Daily Herald

With 130 pieces, the Field Museum’s Tut is the largest traveling exhibit ever;
but whatever you do,
don’t miss these five

Posted Thursday, May 18, 2006

In 1977, the last time the treasures of Tutankhamun came to Chicago, more than a million eager viewers lined up for hours, some camping out overnight on the steps of The Field Museum to glimpse the fabled Egyptian artifacts.

Thanks to timed ticketing, such extreme measures won’t be necessary to see the new Tut exhibition opening today, but there’s even more to look at this time around.

“It’s truly a different exhibition,” said Egyptologist David P. Silverman, curator for both the 1970s tour and this one, which has already visited Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and goes to Philadelphia in January.

Some 130 historic artifacts figure into “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” which fills 17,000 square feet of galleries. Only a few of these items were in the earlier exhibition. The exhibition showcases 50 items buried with Tut more than three millennia ago, plus still older pieces from his forebears entombed in the Valley of the Kings. Exquisite jewelry, ornately carved vessels, evocative statuary, games, weapons, furniture and more all reveal the advanced sophistication of ancient Egyptian culture and the remarkable preservative powers of its desert tombs.

“This is the biggest traveling exhibit ever mounted,” Silverman said.

Nearly three decades have elapsed since Egypt allowed any of these treasures out of the country; many have never before traveled.

Tutankhamun, Egypt’s best-known pharaoh, ascended to the throne at about age 10, around 1335 B.C.E., and reigned for less than a decade before he died. His fame rests not in his role in the ancient world, where he was a minor king of the 18th Dynasty, but in the fact that his relatively small tomb was the best preserved of all the royal graves ever found in Egypt, lying undisturbed and undiscovered for thousands of years.

When archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered Tut’s tomb in 1922, it was the find of the millennium — all but untouched by grave robbers and containing some 5,000 dazzling objects plus the astonishingly intact mummified corpse of Tut. Excavation alone took a decade.

Items on display range from fine jewelry to utilitarian household belongings.

“It’s tantalizing to imagine he handled these items,” said David Foster, project management director at The Field Museum.

Don’t miss these

The artifacts all show an extraordinary combination of beauty, fine condition and antiquity, and it would be a pity to skip any of them. Take special note, however, and don’t miss these particularly beautiful or instructive parts of the exhibition:

Queen Tjuya’s coffin

What’s ancient Egypt without a sarcophagus? The first sections of the exhibition showcase items connected with other royalty of ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, creating a historical perspective for Tut. Tjuya is thought to have been Tut’s great-grandmother. Her gorgeous gold coffin, found in 1905, gleams with burnished gilding, ornate carving and inlays of colored glass in a broad collar.

This is the largest of the artifacts belonging to Tut’s female relatives. There’s also a head of Queen Nefertiti, first wife of the upstart Akhenaten, probably Tut’s father; a canopic jar depicting Queen Kiya, who might have been his mother; and a tiny gold burial mask that covered the mummy of what was probably Tut’s stillborn daughter, one of two found in his tomb.

Tut as boy king

Did the ancient Egyptians look funny? Their artists’ depictions, often stylized, make it hard to tell what people actually looked like.

“They had complete capability to create a faithful rendering,” said Foster, “but that wasn’t their objective.” Within this exhibition alone, for example, sculptures of animals can be compellingly lifelike. Yet the people are often strangely shaped.

This wooden bust, displayed at the start of the galleries devoted to Tut, seems more real. “It’s such a nice piece because it’s so human,” said Foster. “It looks like a young boy.”

Coffinette for Tut’s liver

The Egyptian process of preserving a corpse must have been grisly. The ancient morticians first eviscerated the body, packing away its organs in jars. Liver, lungs, stomach and guts were packed into separate containers. (The brain they threw away.)

For less important people, the embalmers put the organs into jars and stored them in a chest in the tomb. Tut’s status was such that each of his innards got its own miniature coffin inside its jar.

This one, which held his liver, stands 18 inches tall, an exquisitely detailed figure of gold, carnelian, rock crystal, obsidian and glass, its interior covered over with carved hieroglyphs invoking protection from the gods.

Tut’s tomb

A clever multitimedia display shows the layers of nested shrines in Tut’s burial chamber that Carter penetrated to find the sarcophagus, and relays the history of the momentous archeological find. Floor markings based on Carter’s own sketches of the site offer a lifesize representation.

Mummy scan

While Tut’s mummy remains in Egypt, detailed photographs display the X-rays researchers took in 1968 and 1978, plus a 2005 CT scan conducted by an Egyptian team. The new technology disproved earlier, mistaken assumptions about Tut’s physical appearance in life and the probable cause of his death. Based on this data, a forensic reconstruction of his face reveals what the young pharaoh may have looked like.

The Field has added to this scientific section of the traveling exhibition, said James Phillips, the museum’s acting curator of the Near East and North Africa. Other venues exhibiting the artifacts, he said, were more concerned with art history.

“We’re a museum of natural history. We felt it was incumbent on us to put more science in it.”

‘Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs’

Where: The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Jan. 1 (extended to 9 p.m. on selected nights)

Tickets: $25 adults, $22 seniors and students, $16 children. Prices include exhibition and general museum admission. Audio tour $6; $5 for members, students, and children. “Tut at Twilight” premium nights $50, including audio tour. Reservations highly recommended.

Box office: (866) FIELD-03, www.fieldmuseum.org/tut

Now hear this:
Audio tours are available

Posted Thursday, May 18, 2006

For the fullest experience of "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," you will want to spend an extra $6 to rent the audio tour. It's the next-best thing to a privately conducted tour.

Through headphones, the slightly sibilant tones of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif pilot you through the galleries, with in-depth commentary on 20 of the items displayed, as well as remarks by Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities; National Geographic's Terry Garcia and exhibition curator David Silverman. Fascinating sidebars also explain ancient funereal rites and discuss details about Tut's tomb.

Although the exhibition has excellent, well-positioned signs describing what's displayed, it's sometimes difficult to see them in crowded galleries. The audio tour also provides much more detail than the brief placards.

With 20 numbered segments, the tour allows you to start, stop, and replay at any point, so you can explore the exhibit at your own pace. It is also available in a Spanish version narrated by Jorge Ramos.

The audio tour is included in the $50 admission fee should you sign up for one of the premium "Tut at Twilight" evenings on selected dates throughout the exhibition. These after-hours showings have limited admission for a less-crowded Tut experience, allowing closer looks at the artifacts.

Possibly the best souvenir of the show is the official companion book by Hawass, a lavish, coffee-table-sized volume filled with photographs of artifacts in the exhibition and elsewhere, historical images and scenes in the Valley of the Kings as well as engaging, lucid text about Tut, his life and times and the significance of the objects meant to carry him into the afterlife. The book, also called "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," is $35 in the exhibition gift shop, or $49.95 together with a Sharif-narrated CD.

Of course, you could get a chocolate pharaoh's head instead.

— Leah A. Zeldes

Even more on the boy king
Posted Thursday, May 18, 2006

Beyond The Field's exhibition, Egypt fanciers can visit the Oriental Institute Museum, 1155 E. 58th St., Chicago, which presents "Wonderful Things! The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun: The Harry Burton Photographs," 50 images taken by the photographer who documented Carter's find, through Oct. 8, and "The Ancient Near East in the Time of Tutankhamun," which highlights its permanent collection of objects relating to Tut and his era, including dishes used during the funeral of the young king, sculpture and bright faience jewelry, through Dec. 31.

Oriental Institute hours are l0 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, until 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Suggested admission is $5 adults and $2 children. Call (773) 702-9514, or see http://oi.uchicago.edu.

— Leah A. Zeldes