Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh review

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4 out of 5 stars
Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh review
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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From its Discovery Channel-style intro to its blingy sort-of catalogue, this show of 150 artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun feels like it would be more at home in the Bellagio in Vegas than in the venerable British Museum. And that’s okay. There’s not a whole lot of new scholarship here: this is the greatest hits. A century after the discovery of these extraordinary objects by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922, this world tour will be the last time they will be seen outside Egypt. Time to get booking and gawping. 

Usually the alien sumptuousness of ancient Egypt is diluted by a lot of historical/political/geographical chat. Not here. Here you just get the journey of the young dead pharaoh Tutankhamun into the afterlife with its attendant rituals. Reduced to that simplicity, it’s suddenly quite human, childlike almost. From a small gilded bed to a doll-like entourage of workers to accompany him into the hereafter, everything seems in inverse scale to the gigantic power the pharaoh wielded. In death as in life, Tutankhamun is presented as boy warrior, boy explorer, boy hunter, boy king, fearlessly navigating the netherworld, his tomb a teenage bedroom full
of charged symbols.

It’s not all sparkly stuff. Yes, the golden statuettes, jewellery and other grave goods retain their amazing power, a power that saw Carter damage the pharaoh’s corpse in his haste to prise them off him. But there’s more humble stuff: a delicate case for pens and a selection of clubs and boomerangs seem inadequate provision against the perils of the afterlife. Their arid entombment has left these objects amazingly undamaged, but also preserved their shattering strangeness. The corpses of two stillborn babies were buried alongside Tutankhamun, offspring from his marriage to his full sister. If there’s one thing this show tells us, it’s that if we think we truly understand it, we’re kidding ourselves. 

It’s also sending a message. The cult of ancient Egypt is entering a new dynasty, one in which you’ll have to go and see it in person, or experience it virtually. After a century of worshipping this ‘treasure’ while also sort of considering it everyone’s cultural property, that feels like a line in the sand.

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