These are accompanied by text explaining the threats facing souls on their journey through the land of the dead, including methods used to dispel these threats. As one moves from room to room, the impression is less that one is moving through the chambers of a tomb than that one is advancing stage by stage through the afterlife, much as the pharaoh himself would have essentially followed the path of the sun-god Ra, whose journey took him through the underworld for twelve hours of night before emerging back into daylight.

Unlike Ra, however, there was no guarantee that the pharaoh's journey would be successful, hence the need for the Book of the Dead. Contrary to popular belief, this was not the Egyptian equivalent of the Bible. The Book of the Dead is more akin to a manual, containing spells that would protect the owner. The so-called "book" was never uniform; rather, it was a loose collection, unique for each individual, because every soul would take a different path and face different threats.

These incantations are liberally quoted on the display cases and walls, making it easy to imagine oneself in Tut's place - intoning the words necessary to enlist the aid Horus, Isis, and Osiris while appeasing Anubis, the god of embalming and the dead:

"Hail to you, great god, Lord of Justice! I have come to you, my lord, that you may bring me so that I may see your beauty for I know you and I know your name and I know the names of the forty-two gods of those who are with you in this Hall of Justice, who live on those who cherish evil and who gulp down their blood on that day of the reckoning of characters in the presence of [Osiris]. Behold the double son of the Songstresses; Lord of Truth is your name. Behold, I have come to you, I have brought you truth, I have repelled falsehood for you. I have not done falsehood against men, I have not impoverished my associates, I have done no wrong in the Place of Truth. . . " - from Spell 125*

King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh Review - Conclusion

Ancient Egyptians believed that there were two deaths: the first was physical; the second came when the last person spoke the dead's name aloud. The great irony of Tut is that his successors wiped his name from the historical record, condemning him for millennia to that second death. This inadvertently protected his tomb from raiders, its existence forgotten until Carter stumbled upon a mention of Tut's name, which ultimately led Carter to Tut's tomb. Historically, Tut's reign was not the most significant; however, the discovery of a tomb with its ancient treasures intact made Tut the most famous of all pharaohs, his name now immortalized forever.

Ultimately, the greatest significance of King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is that it offers viewers a last chance to see the contents of Tut's tomb before they return to their permanent museum home in Egypt. Another major selling point is that, of the 150 artifacts on display, 60 of them are on view outside Egypt for the first time (all of them clearly labeled as such). Those reasons will surely attraction the majority of visitors. However, for those intrigued by ancient tombs, mummies, mythology, Egyptian gods, and the mysteries of the underworld, the exhibition evokes an intriguing sensation of a journey through the Land of the Dead.

King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh continues at the California Science Center through January 6, 2019. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). The address is 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90037. For more information, call  (323) 323-724-3623, or visit californiasciencecenter.org.

Footnotes:

  • A key element of these spells is that knowledge of a name - even a god's name - gives one power to command and control. This is true of many religious and magical belief systems, which is why exorcists demand that the possessing demon reveal its true name.
  • We explore the idea of basing a haunted attraction on the King Tut exhibition in this article.
King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh Ratings
  • Artifacts
  • Atmosphere
4

Bottom Line

The King Tut exhibition is most significant for its impressive collection of ancient artifacts, many on view in America for the first time. However, it has secondary appeal as as an intriguing journey through Egyptian mythology of the afterlife.

Note: The “Atmosphere” rating is meant to reflect the exhibition’s appeal as entertainment, beyond its historical and educational value.


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Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.