King Tutankhamen is visiting Mexico City! Over 200 reproductions of artifacts found in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter are on display in a temporary exhibit entitled “Tutankhamen: The Tomb, The Gold and The Pharaoh’s Curse,” at the Palacio de Autonomia (a UNAM-run museum site tucked away in a well conserved 19th century neo-classical building).
Copies of original objects housed in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo aim to duplicate the splendors of King Tut’s tomb. The funeral rituals, process of mummification and customs of ancient Egypt have little in common with pre-Hispanic Mexico. King Tut is believed to have ruled Egypt from 1334 to 1325 B.C. – way before the Mexica’s arrived to the swamplands of downtown Mexico, where the exhibition is housed. The treasures seem foreign, somewhat forced and out-of-place at first, until one passes through the first introductory section and becomes involved in the ambiance of the Pharaoh’s burial setting.
Capturing the extravagance of the mortuary chamber of King Tut, located in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor, is no easy task. Although some of the artifacts are noticeable copies, the majority are exceptionally well-crafted, making using the same techniques and material – including gold – as the original ones.
Unlike the previous mega-hits of “Pharaoh: The Sun Cult in Ancient Egypt” Exhibit or “Isis and the Feathered Serpent” both record-breaking expositions housed in the National Museum of Anthropology a few years back – with an obligatory 2-3 hour wait to get in), this exhibit is easily accessible and aims to combine art and entertainment, reproducing not only the wonder of a royal Egyptian burial but fostering mystique which shrouded the discovery itself.
The legend of the evil spell cast on the early explorers, intertwined with the revelation of the riches of the boy king itself is so deeply embedded in history, that it is a standard scenes in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum! Needless to say, there was no curse. Archaeologist Howard Carter, who unearthed the cache, lived till the ripe old age of 65 (in the 20s that was considered old age!), surviving 17 years after his find.
Do not expect a dry, scientific, conventional display – this is more of a trip back in time, a-la-Disney, with a play of light and sound to further dramatize the setting and the magic associated with the site. Yet, the exhibit is based on fact, including an explanation of techniques of mummification, and a representative selection of mortuary masks, the sarcophagus, a throne, jewelry, a royal diadem, a funeral Canopus vessel, and much more.
The exhibit is small, divided into four main rooms: the first focuses on religion, funeral rites and the process of mummification used in ancient Egypt; the second highlights several of the most outstanding troves of the tomb including guardian statues, the God Anubis, and a golden casket; the third hall showcases the four monumental gold reliquaries which protected the Pharaoh’s sarcophagus, and the sarcophagus itself; and the last room is a recreation of King Tut’s tomb with a reproduction of the sarcophagus and coffin which housed Tutankhamen’s mummified body.
Somewhat expensive for the average Mexican museum ticket ($80 pesos), this reflects a noticeable trend in ticket price-hikes at UNAM-affiliated exhibits (San Ildefonso is another example of this), which is unfortunate, since it is just one more excuse for people not to visit the many cultural offerings of the city – the ticket costs more that the daily minimum wage in Mexico City – certainly unfordable for the average Mexican household. However, for those who will never have the opportunity to travel to Luxor to see the original tomb or Cairo to witness King Tut’s mask or the treasures of the Pharaoh’s burial, this the second best!
By the way, the income from ticket sales are earmarked for university scholarships according to Rafael Moreno Valle, chairman of the UNAM Foundation, organizer of the exhibit. The Tutankhamen Exhibit is in the Palace of Autonomy (Palacio de la Autonomia de la UNAM) which is open every day of the week, Monday through Saturday 10am to 6pm, Sunday 10 am to 4 pm; entrance fee to this temporary exhibit is $80 pesos; Lic. Primo de Verdad 2 (next to the Templo Mayor, access from Moneda Street).
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