When British archeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter excitedly stumbled upon the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in November 1922, he was amazed, if not dumbstruck, by the dazzling array of funerary objects, ranging from a solid gold funeral mask to household furniture.
Likenesses of King Tut
British archeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter excitedly stumbled
upon the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in
November 1922, he was amazed, if not dumbstruck, by the dazzling array
of funerary objects, ranging from a solid gold funeral mask to
Likenesses of King Tut
As he descended farther into the claustrophobic tomb that had lay virtually undisturbed for 3,000 years, he was asked by a colleague, “Can you see anything? He replied, “Yes, wonderful things.”
It was an understatement.
Carter’s discovery of a tomb whose resplendent treasures could only be imagined was the archeological find of the 20th century.
The newest exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, “King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs,” provides a tantalizing glimpse of the famous cache Carter discovered almost 90 years ago.
The exhibition, organized by the National Geographic Society, Arts and Exhibitions International and AEG Exhibitions in co-operation with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, is scheduled to run until April 18, 2010.
It features more than 100 precious objects from King Tut’s tomb and from similarly ancient royal tombs and temples in Egypt, twice the number of artifacts that were on display at the AGO’s last Egyptian show 30 years ago.
Most of them have never before been exhibited in North America, said AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum at a press preview.
The objects, some under protective glass, others on raised platforms and still others fully exposed, range from figurines and statues to jewelry and sundry items such as a bed, a toilet seat, a fan, a model sailboat and golden sandals.
Tutankhamun – the boy pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who ruled for only nine years yet left a lasting legacy – is clearly the star of the show.
But two of his successors, Ramses II and Merneptah, who figure in biblical history and are of no small interest to Jewish visitors, are also given pride of place in the form of brooding black statues.
Before we proceed, a telling note about pharaohs. As an explanatory inscription observes, the word pharaoh comes from a Hebrew word in the Bible referring to a ruler in Egypt.
This word, in turn, is derived from an Egyptian phrase, per aa, which means great house, or royal palace, said the exhibit’s curator, David Silverman, a professor of near eastern languages and civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ramses II, who reigned for nearly seven decades during the 19th dynasty, is commonly associated with the enslavement of the Children of Israel and their perilous crossing of the Red Sea, all recounted in the Book of Exodus, noted Ronald Leprohon, a professor of Egyptology at the University of Toronto.
According to Silverman, the story of the Exodus is mentioned only in the Bible, not in Egyptian texts, and is associated with a “a family of pharaohs” rather than a specific one.
In Islamic tradition, Ramses’ 13th son, Merneptah, who succeeded him as the fourth ruler of the 19th dynasty, was supposedly the pharoah who drowned with his army of horse-drawn chariots as he pursued the Children of Israel.
As well, Merneptah is linked to the Merneptah Stele, or the Israel Stele, which refers to a military campaign in which “Israel has been wiped out” and “its seed is no more.”
Leprohon said that the Israel Stele, now displayed in the Cairo Museum, represents the first ancient Egyptian record of Israel’s existence, not as a nation but as a tribe or people.
Asked whether Jews lived in Egypt during King Tut’s reign, Silverman replied, “A hard question to answer.”
The Middle Kingsdom era witnessed the arrival of many foreigners to the Nile Delta region, he said.
During the New Kingdom period, when Egypt’s borders expanded after military campaigns, Egypt’s population of outsiders increased, he added.
“It is difficult to estimate how many of these foreigners remained in Egypt during Tutankhamun’s reign and how many of those could be identified as Jews.”