Entering the world of the boy king
As we walked through the massive wooden doors that led to the Tutankhamun The Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, it felt as if we were gaining entry into an old darkened cargo container much like that in an Indiana Jones movie.
What hits you as you browse by and get up close with 130 artefacts from ancient Egypt of more than 3000 years ago is that they display exquisite and fine decorative artistic detail – whether it is the small intricately carved stone or gold statues that were entombed with the family to protect them in their journey to the afterlife or the giant gold coffin of Tjuya covered in carvings of royal life. Then there is the replica wooden boat with its tiny precise colourful paintwork.
Entering the world of the royal family you get a sense of the power of their reign through the cultural beauty of the time. The amazing skill and craftsmanship is on show in the form of a giant stone carving of King Tut’s father the Pharaoh Akhenaten. The artists were able to create a giant elongated face that when seen from below looked in proportion. The face gives you a sense of the power of the man who had the audacity to change the society’s religion from adoration of multiple gods to one sun god.
The wooden bust of the boy king stands alone before you enter the rooms that house the contents of his tomb. A simple yet compelling symbol of the dignity of the young man in his role as king – the bust was used to display his jewellery and clothing. We then enter a room of objects from his everyday life: from a delicate stone-crafted game the curator tells us would have been the Xbox of the time, to a toy wooden boat, a decorative miniature throne and a marble box for jewellery which Molly Meldrum, who was also on the tour with us and has studied Egyptology, mentioned it may be the first evidence of the development of hinges.
The beauty of the jewellery and royal refinery is shown in items such as the crook and flail which have come to be so recognisable with the ancient pharaohs, a breast plate with tiny coloured stones, and a carved glass scarab beetle made, it is thought, from a rare form of glass after an asteroid hit the Sahara Desert.
The exhibition displays enormous black and white photographs of the tombs as British archaeologist Howard Carter found them in 1922. You might imagine the tombs of the pharaohs to be a regally laid out affair, but this looked more like an antique Egyptian garage sale with everything stacked neatly against each other and the walls of the chambers. Luckily thieves did not manage to get through to these smaller rooms or else these beautiful artefacts would have been lost to the world.
The exhibition fills you with anticipation of what the final room holds. We were almost expecting to see the king mummy itself but of course some things need to be left in Egypt. But it is in the final rooms that we see a detailed floor display and accompanying animation video describing the heavily fortified sarcophagus, with layers of stone, wood and gold to get through before the finding the mummified king in his death mask. With the help of X-rays and photographs we see the dagger and breastplate he was buried with right down even to a knee fracture.
Leaving the exhibition we felt as if we had experienced a slice of ancient Egypt, seen a little into the life of the young king and a society of strong cultural beauty, adoring of him. Passing through the exit doors, we too left in awe of him.
The University of Melbourne and Melbourne Museum proudly present a series of public lectures that explore Ancient Egypt.
Public lectures will be held at Melbourne Museum, the University of Melbourne and regional areas.